New Course for the Programmable Automation Controller

MILWAUKEE - One year ago today the term Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) emerged to better describe a new breed of controllers that combines multiple platforms, such as sequential, motion and process control, with expanded information-handling capabilities. By converging the best attributes of the PLC, PC, DCS and open control platforms, the PAC has proven it can meet requirements of an integrated manufacturing enterprise. Rockwell Automation, a leading provider of PAC technology, defines its vision for how these controllers will continue evolving to meet future demands.

Today, manufacturers leverage PACs to access greater amounts of control system data from business systems-ranging from supply chain integration to shipping logistics. However, the PAC must evolve as the demand for control system data continues to increase in volume and complexity. For example, users aren't just sharing information inside the corporation. They're starting to tie in suppliers and customers to their business system to help build a leaner enterprise. "We've also seen an unprecedented thirst for control system data, as users gather information for safety, finance, quality assurance programs, regulatory control, and countless other initiatives," said Ken Deken, vice president, Rockwell Automation Control Systems. "To quench this thirst, what users need is a direct connection between the controller and business systems, ultimately providing information 'on-tap'."

Moving forward, PACs will provide a wide array of ways to serve data, become even more scaleable, while making major strides in multidiscipline control, integration with business systems, diagnostics and life-cycle cost management. Rockwell Automation shares a few insights on each of these predicted developments:

Greater Scaleability. The Logix controller platform from Rockwell Automation currently includes two PACs: the Allen-Bradley ControlLogix for large, complex applications and CompactLogix for small-scale applications. In the future, the PAC will be available in an even greater variety of sizes to meet the broad range of applications on the plant floor. New additions in I/O communication will also contribute to scaleability.

Support for Multi-Discipline Control. To create a common user experience across the plant floor, PACs integrate disciplines such as sequential, drive, motion and process control into a single platform. In the future, PAC suppliers will enhance these existing disciplines, while integrating new ones, such as safety, batch control and security. "As information throughout the manufacturing enterprise becomes more available, it is only natural that security become an integral part of the solution," Deken said.

Integration with Business Systems. To make information "on-tap" a reality, automation suppliers will continue building business system connectivity into the controller rather than relying on linking devices. PACs also will embed manufacturing execution system (MES)-layer attributes, such as standard interfaces, that better bridge the gap between the control layer and upper-level systems.

Simplified System Maintenance. Today's automation equipment is smarter than ever before. Ranging from software that can learn and monitor machine behavior to hardware with built-in behaviors and sophisticated self-diagnostic and calibration capabilities-smart controls are making available an unprecedented level of data intelligence. To increase productivity and profit, manufacturers must be able to efficiently move this data when and where it's needed. PAC controllers will meet this demand with enhanced data-handling capabilities that give users access to maintenance information at any time and in any format they choose (e.g., via e-mail or a Web page).

Life-Cycle Cost Management. Gaining production efficiencies will remain important, but users will be increasingly cautious about sacrificing their hardware and training investments. The PACs' modular design and future-proof platform will allow users to migrate at the pace and to the degree they want. To save costs, PAC vendors will also continue the steady adoption of commercial technology and standards such as Ethernet, Windows-based operating systems, and off-the-shelf silicon.

Rockwell Automation (NYSE: ROK) is a world-leading provider of industrial automation power, control and information solutions that help customers meet their manufacturing productivity objectives. For more information on the PAC of the Future please contact the Rockwell Automation Response Center, 10701 Hampshire Avenue South, Bloomington, Minn., 55438, 800.223.5354, Ext. 1667.

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