Five Things Your PLC Can’t, But Should, Do
What do small-batch brewing operations, package flow in an Amazon warehouse, and roller coasters all have in common?
As different as all of these things are, when looking behind the curtain at what controls the mechanics, it’s all the same; the sturdy and reliable Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
A Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is a computing device, similar to a PC or smartphone that the industrial automation industry uses to monitor and control the operation of machines and equipment. The PLC monitors inputs, and an internal computer makes decisions using logic to send commands to outputs that, in turn, control the machinery.
All PLCs are programmable and range in complexity. PLCs can be monitored by other computer applications like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or cloud-based apps. Recent advances in PLCs allow for much higher connectivity and integration with a centralized management system.
In the age of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 utilizing big data, the desire to harness the power of PLCs data collection and capitalize on their capabilities is higher than ever. With the increased interest in PLC data collection, limitations on what the reliable PLC can and can’t do are becoming more noticeable.
Leverage Open Source Support
Most PLCs are restrictive, proprietary systems that were not designed to support an open-source. As a result, companies have to rely on manufacturers for support, patching, and other technical assistance. Ultimately, this is less flexible, more prohibitive, and costlier than open-source alternatives.
Phoenix Contact’s PLCnext offers an open Linux environment for edge computing with access to more data through IoT systems and more flexibility with open source code. By leveraging communities like GitHub, PLCnext community, or the various Linux networks, organizations stand to make substantial gains in customizing code to specific applications.
Interface with Databases
Connecting assets to the Cloud is quickly becoming one of the best ways to communicate to databases. If a PLC can’t connect to the Cloud, or an internet-connected gateway, this could become a concern for a business. The unique combination of cost savings and high-powered analytics that the Cloud offers, implementing strategies for gathering and transferring data, is critical.
High-Level Scripted Languages
To this day, Ladder Diagram (LD), which is modeled on that relay-logic, has remained the most prominent logical control for PLCs. Instead of using code, LD uses graphical representations. In its IEC 61131–3 standard, the IEC, an organization that creates international standards for PLCs, outlines five acceptable languages for PLCs. Even the most high-level of these, Structured Text (ST), doesn’t have the same capabilities of PC languages like Python or C++. Without access to these diverse languages, PLCs are crippled when it comes to what they can and cannot do.
Keep this in mind for the rest of the list–it’s at the core of these issues. While engineers have found ways to overcome these hurdles, they generally involve integrating a PLC into a PC-based system to harness the powers of languages that are inaccessible to the PLC.
Control systems are indispensable for many industrial processes and are lucrative targets for intruders, criminal groups, foreign intelligence, phishers, spammers, hacktivists, or terrorists. Cyber-incidents affecting these control systems can have disastrous effects, not only on your operations but also on a country’s economy and people’s lives. Cyber-intrusions can cause power outages, paralyze transport systems, and trigger ecological catastrophes. The implications of cybersecurity and the need for a comprehensive security strategy is now acknowledged by more sectors and is now very much part of standard operational risk management.
Most PLCs do not have cybersecurity features built-in. Some PLC manufacturers do have add-ons that help with the threats of cybersecurity. For example, Schneider Electric’s Modicon M580 PAC controller is cyber-security certified (Achilles Level 2) with IPsec communications protocol, easy to configure Cybersecurity features and strict supervision of firmware and software integrity.
Secure Cloud Connection
With the power of the next-generation PLCs from Phoenix Contact and Schneider Electric, your reliable PLC can work harder for you. Upgrade your PLC to include built-in cybersecurity, connectivity to multiple devices or the Cloud, and the processing power needed to handle big data analysis. This PLC combination can take your application to the next level.
Barr-Thorp Electric Company can provide a solution for your PLC needs by creating a customized application using next-generation PLC’s. To learn more, contact Barr-Thorp at 800-473-9123.
For more information on PLC’s and unique applications, check out these articles: