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The PLC morphs into the PAC

01 December, 2002

The PLC morphs into the PAC

The PLC (programmable logic controller) is evolving to create a new class of industrial controller, according to the ARC Advisory Group, which is calling the new devices "programmable automation controllers", or PACs. Although the PLC is "very much alive and well, with a long life ahead", says ARC, "this industrial workhorse has morphed in numerous ways to expand its appeal".

The defining characteristics of the PAC are that it:

• combines several functions, such as logic, motion, variable speed control and process control, in one system;

• offers a multi-disciplinary development platform with common tagging and a single database;

• uses software tools that allow designs to be implemented by process flow across several machines or processes;

• provides an open, modular architecture that mirrors industrial applications such as factory machine layouts; and

• employs de facto standards for network interfaces and languages, allowing data to be exchanged in networked, multi-supplier installations.

ARC believes that the PAC concept "will play a major role in plant and factory automation, today and in the future". According to Craig Resnick, the company`s research director for manufacturing advisory services, PACs meet the demands of OEMs and machine builders for modular, multi-disciplinary systems with fewer components. "A PAC is flexible and configurable," he says, "so users can customise and optimise it to meet their particular requirements for controlling and automating both machines and plants".

ARC suggests that rather than displacing traditional configurations, PACs are creating new opportunities. It says that the integrated development environment will lower project development and implementation costs, and expand the number of financially justifiable projects. The use of PACs will also help to shift the emphasis towards open communication standards and software integration.

Users will become more focused on total system performance, rather than choosing hardware, ARC predicts. PACs will also help them to monitor and control devices connected to hardware better, it adds. This in, turn, will encourage PAC suppliers to focus more on system performance and optimisation, rather than on differentiating their hardware and components from others.

PACs also fit in with the trend for users delegate integration and service functions to automation suppliers. The multifunctional capabilities of PACs means that they can help to provide service and support through, for example, Web-based monitoring and maintenance. Technicians will be able to access suppliers` Web sites from the factory floor to help them troubleshoot problems.

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