22 Jul 2024


Open controller heralds ‘a new era in automation’

A year after it announced its PLCnext “open” control technology, Phoenix Contact has released its first controller based on the technology. At the recent SPS IPC Drives show in Germany, Phoenix’s chief technology officer, Roland Bent, hailed the development as “the start of a new era in automation”.

Linux-based PLCnext – an enhancement to IEC 61131-compliant PLC programming – allows users to program controllers using high-level languages, thus achieving real-time performance and data consistency for these languages, as well as model-based code. Multiple developers can work independently on a project in different programming languages using the tools they prefer.

So, while PLC programmers are specifying the sequential control of a system or machine in IEC 61131, processes such as optical pattern recognition can be programmed in parallel using a high-level language. The various program sequences do not need to be integrated into an IEC 61131 task for them to run deterministically.

The result, says Phoenix, will be “significantly” faster development of applications. Open source software and apps can also be incorporated into the system in a flexible way.

The ability to mix-and-match programming techniques also fits in with engineers’ changing skills sets. Unlike 20 years ago, when most new engineers had PLC knowledge, recent graduates are more likely to be familiar with higher-level languages and tools such as Matlab and Java. Ulrich Leidecker, president of Phoenix’s Industry Management and Automation business, sees PLCnext as being “the binding element” that will tie the different generations together.

The first product to use the technology is called PLCnext Control (model number: AXC F 2152). It has a dual-core processor with 512MB memory and a clock rate of 800MHz. It is aimed at small-scale, decentralised, modular control applications. Higher-end controllers will follow later this year.

The new controller is said to combine the robustness and security of a classic PLC with the openness and flexibility of smart devices. Phoenix says it will allow users to implement automation projects without the limitations of proprietary systems.

The PLCnext controllers are based on an embedded Linux architecture, expanded to include a real-time capability in its core. Modifying the real-time section of an operating system core would be “unthinkable” in the proprietary world, Phoenix suggests.

Linux offers advantages such as stability and secure communications, as well as openness and flexibility. It can also run on different hardware platforms and makes scaling or the use of future processor architectures possible.

The new controller has an OPC UA server, as well as system, user, and fieldbus managers, diagnostic loggers, trace controllers, and automatic access to Proficloud, which is free for the first year.

The first system extensions – such as integrating safety technology – will follow later this year.