The PLC will continue to play a key role as a highly reliable workhorse in factory automation, but also in other areas, even if the classic automation pyramid is undergoing major changes in the age of Cloud and IoT. The prerequisite is, that the manufacturer succeeds in adapting the performance spectrum of its control components to the new world of automation.
The new Role of the PLC in the Age of IoT and Industry 4.0
A traditional PLC with a pure IEC61131-3 runtime system will no longer meet these requirements. Characterized by the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT), highly flexible control systems will be demanded in the future, which, in addition to traditional sequence control, also master the most important key technologies for Industry 4.0:
- Cloud connectivity and support for edge scenarios
- Run-time environment for containerized feature extensions
- Rapid application development through low-code techniques
- System programming with modern high-level languages
- Integrated functions for data analysis and Artificial Intelligence on site
- Interaction with the digital twin of the plant
- Modular automation solutions (MTP)
- OPC UA and MQTT as universal communication tools
A New Automation World Requires New Engineering
With this new role of the PLC, the requirements for engineering tools of automation systems are also changing. Of course, control and IO configuration, programming of the control application according to IEC61131-3 and configuration of the Fieldbuses will continue to form the basis of many control applications. But these core functions must be complemented by new tools that also enable efficient engineering of the technology options outlined above. Old and new automation worlds must be linked efficiently and in a way that is useful and comprehensible to the user to generate the maximum value.
From Engineering System to Expert System
The task becomes even more challenging when one considers that engineering must combine maximum flexibility with maximum simplicity, and this ideally not only on the classic Windows PC, but more and more also web-based in the browser and on mobile devices.
The targeted user groups are also becoming increasingly heterogeneous and require tool support that is as individual as possible. The engineering system is increasingly becoming an expert system that actively supports the user in the design of his industry-specific solution and generates the appropriate code for the target system based on existing libraries.
Integrated Multi-Tool Workflows instead of Monster IDEs
The seamless visual integration of all tools in a consistent engineering environment (Integrated Development Environment, IDE), which was a goal often pursued in the past, is not always the undisputed objective in view of the associated effort and development risks. Today, modern tools tend to be pragmatically integrated with existing legacy tools in a consistent workflow. The trend points toward loose coupling of specialized tools via service-based call interfaces and common databases. This is another way to design individual usage scenarios with good usability.
M&M Software is a Partner with Experience
When designing and realizing such engineering tools and engineering workflows, M&M Software helps as an experienced partner that not only brings the required spectrum of technology and application knowledge, but can also point to sound experience in the successful realization of such engineering systems with various well-known customers.