IMS Research expects global sales of operator terminals with embedded PLC hardware to rise from $99 million in 2011 to about $148 million in 2016, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 9% over the forecast period. Such lean automation solutions provide space and cost savings over traditional configurations.
"There are two principle advantages for OEMs using operator terminals with embedded PLC hardware: price and footprint," said Mark Watson, senior research analyst for IMS Research. "Every component has an associated cost and space requirement. By combining two systems into one, both factors are reduced. This enables further savings as the combined unit doesn't require extra wiring to communicate between subsystems, and maintenance departments only need to support one product type."
The largest vertical sectors for operator terminals with embedded PLCs in 2011 were estimated to be food, beverage and tobacco machinery; machine tools; and packaging machinery.
Collectively, these sectors accounted for about 35% of sales revenue. The largest unit shipment growth is also forecast to come from the food and beverage machine sector, with annual shipments increasing by more than 5,000 between 2011 and 2016.
The advantage of using combined solutions is most significant for small machines, where price and space are at a premium, Watson noted. "Manufacturers of larger machines typically have the space and the budget to adopt a traditional solution of separate operator terminal and PLC units. This solution also provides flexibility in terms of the component supplier of each unit, and enables OEMs to cherry pick the most suitable two components for specific applications."
Though the combined operator terminal type is expected to see strong revenue growth to 2016, average selling prices are projected to decrease by about 3% per year. Leading suppliers such as Pro-face, Unitronics and Horner APG will therefore have to work hard to maintain revenue growth as price pressure drives down selling prices over the next few years, Watson added.
The PLCs Have It
With automation and control functions split pretty evenly between motion, analog, sequential and discrete, well over half of the respondents to our latest Market Intelligence Report said they rely on PLCs as their primary controller platform for machine automation.