Not every user settles on a control platform like Mettler-Toledo and Production Automation did. Rather than choosing a particular class of controller, such as an industrial PC or a PAC, others pick an architecture that is common to several kinds of controllers and also programmable with the same software.
An example of this approach is the MachineStruxure platform from Schneider Electric (www.schneider-electric.us). This platform comprises PLCs, motion controllers, HMI controllers and drive controllers, each of which has embedded intelligence and uses standard networks. All of these devices are programmable in a modular software suite called SoMachine. The software and control platform support six programming languages, comply with IEC 61131-3, and offer PLCopen function blocks.
Consider a builder designing a range of machines with different levels of complexity. On a simple machine, its engineers might be able to specify an HMI controller that combines the latest HMI technology with control functions that perform all tasks. On more complex machines requiring more I/O and control, they could use a PLC. Because the HMI controller and the PLCs use the same architecture and programming environment, the designers need not shuffle among different software packages to program the various pieces of hardware.
Because programmers can often do in a few minutes what used to take them a few days, many are finding it much easier to write complex sections of code. In turn, they are finding the software platform approach to be an increasingly more cost effective way to develop sophisticated features and custom machinery. As a result, such platforms are becoming the means for bringing more capable machines and processes online faster.