Your Choices in Industrial Automation Controls

Users have plenty of options when choosing industrial automation controls. From programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to soft-motion controls, there are systems that operate in extreme conditions, reduce costs, and provide a way to scale automation systems over time. Experts don't need to be present to handle the programming. You can implement controls that are compatible with the skill sets of those who will be operating and maintaining the system.

Automation once depended on electromechanical relays as the primary control mechanism. They were designed to turn things off and on, as noted in the article PLCs, PACs, PCs, FPGAs: Decoding the Difference. Then along came the PLC, a ruggedized control device consisting of a microprocessor and memory.

See what's happening with smart technology and soft motion.

PLC Benefits

PLCs are compact and they can work in harsh environments that are subject to widespread degrees of shock and vibration, extreme temperatures, and contamination. They're flexible and there are smart relays like one featured in this editorial from Phoenix Contact where individual relays can be replaced without shutting down the entire system. The PLC Logic system houses the logic in a small module that plugs directly into a block of eight PLC Relays. There's no need for a standalone controller so it saves on space and simplifies maintenance. 

The changing requirements of the industrial automation market outpaced the design cycles of PLCs, causing machine builders to seek other options.

Soft motion in Action

Soft motion is part of the trend of developing software, and not just hardware, for functionality, as described in the write-up New Trends in Soft Motion. Soft motion has allowed industrial users to leverage the advances of the greater PC market to get more computational power.

The most direct use of soft motion is an application that operates on a commodity industrial PC, coupled with intelligent drives. It allows the intelligence for motion to be in the drive but the command for the path is in the software.

Calling it "soft" may lead users to think it's not as high performance as a dedicated hardware-based system, but that's not the case. Soft motion relies exclusively on a software-only engine that runs directly on a host PC to handle the real-time processing.

For the past decade, several companies have offered a machine automation solution that allows you to quickly assemble and build your own Windows-PC machine controller for your industrial equipment or machines. Read a helpful comparison chart in the industry tech paper KingStar Soft Motion Platform Comparison Matrix for more information. Several benefits are listed like reducing machine controller costs by up to 50 percent and improving machine productivity.

Solutions, Simulations, and Safety

Simulation and diagnostic tools that are delivered with these platforms give engineers the tools on their motion control systems that weren't available 10 years ago. As described in New Trends in Soft Motion, the tools can solve very subtle motion control issues very easily without having a lot of expertise. The article also points out the challenge of using an open system where configurations can be changed.

The sophisticated control technology is driving the collaboration between people and machines. People and robots were once always physically separated, but the article The Shrinking Footprint of Robot Safety refers to collaboration as a "new grey area" in regard to safety standards and practices.

Today's soft motion platforms let users leverage all the other tools that have been developed for the main control system: simulation, control design, and model-based control.

It's not easy to know how to use the latest technology to meet your operational goals. Get expertise and input with resources available through A3.