Over the past few decades, machine controls have evolved drastically. Improved chip designs are shrinking dimensions while increasing compute power exponentially. Modern microprocessors and memory modules have enabled a higher degree of intelligence and connectivity in machine controls – the primary driver of technological change over the years.
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have also changed dramatically. In the past, the PLC was only responsible for running machine operations. Now, PLCs are powerful enough to control both machine operations and more complicated motion control tasks, contributing to more effective, less costly, and easier to use machine controls.
Major Trends in PLCs and Machine Controls
While machine controls have changed a lot over the past few decades, a few major trends have emerged that give us a glimpse into what may be coming next.
Increased Functionality in PLCs
PLCs are now being developed with a focus on increased functionality, as users demand PLCs that handle more responsibility in overall machine control. The increasing processing power within PLCs is allowing them to do a large portion of motion control tasks, letting programmers use the same language for motion control as they are for PLCs, simplifying the set-up process.
Function Block Creation
The breadth of programming languages used in machine control has dwindled over the years – just one reason why the use of PLCs for motion control is becoming more common. PLCopen has established a library of IEC 61131-compatible function blocks that streamline the programming process even further.
The use of a PLC for motion control requires a centralized control architecture. The recent introduction of decentralized control architectures has been enabled by intelligent drives. Today, connected drives operate in a master-slave architecture to perform sophisticated motion control tasks.
Machine controls have changed dramatically over the past few decades. PLCs have become intelligent, adaptable sources of motion control in centralized architectures, while smart drives have taken over motion control duties in decentralized architectures. Motion controllers still have their place – mostly in sophisticated types of motion control with a very high number of axes involved.
Like the manufacturing sector as a whole, machine controls have evolved as processing power and chip designs have improved.
To take a deeper dive on this topic, read our Technical Feature, “The Biggest Trend in Controls is Choice.”