Tony Deane CST/Technical Manager at Phoenix Contact, explains the company's new PLCnext Technology Platform and the benefits it offers in terms of technological capabilities and making the most of current and future programming talent.
Since the mid 1990s automation technology has been dominated by IEC 61131 based programming tools that incorporated the five main languages used in most PLC applications, namely ladder, instruction list, sequential flow chart, function block diagram, and structured text.
Of course some OEMs and system integrators have used high-level languages such as C# or C++ to program applications but this meant using PC-based controllers rather than an industrialised PLC system. This in itself was not such a big dilemma and, with the emergence of ethernet-based industrial networks, became less of an issue.
Let us now move things on about 20 or so years. IEC 61131 still dominates the automation industry landscape, which is a testament to its strength and consistency. However, the world of technology has moved on and so have the bright young minds emerging from our educational institutions. We are now at a point where we are talking about concepts and technologies such as IIOT, big data, apps and the cloud.
The engineering talent of today's generation is not immersed in the nuances of IEC 61131 but more likely to be skilled in high-level languages. This throws up a few questions:
- Does this mean that the automation industry ignores and overlooks this rich pool of talent who are, after all the engineers of the future?
- Does the automation industry intend only to retrain them in the 'old and mystical art of IEC 61131' and set aside the technology of Industry 4.0, the internet of things and digitalisation?
- Does this mean that we disregard the years of experience and considerable talent and skills of all of the older generations of engineers who are masters of IEC 61131?
- How do we move forward incorporating the past the present and future techniques, technologies and programming languages?
- Where can we bring the engineers of the present and the engineers of the new generation to work harmoniously on the same project seamlessly deploying their skills towards achieving one goal?
- How do we bring it all together to exist on one off-the-shelf PLC hardware platform already in use and available that is constantly evolving?
With the PLCnext Technology Platform all of these and many more questions are answered.
Today the automation world is going through a paradigm shift; this is because of the demand for digitalisation and flexible production processes. For example, being able to produce a batch quantity for as little as one personalised item, at no extra cost to the consumer. Can you imagine the commercial advantage this would give a manufacturer in a competitive marketplace?
As an automation integrator or as an end user, to be competitive in a dynamic, fast-moving environment you have to be on the cusp of technology and take advantage of new innovations. Being able to recruit the brightest minds who are in step with the latest technologies will be the key to success in the automation industry moving forward.
The PLCnext Technology Platform offers a 'Platform to Limitless Automation'. Here are the core value propositions of PLCnext Technology
- PLC-typical real-time performance and data consistency, also for high-level languages and model-based code
- Limitless adaptation capability through quick, simple integration of open-source, apps and future technologies
- Intelligent networking through cloud connection and integration of current and future communication standards
- Quick application development: several developers work independently in different programming languages
- Convenient engineering with your favourite programming tools
The PLCnext Technology Platform was launched at SPS Drives in Nuremberg in November 2017. Dates for seminars and information days will be announced soon. Follow the link for more information about the PLCnext Technology Platform.