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PLCnext - The control platform for the future…

 

The factory automation ostrich can no longer bury its head in the sand!

Written by Tony Deane, Technical Manager

That is a rather baffling, outrageous and somewhat inflammatory statement to make. But when set against the backdrop of the incredible technological explosion of the last 10 years of Opensource and high-level language programming and the industry’s insistence to cling on to the restrictive framework of IEC 61131-3, using one of the standard 5 languages of Ladder, Instruction List (IL), Function Block Diagram (FBD), Structured Text (ST) or Sequential Function Chart (SFC), what seems like a provocative jibe takes on a cerebral undertone!

Look at your smartphone. Observe the array of apps installed on your device. At the press of an icon, you can order something online or even control your heating and security at home whilst you are out. Do you realise that these apps, in a large part, are written by some of the brilliant young people graduating from our colleges and universities?

They are written, by and large, in high level languages like C++, C#, Python, Rust. These apps are a product of the open source community. The open source community is an untapped pool of talent, on the whole, locked out of the world of factory automation due to the prevalence of IEC 61131-3 software packages to program Programmable Logic Controllers.

PLC Next Technology by Phoenix Contact has changed the game and opened up the world of factory automation to graduates versed in High Level Language and more importantly opened up this untapped talent pool to the factory automation industry.

Running on its revolutionary Linux operating system- PLCnext allows high level languages (for example C++, C#, Python, Rust) to be combined with traditional IEC 61131-3 languages (FBD, STL, SFC, Ladder) and compiled on a common compiler. This means that traditional PLC code and high-level language programs can be run deterministically on the CPU and even combined in the same task.

As a business owner /principal of a systems integrator or machine builder, this means you can now future proof your business by having the engineers of the present passing their knowledge on whilst working alongside the next generation of programmers, ensuring future innovation and success.

Here is a great presentation by Tony Deane, UK Technical Manager for Phoenix Contact UK and the author of this blog. This shows a real world application solved with PLCnext technology. 

Join the PLCnext community

Now the next generation of programmers can keep up to date as well as contribute via the PLCnext community, the place for all things PLCnext. Here you will find news, industry trends, blogs, user stories, real applications, and support to help get started with PLCnext.

We have also created the PLCnext store which provides numerous software libraries available as apps for PLCnext Engineer, the PLCnext software package. Additionally, you will find several verified 3rd party apps in the field of automation technology, thus enabling integration of more technical functions to PLCnext Control devices directly and easily.

For more information, contact Tony on tdeane@phoenixcontact.com

Phoenix Contact is a world leader for electronic components, systems and solutions in the field of electrical engineering, electronics and automation. The family-owned company currently employs 17400 people worldwide and achieved a total revenue of 2.38 billion euro in 2018. The headquarters are in Blomberg, Germany. The Phoenix Contact Group consists of nine companies and 55 sales companies. The worldwide presence is also supported by 30 agencies in Europe and overseas.

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Comments

September 30, 2020 14:46

hmmmm...... I am 64 years old as of now. I have another three or four years to go. I have been in the automotive/automation fields now since 1978. When I left college, I was a computer science major having programmed in Cobol, Basic, Fortran, Lisp, Algol..and a few others. I thought I was a smart cookie having programmed on a Control Data CDC 6500 and an IBM 360 in all the aforesaid languages and assembly. I was a hotshot programmer.... I ended up going to work in the machine tool industry and got my hands on some of the very first PLCs.... G.E., Modicon, Allen-Bradley, Numalogic....wow. Now, as I was really new in ladder logic, and didn't know enough to know I didn't know enough, I thought ladder logic was primitive and EVERYTHING could be done far more efficiently in a higher level language. In my home life, I was a hacker...before there were really hackers, per se. I had a COSMAC CDP1802 ELF home computer which I had wire wrapped. I built few 8080's/8085's, a few Z-80's, 8086's, 68000's and then on to 8035's, 8048's and wow 8051's w/Basic in rom. I had a Z-8671 that had on onboard rom'ed Basic. I taught myself C, C++, C#, Turbo Basic & C. I learned HTML, Java, Rust and a few more. It is now 2020. I am still working in the manufacturing sector. I am still programming in ALL these languages, and daily, in ladder logic. Yes, I have used function code, structured text and a number of others. For machine control, there is nothing as succinct or efficient as ladder logic. In one typical rung of pure boolean logic, I can program what would be done in 30 to 50 lines of C. Ladder logic is pure boolean logic, however, to handle text and files, there are a few better languages, but like 'mxdog' has stated, there are probably millions, if not billions of lines of ladder logic out there controlling machine performing things as simple as lighting timing sequences to assembling some of the most complex pieces of equipment under the sun, not to mention controlling functions on offshore oil platforms to lab experiments that went up on the space shuttle. It will be an awfully long time till manufacturing will be controlled totally in higher level languages, and I know it will be an AWFULLY LONG TIME after I am dead and buried before that day. There is nothing out there as quick in control functions as ladder logic....bar none....and this comes from someone proficient in both worlds. The kids coming out of school need to learn the current methods BEFORE trying to change the world, when they 'know enough to really know enough'. Then they will be useful.

