Evolution, Not Revolution, for Programmble Controls

A Product Roundup of new programmable control devices and components shows that improvements in capabilities are keeping pace with discrete machine applications for various emerging markets.

By Rick Pedraza

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After another year of robust market growth, forecasts for the use of programmable controllers in discrete machine applications is expected to rise once again due to heightened demand from various emerging markets.

According to a recent study by ARC Advisory Group, the outlook through 2009 identifies booming markets in Asia and Latin America as regions of new opportunities for programmable controls used for condition monitoring, safety, collaborative manufacturing, and real-time optimization.

ARC’s analysis of current market stats shows global purchases of PLCs are expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.9% over the next five years, taking worldwide sales figures of controller devices from just over $7 billion in 2005 to more than $9 billion in 2009.

It appears that most users are asking for steady product improvement, not huge, step-change advances. Many industry professionals agree that the continuing overlap of PC, PLC, and embedded technology capabilities will enable more-efficient control, faster cycle times and ease of connectivity.

According to research provided by Frost & Sullivan, “the paradigm shift by manufacturing plants to PC-based controls also will become a major challenge to the PLC industry. Globalization is increasingly causing manufacturers to favor automation expenditure to drive down costs and raise the quality of products while addressing consumer demand and infrastructure development,” the report says. Higher processing power and lower costs for commercial PCs is accelerating the shift to PC-based systems, studies show. Furthermore, the use of PC-based systems is facilitating more advanced networking among fundamentally different controllers.

That observation should be absorbed cautiously. The impending demise of the PLC has been postponed many times, usually due to its faithful use by “stubborn” machine builders, SIs, and end users alike. Micro and nano PLC manufacturers should see the most growth, researchers at Frost concluded, as machine builders specify devices that occupy less space in their designs with the same performance capabilities as larger systems.

Our roundup of programmable controllers new to the market shows that ease of programming, reliability, and the ability to provide real-time operating data are the hot buttons. Included here are hardware devices that have new or improved functionalities, including advanced timer commands, PID loop commands, motion commands, and Ethernet compatibility. In addition, as PLCs become more and more capable, they increasingly take on more supervisory responsibility in control system design.

Product Roundup:

Programmable Controllers

Get On Board
PC/104-Plus single-board computer features a 1.6 GHz Pentium M processor for embedded control applications. The 3.6x3.8 in. board includes two COM ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, IDE, LPT, audio, and PS/2 keyboard/mouse support. Standard pass-through connectors allow it to be stackable. The system includes customizable, OEM-enhanced BIOS that is field-upgradeable, and is designed to work with embedded operating systems including Windows CE/XP/XPe, Linux, VxWorks, QNX, and DOS. VersaLogic; 541/485-8575; www.VersaLogic.com

Universal Control
Single-loop PID process controller monitors and controls temperature, pressure, level, flow and other analog variables for batch and continuous processes. Available models provide an isolated analog (4-20 mA or 0-20 mA) control signal output to regulate a control valve or similar final control element. Models with alarm trip outputs can be used for on/off control or to warn of unwanted high/low conditions. Optional RS-485 communications allows interface with digital-communicating DCS, PLC and PC-based SCADA systems. Moore Industries; 818/894-7111; www.miinet.com

Logical Deployment
MVI56-ADM and MVI56-ADMNET modules available in both serial and Ethernet feature two jumper configured ports for direct or multi-drop field communication (supporting RS-232, RS-422 and RS-485) and one debug port for setup, configuration and diagnostics. Independent control of the two application ports allows for flexibility and expandability in the design. Memory usage is user-configurable, supporting the storage and transfer of up to 5,000 registers to/from the control processor. ProSoft Technology; 661/716-5100; www.prosoft-technology.com

It’s Your Move
NextMove e100 motion controller provides real-time control, onboard analog and digital I/O and a USB port for simple connection to PC hosts with ActiveX support tools. Additionally included are support for three traditional analog-controlled servos and four steppers, and a CANopen interface for adding local or remote I/O or other components. It links seamlessly into local and wide-area networks, and provides simpler system building and commissioning. Baldor; 800/828-4920; www.baldor.com

Blue Programming
Twido nano controller with embedded Ethernet capability can be programmed with Bluetooth wireless or Ethernet, simplifying diagnostics and troubleshooting for OEMs and plant personnel. Features include four high-density analog I/O expansion modules that provide options for measurement and regulation. Capabilities include 40 I/O compact controllers with an embedded real-time clock and a compartment for a replaceable external back-up battery. Schneider Electric; 800/392-8781; www.us.telemecanique.com

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