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PLCnext - Connecting Industrial Automation to the IT World

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know to start using the PLCnext Technology Ecosystem.

In this article, we’re going to get an insight into some new PLC technology courtesy of Phoenix Contact. Martin Boers had provided his expertise on this emerging product; the PLCnext.

What is PLCnext?

As you would expect, this PLC is capable of what you might typically expect from a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). Coding; yes we have Ladder (LAD), Function Block Diagram (FBD) Structured Text (ST) and Sequential Function Chart (SFC).

But the unique thing about this one is you can also program it using C++, C#, Rust, Java, and Matlab Simulink.

This truly gives you (the programmer) ultimate control over the software you write.

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Cyber Security, and Cloud-based solutions like Proficloud and Amazon have highlighted the need for something new. This is where PLCnext steps in.

PLCnext Control (Hardware)

The AXC F 2152 is the entry-level module, complete with an ARM processor.

Along with the traditional expansion units to the right-hand side of the CPU, PLCnext has a PCI Express bus to the left-hand side of the CPU.

This means you can add an extra Ethernet network so you can separate machine data from office data.

RFC 4072S Remote Field Controller is the top of the line, bee-knees model, probably one of the most powerful PLCs on the market today.

Popular in the wind industry because of its ability to handle high complexity calculations, this is the first PLCnext high-performance controller.

Plant-wide control with the highest consideration of safety in the form of SIL or PLe means that standard and safety programming is accomplished with one programming tool.

With the ability to add 63 I/O modules, a combination of digital (32), analog (8) and serial, you will be able to create systems with thousands of I/O to produce mammoth-sized programs.

Using an adapter, the PLCnext CPU can connect to existing Phoenix Inline I/O, repurposing the old I/O, and saving hours of rewiring and retesting time.

PLCnext technology uses an open control platform. Forming what Phoenix believes to be future-proof controllers, these PLCs work using the Linux operating system.

Industry 4.0 is considered to be the fourth industrial revolution, a transformation regarding the way in which we produce products thanks to the improvement and evolution of manufacturing.

To meet these requirements, the PLCnext technology has been redesigned from scratch, and the focus has been placed on the development environments.

The use of Linux as the operating system, the doors have been opened to flexibility in coding.

Projects can contain standard PLC code written in Ladder logic for everyday tasks, and scripts can be written in Java, C++, etc. to handle more complex problems. They can co-exist together giving the programmers, and the end-users the best of both worlds.

Linux is also a real-time capable, meaning real-time extensions are available within the PLC directly.

PLCnext technology is based upon there being an intelligent layer between the applications and the operating system, with all components being able to use and exchange data synchronously, in real-time.

Whether a program is created in an IEC environment, in a higher-level language or in Matlab Simulink, the developer is able to decide the most suitable tool for the requirements or use a combination to achieve something truly special.

As you would expect, PLCnext works with common transmission protocols and Fieldbus systems – Profibus, Profinet, CAN, Modbus all feature amongst a long list of current standards, with future standards and proprietary cloud-based solutions featuring too.

Alongside applications in the wind industry, PLCnext is able to compete in the automotive industry tackling vehicle assembly.

Even in the control and monitoring of rollercoasters where safety is paramount, the RFC 4072S can achieve impressive things, all in one unit.

PLCnext Engineer (Software)

This is where you are able to write and compile your project code in the language you need.

Setting up your hardware configuration will be familiar to traditional PLC programmers, and you can integrate C++ programs into the IEC program by importing libraries. These can be imported from the PLCnext Store.

PLCnext Store

The PLCnext Store offers software solutions specifically for industrial automation and extends the functionality of your projects.

IT developers using Eclipse can use their scripts written in C#, C++ or open-source software from GitHub, and package the software as a library so that IEC users can import the special functions, and treat it like a program written in ladder logic, using it throughout their code.

Some libraries can be downloaded from the developer section.

Apart from the software libraries and the fully programmed Solution Apps, you can also download Function Extensions and Runtime apps.

Speed up application development or transform the PLCnext Control into a controller for specific automation solutions without any programming.

Benefit from the offered apps in the PLCnext Store or upload your own apps and profit from a new digital business model using a contributor account.

PLCnext Community

The PLCnext community is a really special place. This is where we can share our experiences and learn through the use of manuals and tutorials.

Once you’ve created your program, you can post it on the Makers Blog.

This way you can share and be proud of your creations!

The Makers Blog and the Forum are great ways of finding interesting ways to solve problems.

Being able to communicate with your peers in an open format means it is possible to get different working solutions to the same problem, rather than a generic one size fits all solution, which can be inflexible.

Posting your query on the Forum will not only attract the attention of Phoenix Contact engineers but also like-minded individuals, seeking a solution to their own problems. This platform allows users to share ideas and solutions with ease.

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to the PLCnext technology ecosystem.

Here at RealPars, our team of experts is on hand to answer your questions and respond to your feedback. We’d love to hear your suggestions for topics you want our team to cover.

Got a friend, client, or colleague who could use some of this information? Please share this article.

With endless love and appreciation,

The RealPars Team
By James Jowett

By James Jowett

Automation Engineer

Posted on Oct 16, 2019

By James Jowett

Automation Engineer

Posted on Oct 16, 2019

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