0 Votes

September 30, 2020 14:46

While I agree that the world of PLC can use some modernizing having spent hours and hours reprogramming 70's era machine code via m-codes et al . The trouble with modern higher level programming is the bloat and waste, what could be done in 1 k-byte will then take 25 -mbytes and that is not to mention that when you lose my generation of industrial engineers you will be left with billions of controllers and machines out there that no one will be able to re-purpose/reprogram. I still routinely run into dos machine I have to deal with and those 70's era PLC's too as examples . And the other point is the Black Box principle I run into all the time where some machine maker long gone has implemented software that was all the rage at the time cannot be fixed because the machine is basically a black box. where traditional PLC implemented machines are still going strong 30-40 years later and are still useful and productive with the only alternative is to refit or replace. While interfacing with modern high level languages is a noble goal you might just lose the expertise to actually understand the core PLC workings with programmers and technicians. I for one could see the traditional PLC go away and just use pc based for everything now that single board pc's are so cheap, a little i/o and bobs your uncle so to speak.

The other problem is control . if every guy that knows a line or 2 of java or ruby or whatever can rewrite code on million + dollar systems who controls the thousands of hours of coding that went into that particular machine if it is all public domain at least with the older frameworks you had a much much smaller experts base which in this case I would consider a good thing. I for one don't want the candy crush guy coding my production line robots .....

0 Votes

September 30, 2020 14:46

"The trouble with modern higher level programming is the bloat and waste, what could be done in 1 k-byte will then take 25 -mbytes" 1.) lol @ "what could be done in 1 k-byte will then take 25 -mbytes" 2.) Of course there are applications where traditional plc languages are better suited. You can still use them - no one is stopping you 3.) There are also applications where high level languages are better suited. This plc will be able to do things that simply aren't possible with traditional plc languages. And there are also applications that may be possible with traditional plc languages, but are just easier with high level languages. "not to mention that when you lose my generation of industrial engineers you will be left with billions of controllers and machines out there that no one will be able to re-purpose/reprogram" 4.) This isn’t making traditional plc languages obsolete. No one is making that claim. 5.) If controller obsolescence really is an issue, perhaps an open platform plc compatible with the widest possible range of languages would address that… 6.) The automation industry is bigger now than it has ever been, and we have more programmers, coders, and engineers than ever before. I’m sure we’ll be just fine. “the Black Box principle I run into all the time where some machine maker long gone has implemented software that was all the rage at the time cannot be fixed because the machine is basically a black box” 7.) Are you trying to say this is like a niche/proprietary/closed system that will soon be obsolete? Because this sounds like the most open, flexible, and future-proof PLC I’ve ever heard of – it’s open source, can use both traditional and high level languages, and can work with existing I/O modules and hardware “if every guy that knows a line or 2 of java or ruby or whatever can rewrite code on million + dollar systems who controls the thousands of hours of coding that went into that particular machine if it is all public domain at least with the older frameworks you had a much much smaller experts base which in this case I would consider a good thing” 8.) Where to even start… 9.) Companies with “million + dollar systems” aren’t going to start letting random amateurs play with their production code. 10.) Not sure where the middle part of that sentence is going (“who controls the thousands of hours of coding…”) Do you mean who is responsible for maintaining the code? Who is documenting it? Who legally owns the code? Because none of this is going to be any different than any other plc code. 11.) How on earth would having “a much much smaller experts base” EVER be a good thing????? (Hint: its not) “I for one don't want the candy crush guy coding my production line robots .....” 12.) I’ve never played Candy Crush nor had any desire to. But insulting the dev team behind a multi-billion dollar franchise and acting like you’re in a place to look down upon them is absolutely laughable. I guarantee those engineers are the top of the top and could run circles around you. I have learned one thing from reading all this: I certainly don’t want YOU coding my production line robots.

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