PAC Stirs Automation Acronym Angst

A Flashback From 1998 About the Pain and Gain and Hope and Fears About Open Systems

By Joe Feeley

During a press conference at the ARC World Industry Forum in February, the automation supplier touted the value of using its programmable automation controller (PAC) with its automation system. A member of the press asked the presenting supplier to explain what a PAC meant to them these days, and how it differed from a PLC or other industrial controllers.

I noted, as did others, that the automation supplier openly struggled with the question, to the point of eagerly handing it off to ARC's Greg Resnick to answer. ARC coined the PAC term some 10+ years ago by providing a list of functions that such a controller should provide and/or facilitate in order to be termed a PAC.

I don't single out the supplier here, because this isn't even remotely the first time I've heard an automation supplier stumble over explaining a PAC's capabilities compared with other controllers. It's been 10 years, and it still retains a cloak of a term that means whatever anybody wants it to mean.

It seems that our community still has a tendency to latch on the perceived hot acronym and pepper its marketing pitch with it, so it can proclaim that "Hey, we got us one of them things too!"

This time it reminded me a little about the days when automation suppliers grappled with explaining what constituted an "open system."

To celebrate our 15th anniversary in 2012, we brought back older pieces of content to print and promote on the web site. They were really well-received, so we're continuing to present "retro" from time to time this year, as well.

"Open Systems? Who You Gonna Call?" is a guest column from 1998 about the pain and gain and hope and fears [and definitions] about open systems. In my head anyway, some of this resonates with today's acronym acrobatics. Once again, note  company names have not been changed to protect the innocent. That's who they were back then.

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  • <p>So true Joe, even today in 2015, machine designers and especially their end users still struggle to clearly articulate the difference between a PLC and a PAC. In our PLC training classes, we try to answer in the most simplest of terms. "A PLC uses a single microprocessor and architecture to implement a simple sequence (inputs,ladder logic,outputs,repeat). A PAC, in stark contrast, is a computer architecture with 2 full processors and many microprocessors for simultaneously multitasking using 1-5 programming languages." </p> <p>I included the above, because I thought your article Joe was going to end with the PLC/PAC difference explained or a link to article that explained. But you article did not. You could point readers to <a href="http://bin95.com/PLC-PAC-Difference.htm">http://bin95.com/PLC-PAC-Difference.htm</a> for very clear details of the differences between the two. </p>

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