Tips on how to choose industrial controller hardware, software

 

Learning Objectives

  • Looking at industrial controller, PLC assessments for hardware, software.
  • Examining industrial controllers, PLC selection advice.
  • Understanding PLC software advancements to overcome code complexity.

PLC hardware and software selection and PLC programming insights

  • Finding the industrial controllers and software in use is part of the process of upgrading PLC ardware, software.
  • Advice about selecting PLCs includes how well industrial controllers work with hardware and software from other vendors.
  • PLC software advancements are available to help overcome code complexity inherent as industrial controllers hardware has advanced without improvement of software tools.

Industrial controller hardware and software are central to smoothly operating automation, and “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering, part of CFE Media and Technology, previewed below, offers more on those topics. The Registered Continuing Education Program (RCEP) offers one professional development hour (PDH) upon successful completion of an exam after this webcast.

This PLC course will look at issues related to programmable logic controller (PLC) hardware and selection and programming. Most manufacturers or facilities have some of this software and some of that hardware for industrial control applications. When there’s an expansion planned, do you stay with existing vendor(s) or consider something new? What criteria are you applying and for whom? Are internal or external standards being applied? Are there “they” and “us” considerations involved in selection? Do you need help or just need to finish, and, if you just need to finish, is your successor going to curse you by name daily?

Learning objectives for this course are to:

  • Assess what controllers and programming software are in use.
  • Determine present and future controller hardware and software needs.
  • Examine criteria in place for vendor selection, and if they are meeting your needs.
  • Consider the post-programming future? Will the architecture allow updates?
  • Learn from examples showing a more supportable hardware-software controller future.

Poll questions during the webcast will benchmark participants’ progress on the topic. Webcast is moderated by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering. Expert presenters are:

  • Jon Breen, owner, Breen Machine Automation LLC (BMAS).
  • Frank B. Lamb is founder of Automation Consulting LLC and creator of The Automation Primer blog and The Automation Academy, online system integration and industrial automation training site, which includes teaching PLC, HMI and SCADA programming.
  • Eelco van der Wal is the managing director of the worldwide association, PLCopen, with headquarters in The Netherlands, Europe.
Courtesy: Breen Machine Automation, Automation Consulting, PLCopen and Control Engineering webcasts

Presenters in the in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering are Jon Breen, owner, Breen Machine Automation LLC (BMAS), Frank B. Lamb is founder of Automation Consulting LLC and Eelco van der Wal, managing director of PLCopen.
Courtesy: Breen Machine Automation, Automation Consulting, PLCopen and Control Engineering webcasts

Industrial controller, PLC assessments for hardware, software

In the webcast, Lamb explained that before an upgrade, it’s important to assess what is in place have to better determine what is needed. Here are six considerations, and he gives examples to explain further.

  1. Plants often don’t have data or complete data. This step probably requires an on-site visit.
  2. Firmware and software revision numbers are important. Firmware and software versions often must match. Customer may not have support for the latest software.
  3. Older hardware may not be supported by newer software. Customer may not support their own assets at all.
  4. Don’t forget auxiliary software, such as network configuration!
  5. It’s easy to miss facilities controllers and devices, such as building controllers.
  6. Detective work may be needed beyond control cabinets: Control may be distributed, “on machine” solutions.
Assessing where industrial controllers and related software reside requires investigative work, explained Frank B. Lamb, founder of Automation Consulting LLC, in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: Automation Consulting and Control Engineering webcasts

Assessing where industrial controllers and related software reside requires investigative work, explained Frank B. Lamb, founder of Automation Consulting LLC, in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: Automation Consulting and Control Engineering webcasts

Industrial controllers: PLC selection advice

Breen said PLCs and programmable automation controllers (PACs) usually are DIN-rail-mountable plastic or metal boxes enclosing the electronics. Control chips architecture might be custom system on a chip (SOCs), field-programmable gate array (FPGA)-based, PC central processing units (CPUs), or a combination. Input/output (I/O) connections can be local on the PLC and/or via a network. Connectivity often is via Ethernet or by USB. Breen offers more on PLC purchasing, PLC languages, PLC programming, PLC functionality, PLC integration with IT systems and related PLC topics.

PLC selection advice from Breen includes looking for:

  • Broad software compatibility – Programming software that’s backwards compatible with older product versions and cross compatible with multiple lines of controllers is very helpful.  It means you don’t need to scramble for the right version every time you need to support something.  OS support also helps.  For example, software that’s only supported on Windows 11 would be inconvenient because most of us are still running Microsoft Windows 7 or 10.
  • Easy to manage software – I can tell you for at least one PLC manufacturer, I have 30+ versions of PLC software installed on my laptop. That’s a nightmare to manage. I would much prefer to see one programming platform supported for 10 before a manufacturer launches another major version. I would also like to see easier licensing. Many manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure you can’t steal their software, and in doing so, they’ve made it hard to get the software to work in the first place.
  • Strong programming lifecycle management – Look for a version control system with good differencing tools and multi-user support. That makes it easy to document program changes or go back in time if they didn’t work out so well.
  • Flexible, powerful, efficient programming tools – How quickly can you write a program?  How readable/maintainable will it be? How many times do you want to reinvent the wheel on one project? This is a deep topic, but know that the tools are out there, and they differ hugely between manufacturers.
  • Strong support – Until the robots take our programming jobs, humans will have to be able to learn and use these systems. Any PLC worth considering will have good support from the manufacturer and/or distributor – applications, technical, phone, in person, and online.
Jon Breen, owner, Breen Machine Automation LLC (BMAS), included discussion of PLC programming languages in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: Breen Machine Automation and Control Engineering webcasts

Jon Breen, owner, Breen Machine Automation LLC (BMAS), included discussion of PLC programming languages in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: Breen Machine Automation and Control Engineering webcasts

PLC software advancements to overcome code complexity

Van der Wal noted that with huge advancements in controller hardware, many are more dependent on software and suffer because of the resulting increased software complexity. Doubling the lines of code more than doubles complexity, he said. Controller software and software development requires more attention to managing complexity. PLCopen supports modern software development processes that provide a structured approach. This can happen, van der Wal said, with:

  • Modern software development processes
  • Libraries of re-usable components
  • Open standardized interfaces
  • Application programs independent from hardware and architecture.
Programming efficiency can be improved with use of code libraries and other tools, according to Eelco van der Wal, managing director of PLCopen, in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: PLCopen and Control Engineering webcasts

Programming efficiency can be improved with use of code libraries and other tools, according to Eelco van der Wal, managing director of PLCopen, in the webcast, “How to choose industrial controller hardware, software,” from Control Engineering. Courtesy: PLCopen and Control Engineering webcasts

PLC and industrial controller programming can benefit with attention to software structuring, decomposition, reuse, encapsulation and abstraction, van der Wal said. By using function block libraries, application programs can be smaller and easier to upgrade. PLCopen has function block libraries for logic, for motion, for safety and communications.

– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: PLC selection, PLC software, PLC programming

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