Soft PLC for Control System Development
When designing and implementing control systems, traditionally, manufacturing firms chose hardware-based PLC controllers or two types of PC-based controls which are very similar – Software PLC that runs on a PC or raw software control that runs on a Real Time Operating System (RTOS). Both are co-resident with a general-purpose operating system (GPOS) like Microsoft Windows or Linux. In the manufacturing firms, such controls may be put in place for handling materials or for controlling inventories and the task was well-defined.
Having the GPOS is important because it makes the whole software control more friendly and usable and eases integration – just more open. By contrast having a hardware PLC system which is unable to load third party software can work just fine because the scope of the task was well known and does not change much.
However, that all has now changed with Industry 4.0. Control systems must offer far more flexibility and openness to address the unknown demands of the new manufacturing world that requires more flexibility. Machine Automation Software for machine controllers is answering the call. With increasing frequency, manufacturing firms are selecting PC-based software PLCs (sometimes referred to as Soft PLC) or PC controls because they can execute on a PC and also support 3rd party software like Internet of Things (IoT). Even hardware PLC manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Siemens are feeling so much pressure and see the handwriting on the wall, that they have recently announced that they will be augmenting their hardware PLCs with PC-based soft PLCs and PC control solutions.
This was shift to PC-based machine automation is due to the numerous benefits open PC controllers offer versus closed hardware solutions. Such benefits include lower costs, better integrability, scalability and flexibility. This rapid shift to soft PLC and PC-based controls can be attributed to other features too.
PC controls offer benefits that include; the speedy communication between the equipment and control programming. This makes the system faster and ultimately cheaper due to lesser time being utilized. Also, PC controls support numerous programming languages (C++, .NET, C#, PLC, LabView, QT and many more) and they are not tied to any single hardware platform.
The soft PLC PC-based controllers are highly durable, and they are hardened industrially to cope any changes in the technological environment and any new window updates. As a result, this cuts down costs on the users that they might have incurred in upgrading the controls and looking for experts to help them update their window versions in order to be compatible with the new developments. Soft PLC hardly fail, and they are long lasting owing to their lifecycle of about 20 years. In addition, the soft PLC are known by many engineers. This makes it easy for the users to obtain help both in programming and in maintaining the system. The use of PLC is also made easier by their manufacturers who focus on developing hardware that is easy to integrate with the PLCs. Since most of the hardware is branded and designed specifically for the PLC users, it also come along with many built in features.
By contrast, the downside of using Hardware PLC is that you will have vendor lock-in so switching costs are high and there are hidden costs to take into consideration that will be incurred in every life cycle and this makes it more expensive. In addition, the user will tend to be tied to the manufacturer for both the hardware and the PLC needs. Industry 4.0 and Made in China 2025 are driving the need for more open Machine Automation Software that executes on an Industrial PC (IPC) and can be deployed in the form of a Software PLC or PC Controller.