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Modular PLC targets £55m UK market

01 October, 2006

Modular PLC targets £55m UK market

ABB has launched a mid-range modular PLC system which, it says, will compete on cost with systems from Mitsubishi, Rockwell and Siemens.

ABB hopes that the new AC500 system will help it make inroads into a UK market that it estimates is worth £55m. Its main targets will be existing users of ABB automation equipment, such as drives and motors — in particular, OEMs and systems integrators.

The new PLC (above) supersedes the earlier AC31 family which has had limited success in the UK since it was launched about a decade ago. James Large, product manager for automation components at ABB`s low-voltage products division, says that sales of the AC31 were hindered by the "lack of a coherent support and growth strategy".

The AC500 system consists of three products — PLCs, I/O modules and HMIs. These can be used together, or can be integrated independently into existing automation systems.

There is a choice of three plug-and-play CPUs, with memory sizes ranging from 64kb to 4MB. The interchangeable PLCs are the same size, avoiding the need to change connecting parts or terminal bases when you upgrade.

The PLC can be programmed using any of six IEC 61131-3 languages. The programming software allows you to perform offline simulations before installing a system.

An LCD built into the PLC allows faults to be identified using diagnostic codes. There are two serial interfaces, and a slot for an SD memory card that can be used to upload or download, data, firmware updates, or programs. The PLCs can be accessed by a remote PC via Ethernet or serial networks.

The system`s I/O modules use ABB`s FieldBusPlug technology to support any of five fieldbus protocols — Profibus DP, CANopen, DeviceNet, Modbus or CS31.

The system`s HMI provides local monitoring and control functions, including alarm and recipe management, trend analyses, and data logging. There is a choice of ten displays, ranging from two-line text displays to 10.4-inch colour touchscreens.

Large says that the system`s modular, scalable format, and its use of terminal bases that can be wired without electronics, will allow users to reduce their stockholding. He also reckons that the simple wiring could halve installation times.

Several AC500 pilot sites are already running in the UK, including an exhibit on Brunel`s ss Great Britain ship in Bristol, which allows visitors to vary the vessel`s engine speed using the PLC to transmit command data. The PLCs have also been used in robotic cells at Nissan`s Lander site, using proven software blocks.

A low-cost micro-PLC version is planned, as are add-on motion functions.

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