What Will PLC Technology Look like in the Years to Come?
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have been around for 50 years and have maintained their dominance in the world of industrial automation. Despite their age, PLCs are continuing to evolve with technology and are expecting to remain the industry standard for years to come. Here are some of the ways PLCs are changing and adapting to the times.
Smaller, faster, cheaper
The technology transforming the electronics market is starting to impact PLCs, making them much smaller and more functional. For starters, small PLCs will evolve to include many of the features of higher-level PLCs, and mid- and high-range PLCs will offer a smaller, more compact solution to meet users' needs.
PLCs programmable devices are also being integrated with USB readers, SD cards and other connectivity devices. This makes it easier for PLC technicians to get online, program, and monitor the control system. And with the availability of smaller micro and mini USB connectors, even smaller PLCs will have these kind of integrations. These nonvolatile portable memory devices also give PLCs an enormous amount of additional memory.
Designed for Industry 4.0
Major technology innovations—advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing and big data analytics—are expected to significantly shift the landscape of the manufacturing industry. This trend in manufacturing is known as Industry 4.0. In this new industrial reality, PLCs will play a major in role as the main control and input centre and interface for human workers.
PLCs will remain the central processor for real-time manufacturing processes, but will also better communicate with input sensors through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This will also help PLCs collect better data and deliver it to machine learning programs.
For instance, the PLC data in conjunction with the sensor and other device data can be integrated together to show the "big picture" that results from the collection of the "big data." Analysis tools can then help plant managers and others to better leverage resources, batch scheduling of jobs, logistics, supplier timing and track big data other functions that are critical to create more efficient manufacturing processes.
The collective data can also be tracked and analyzed for preventative maintenance and optimal performance of that single device within the scope of the manufacturing process.
Withstanding harsh conditions
PLCs and the facilities that house them need to be prepared for a changing global climate. Extreme climatic events such as heat waves, floods or cold snaps are becoming more prevalent and severe which could potentially damage electronic equipment such as PLCs.
PLCs in the future will be designed to be more robust to withstand the harsh climate. They will be made with different materials, such as fiber signals which are more durable than electronic signals, especially in electronically hostile environments like some plant floors. As well, thanks to IIoT technology, the PLC can be operated remotely and be housed in isolation in harsh conditions where there’s little to no electrical noise interference. This is especially important if there are sensitive sensors and processes that require precise monitoring and actions.
With the rise of Internet of Things and inter-connected devices, cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important. Shutting down sensors, and interfering with the visibility of the sensor system, for instance, could cause plants and work sites to shut down. For instance, Honeywell Process Solutions' (HPS) ControlEdge programmable logic controller (PLC) is designed with enhanced cybersecurity for industrial facilities. You can expect more security features to be built-in to PLCs and other inter-connected devices to deter cyber attacks.
PLCs are here to stay
For the last 50 years, PLCs have been able to adapt with the times and today is no exception. It will continue to remain a core function in automated factory settings and become better integrated with other technologies. PLC training and education remains a great future proof career option.