(Source: Phoenix Contact)
PLCnext is the first in a new generation of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Operational technology (OT) specialists have used PLCs for decades to automate manufacturing processes, monitor production systems, and more. However, due to the rapid advancement of IT technologies, OT is being forced to adapt to a new landscape.
That’s why PLCnext is a fully customizable solution that was designed for this transitional period. It provides an open-control platform in which software engineers can simultaneously run previously incompatible programming languages. This gives PLCnext an unprecedented amount of flexibility that organizations can harness to meet the challenges of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution.
PLCnext was designed by Phoenix Contact because the company saw the possibility of connecting different worlds, languages, and generations. Today’s industries are seeing a seismic shift: IT/OT convergence into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). So-called “smart devices” in the IIoT still serve their operational functions, but, as they communicate with each other and connect to the internet, they also have an IT component. This brings numerous benefits, but it also creates new problems.
PLCnext bridges the gap between these two worlds. At its heart, it is a ruggedized computer designed to withstand extreme conditions and provide high reliability. Just like with any other PLC, the manufacturer’s goal was to create the fastest system possible with the least amount of hardware. It uses an ARMv7 support 32-bit processor, which reduces cost, power consumption, and heat dissipation.
Software, on the other hand, is what sets PLCnext apart from other PLCs. It runs Yocto Project®, a Linux Debian OS that “provides a flexible set of tools and a space where embedded developers worldwide can share technologies, software stacks, configurations, and best practices that can be used to create tailored Linux images for embedded and IOT devices.” Inspired by the Raspberry Pi, Phoenix Contact’s engineers created an inclusive platform that supports traditional IEC 61131-3 PLC languages like Ladder Diagram (LD) alongside high-level IT languages like Java, C++, and Python.
PLCnext contains a modular software platform called PLCnext Engineer. This unique program allows users to create applications across a spectrum of languages. We can create a single application that simultaneously runs multiple languages, or we can create multiple apps within PLCnext Engineer, each of which can run different languages and will exchange data as we so desire.
A key feature of PLCnext Engineer is that it’s real-time; it uses an internal real-time clock. This internal clock is a precise electronic component to which we can schedule every language. This is a huge benefit for production environments because it decreases the controller’s reliance on an internet connection. Even if it loses connectivity, the PLC will continue to operate in real-time.
While this program provides infrastructure for integrating IT and OT languages, PLCnext’s Linux OS creates even more options. Basically, we can do anything that Linux can do as well. For instance, we can add other programs onto the Linux machine, such as a Java runtime. Inside that program, we could deploy applications like cloud connections, thus connecting the PLC to a cloud-based solution. From there, we can also design an API to run between the Java runtime and PLCnext Engineer in order to send usage reports and other data back to the cloud for storage and analysis.
As PLCopen concludes, “Software plays an ever-increasing role in industrial automation. This results in a software cost increase, even to the point that it becomes the highest part of the total system. To control these costs, one needs higher efficiency during the application development, while increasing the software quality and decreasing the maintenance and update costs.”
PLCnext provides that needed efficiency and quality by giving programmers an unbounded Linux platform that they can use to create customized software that suits their organization’s unique requirements.
The IIoT is already taking root across a range of industries, and this is just the beginning. “Analysts forecast that the industrial sector will have over fifty billion internet-connected devices by 2020,” writes Smart Energy International. This emerging network will require us to synthesize operations and communications in brand new ways. IT and OT will need to work together to remain viable in this future.
PLCnext represents this transition at the device level. Instead of forcing companies to use separate terminals for OT and IT functions, this device enables an integrated approach on a single unit. Engineers can immediately access the best of both worlds. They can harness the advantages of IEC 61131-3 languages while still maintaining access to the benefits of high-level IT languages.
Phoenix Contact wanted to bring everything together in an ecosystem that makes sense. That’s how they offer a connection between those two worlds.
As technology brings us into an ever more connected world, devices like PLCnext will prove to the bridge upon which those connections are built.
Yuri Chamarelli, Lead Product Marketing Specialist - Control Systems for Phoenix Contact, published the PLCnext Technology…Open to the Future blog on November 22, 2019. Mouser Electronics republished with permission by Phoenix Contact.
Yuri Chamarelli has over 10 year of experience in the industrial automation field including, business development, application engineering, sales, product management, and product marketing. During this time, Yuri has designed and assisted in the integration of applications in various industries including Water/ Waste-water, Process, Power Grid/Generation, and Building Automation. As part of these designs, Yuri has lead the control system development as well as the network architecture. Currently, Yuri is the Lead Product Marketing Specialist - Control Systems for Phoenix Contact, where he leads the controller product line for the US market. Yuri is also part of a team of a strategic development team assisting in the development of IIoT strategy for Phoenix Contact lead by PLCnext Technology, designed for open automation.
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