How EtherCAT-enabled Software-PLC Controllers used in Automation, Motion and Robotics are Changing the Economics of Machine Automation

The emergence of the EtherCAT-based software PLC controller that executes on a standard industrial PC (IPC) marked a new era in the manufacturing industry. This is because, the industrial processes became more precise, automated and less pricey. This translated to better quality and quantity of products yet at a cheaper cost. Notably, the software PLC controller continues to evolve as technological advancements change how it is applied in some of the cutting edge industrial environments as discussed below.
Application in automation
In the industrial automation sector, PLCs are used to facilitate continuous, real-time monitoring and processing of data received from the input sensors and devices. PLC triggers action for linked output devices in a bid to complete assigned tasks. The application of software PLC in industrial automation is now a standard operation requirement because industries seek to boost machine reliability, stability of applicable systems and above all, maintain a consistent, high and quality performance level. This in turn reduces the frequency of human errors during production and the number of required machine operators.

Application in Soft Motion
software PLC is applied in electromechanical fields with the aim of eliminating electromechanical relays effectively using solid state digital computers that are loaded with the software PLC controller. This is because, software PLC emulates the connection of different relays required to execute a specific logical operation. To ensure that software PLC is easily applied in the electromechanical fields, its programming language is designed to resemble ladder logic diagrams since electrical engineers and industrial electricians are familiar with the language. Additionally, software PLC leaves room for alteration of control system behavior by simply altering the commands sent to it without tampering with the configuration of all linked electrical components. Software PLC controller performs timed functions and advanced functions while maintaining a high degree of efficiency and accuracy that electromechanical relays could not have achieved. Additionally, PLC offers remote control and monitoring capabilities and can communicate with networked computers. This makes it a more viable and complete alternative to the traditional electromechanical relays.

This concept also extends and applies to motion control applications because the EtherCAT-enabled software PLC instructs which servo drives or controllers should execute at what time. One specific example of the integration requirements can be found with the demands on robotics today.

Application in robotics
In the Industry 4.0 era, robots seldom perform stand-alone operations like welding a seam on a car at a fixed point is space over and over and over again. Robots are being integrated into a workcell or as part of an entire line automation process. This ultimately requires line control somewhat like a traffic police and the PLC serves at the coordinator that lets the robot integrate with vision systems and with other machinery and conveyors. Thus, today’s robotics are designed to be compatible with the software PLC controller. Meaning that, a group of robots can function effectively and independently from a single centralized PLC. Most independently driven robots use a single station touchscreen solution that allows easy and quick modification of PLC functions to suit the functions of associated industrial robotics.

Challenges to Integration
However, not all the industrial robotics processes are easily integrated with a software PLC infrastructure. Trying to integrate proprietary hardware that relies on proprietary HMIs dramatically limit the ability to integrate the machine and robot. Leading machine builders have found that an all-software, open Machine Automation platform that pre-integrates a PLC, soft Motion Control, and vision on the same IPC lends the flexibility to deliver on the promise of smart edge device controllers, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0. You can find out more by reading the article entitled: Achieving Industry 4.0: Four Critical Features for Smart Machine Automation

A EtherCAT-enabled software PLC controller deployed as a component in an Open Machine Automation Software solution is a transformative technological advancement that facilitates the automation, robotics and manufacturing industries to operate more effectively. While the PLC has long been a valuable tool for machine control, the Industrial PC software PLC controller will gain more value as a line controller that facilitates the integration of many controllers including robotics, vision and general machine control. The economics of the open Machine Automation software to compelling to ignore. Eliminating the proprietary hardware dramatically lowers the cost but embracing the open standards leads to breakthroughs in performance and quality.