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New Contenders Set to Enter Automation Controller Fray

Forthcoming automation control products from both Bosch Rexroth and Mitsubishi will feature multi-domain functionality.

John Browett, Product Marketing Manager, Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc.
John Browett, Product Marketing Manager, Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc.

Control integration and improved communication capabilities are two of the hottest trends in automation control platforms. And new control system products expected soon from Bosch Rexroth Corp. and from Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc. will do nothing but add fuel to the fire. 

Bosch Rexroth, for its part, plans to roll out its first stand-alone programmable automation controllers, or PACs, in this year’s second quarter, says Ted Thayer, PLC product manager at the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based supplier. The company until now has been best-known for its motion control products. But Bosch Rexroth plans to push further into the general discrete manufacturing control market this year, Thayer notes. And the Bosch Rexroth MLC 40, MLC 45 and MLC 65 PACs—which feature integrated sequential and motion control capabilities—will mark a high-profile step in that direction. 

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Electric Automation will push to higher levels of control integration this year with its next-generation iQ Automation Platform, says John Browett, product marketing manager for the firm, which has North American headquarters in Vernon Hills, Ill. The company’s current Q Series Automation Platform controller already features the ability to integrate four different control functionalities into the same platform—sequential, process, motion and personal computer-based control. The iQ will up the ante, by adding Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and robot control capabilities to the mix, Browett says.  

Count ’em, six 

Like the Q Series, the iQ will accommodate up to four central processing units (CPUs) in the same chassis. But the ability to select from a total of six different control functionalities to fill those four slots “is something nobody else is doing today,” Browett contends. The iQ platform will be rolled out in stages in North America over about the next six months, Browett says. Included in the launch will be a new integrated software programming suite, provisionally know as iQ Works, that will enable a common development platform, he notes. “All of the tags will be shared between all the different system parts, so it’s going to save a lot of time and effort in development and maintenance.” 

On the communication side, iQ Automation will be configured to leverage the benefits of CC Link IE, an open-standard, Gigabit industrial Ethernet protocol that was released last November in Japan by the CC-Link Partner Association (Automation World, December 2007, p. 19). CC Link IE will prove particularly useful for iQ users in applications that require the ability to share large amounts of data in real time among multiple controllers, Browett notes.  

While iQ Automation—like the earlier Q Series—will feature many of the features commonly associated with PACs, Browett says that Mitsubishi still favors the Automation Platform name, and does not intend to use the PAC name.  

Smack in the middle 

That’s not the case with Bosch Rexroth’s new MLC 45 and MLC 65 controller entries, which the company will refer to as PACs. “These are basically PLC (programmable logic controller) platforms that also do motion control, have extensive network connectivity, and support the full PLCopen spectrum, so you’ve got all the different programming languages you can select from,” says Thayer. These and other features mean the new Bosch controllers “pretty much fall right smack dab in the middle of how ARC defines a PAC,” he says, in reference to the ARC Advisory Group Inc., Dedham, Mass., which is credited with coining the PAC terminology in 2002.  

The use of the PAC name is largely a marketing decision, Thayer indicates. Customers seem interested in the PAC concept, he notes, “and we do feel it’s important to adopt the lingo that customers are using.” The PAC name can also help create an awareness that “not only do we have PLC products, but we have products that are powerful as well,” Thayer adds. 

The largest of the new PACs, the MLC 65, will feature a 1 Gigahertz (Ghz) X86-compatible processor that will need only about 20 microseconds to execute a 1,000-instruction program, says Thayer. “That’s about the fastest out there in the market,” he contends, and about twice the speed of Bosch Rexroth’s existing MLC 40 controller, which will be renamed a PAC when the MLC 45 and 65 family members are released.  

Final memory size for the MLC 65 has not yet been determined, but will be at least 32 megabytes, twice that of the MLC 40, enabling users to write and store large, complex programs, says Thayer. Built-in MLC 65 communications will include SERCOS III, Profibus, Profinet, EtherNet/IP as a master, and standard Ethernet. 

ARC Advisory Group Inc. 

Bosch Rexroth Corp. 

Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc.

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