5 Keys to Overcoming the Limitations of Traditional PLCs

“PLCs are well adapted to a range of automation tasks. These are typically industrial processes in manufacturing where the cost of developing and maintaining the automation system is high relative to the total cost of the automation, and where changes to the system would be expected during its operational life. PLCs contain input and output devices compatible with industrial pilot devices and controls; little electrical design is required, and the design problem centers on expressing the desired sequence of operations. PLC applications are typically highly customized systems, so the cost of a packaged PLC is low compared to the cost of a specific custom-built controller design. On the other hand, in the case of mass-produced goods, customized control systems are economical. This is due to the lower cost of the components, which can be optimally chosen instead of a ‘generic’ solution, and where the non-recurring engineering charges are spread over thousands or millions of units.” ‐ Wikipedia.

Traditional PLC configurations struggle to meet modern automation requirements without adding external, sometimes third party hardware and software to complete an entire control system. Automation systems are no longer solely about simple ladder logic used to replace relays ‐ modern automation systems are designed for speed of implementation, flexibility, scalability and connectivity; all while providing detailed user facing information, in real time. To meet these requirements, engineers and integrators have become adept at coupling many different products from multiple manufactures to appear seamless.

When multiple software and hardware solutions are combined from different manufacturers or even disparate products from the same manufacturer, the level of complexity increases. This complexity may cause an increase in development time, both at the project inception and with future project changes. Often times initial design considerations limit future expansion capabilities. Additionally, the ability to provide integrated I/O options, integrated communications, integrated motion control, graphical user interfaces, and flexible data collection comes at a very high price ‐ if it even exists within a traditional PLC solution.

Incorporating one of our All-in-One controllers, rather than a traditional PLC into an automation design, allows engineers and users the opportunity to take advantage of a completely integrated solution, manufactured by one company. Below are five keys our controllers provide to overcome these traditional PLC limitations.

  1. SoftwareTraditional PLC based applications are programmed using proprietary software. Some projects may include: PLC programming software, HMI development software, SCADA software, and data collection systems, which make a project extremely complex and very costly. With an engineered solution consisting of multiple manufacturers’ products, there is a cost and learning curve for every element of the project.Our All-in-One controllers allow for programming and configuration of all aspects of the automation project within a singular environment. Through Cscape software, We allow programming in our enhanced ladder logic environment as well as in all of the IEC-61131 programming languages, a complete HMI graphical configuration suite, HTML5 web development, and a full featured motion configuration environment ‐ all for little or no cost.
  2. I/OTraditional PLC based applications include options for I/O to be mounted with the processor in a backplane or on a local bus. Some traditional solutions also have provisions to support remote I/O on one or more network bus options.Our All-in-One controllers provide local I/O options built directly into the controller/HMI. These options are included with the part number selection and for many applications, eliminate the need for purchasing additional costly add-on I/O. But for projects that need higher I/O counts, our All-in-One controllers also provide seamless connectively to many different network bus options; many of which can be configured to run simultaneously. Our team at Horner provides a wide selection of proven I/O for almost any application.
  3. CommunicationsWhile times have changed with regard to a traditional PLC’s ability provide network communications capabilities, the fact remains that most traditional PLC manufacturers provide most of their support around their network of choice. Whether it is Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet or even Modbus/TCP, manufacturers center their core support around one or two select methods of communications.With our All-in-One controller solutions, we have maintained the support of all the communication options since the beginning of our development. So rather than starting fresh with each new product release, we have continued development and support around the legacy direct driver connections as well as a core of CAN based protocols including among others, J1939. Horner has also developed around most of the popular industrial Ethernet protocols like: Ethernet/IP, Modbus/TCP and even BAC/Net.
  4. ConnectivityTraditional PLCs provide limited connectivity options without incorporating additional modules or third party interfaces. Gateways, unique software, and custom hardware interfaces have become the standard when trying to connect traditional PLCs to field devices.In many of our All-in-One model options, a customer will have the ability to simultaneously use the following hardware connections: two independent Ethernet ports, three serial ports, two CAN Bus ports, and the widest range of on board I/O in the industry.
  5. Data Collection Actual data collection within the confines of a traditional PLC doesn’t exist. Solution providers have learned to “add-on” SCADA software and the associated PC hardware to run the SCADA. Even HMI offerings from most manufacturers do not include the ability to log real-time data. Even if logging data into registers within the core PLC memory were acceptable, retrieving that data for use within any type of analytical environment would prove to be less than productive.Our products at Horner have been designed with data collection in mind from day one. Introducing the very first micro-SD logging solution many years ago, we immediately began to understand the value of real-time data collection and retrieval. Through almost 25 years of perfecting our software, data logging continues to be one of the most renowned features within our Cscape environment. Directly through the OCS products and our upcoming WEBMI feature, customers have the ability to:
    • Visualize historical trends and historical data in many other formats
    • Capture information without the use of expensive add-on devices or software
    • Present this data in HTML5 format through the use of this powerful real-time data collection functionality, allowing customers to interact remotely via any internet enabled device

While traditional PLC solutions have provided a structure for customers to build customized automation applications for many years, the current requirements of speed to market, data collection, and remote connectivity provide the perfect venue for a creative modern solution like our All-in-One, OCS controllers at Horner.