A New Generation of PLCs for a New Generation of Engineers

The Industrial Internet of Things demands more data than ever before from systems and processes that have traditionally not been connected to business systems. The end goal is to provide continuity between different systems and make better use of machines

Ira Sharp, Director of Product Marketing—Automation, Phoenix Contact USA
Ira Sharp, Director of Product Marketing—Automation, Phoenix Contact USA

Coupled with the megatrend of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a new wave of programmers and thought leaders has emerged in the industrial space. This progressive user base is challenging traditional processes and tools. For example, in the industrial space, programmable logic controller (PLC) programming has historically been done using Ladder Logic. Ladder Logic is a simplistic way of programming that can be done by electricians and programmers alike. While this straightforward way of programming provides systematic operations for typical machines, it lacks the flexibility for more complex computation.

Historically, most machines did not require advanced computation and interactions from data within a PLC. But now, as companies want to make more use of this data, advanced analysis and computation has become a real need within a PLC. The IEC 61131-3 standard offers programming in five different languages for the industrial space: Ladder Diagram, Function Block Diagram, Sequential Function Chart, Instruction List, and Structured Text. These language choices open programming possibilities beyond Ladder Logic but are still limited compared to common high-level languages used in computer science.

Compounding this issue is the fact that engineers are now learning to program in various high-level languages, but they are often not learning IEC 61131-3 languages in school. Coding Dojo, a school/boot camp for programmers, analyzed data from job postings on Indeed.com to discover the most in-demand programming languages in 2018. The top seven were: Java, Python, JavaScript, C++, C#, PHP, and Perl. This indicates that programming students are learning and pursuing careers targeting these languages.

With this kind of programming background, the next-generation engineer has a toolbox full of programming languages, each of which can be used to solve different sets of needs for an application. Therefore, a PLC that can support numerous programming languages and interface with cloud technologies will open up many possibilities for companies that were not previously possible.

To take advantage of this, however, the next-generation PLC must have the ability to talk with multiple systems, including automation control systems, business systems, and analytics/cloud-based systems. This flexibility will meet the need for more information to be used as part of an IIoT platform. Even with all of these new demands met, a PLC must still be powerful and robust enough to withstand the demands of an industrial environment.

PLCnext Technology from Phoenix Contact meets the needs of the control system of today, while providing flexibility for the future. PLCnext Technology provides real-time PLC operation following standard IEC 61131-3, while also supporting various high-level languages including C, C++, C#, MatLab, and more. Users are no longer confined to a single development environment.

It also includes the flexibility to utilize open-source Linux-based code. Linux-minded users can access the core of the controller for virtually limitless creative freedom. They can leverage the open-source community or develop individual Linux-based applications from the ground up to effectively reduce lifecycle management for control hardware.

The technology is also IIoT-ready, with the ability to connect to common platforms such as AWS, Azure, Google IoT, and more. PLCnext can be used alone or with an existing control system to collect data from a network or via I/O and push it into the cloud.

For more information about PLCnext, visit: www.phoenixcontact.com/open

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