I spotted this interesting commentary from Dan Herbert at ControlGlobal.com about using Industrial PCs instead of PLC or DCS solutions in industrial automation.  Dan puts together a reasonable take that highlights why using a hardened PC can save you lots of work and allow you to focus on the juicy stuff in your next project.

From the article:

Given this technology, there’s no longer any technical reason why a PLC or a DCS should be more reliable than an industrial PC. In fact, modern industrial PCs often use the same processors and embedded operating systems as their PLC or DCS counterparts.

Industrial PCs also offer many advantages in terms of cost and performance. High-end performance isn’t an issue when comparing PCs to DCSs, but cost and scalability are, particularly for smaller-scale applications.

“One cost-effective, but powerful controller can perform PLC functions for processes, run the HMI, perform high-speed data collection, and communicate to upper level computing systems,” explains Corey McAtee, product manager at Beckhoff Automation.

Advantages cited include

-          Suitable for harsh environments

-          Ability to support advanced and sophisticated features like HMI and remote access

-          Avoiding the cost of DCS in smaller deployments

-          Designed for longevity

-          Multi-core processors

-          Running multiple specialized OSes on the same box through virtualization

-          Avoiding the need for additional hardware when using a PLC

I have to admit, it’s getting pretty foggy out there for people who claim they need to make specialized computers when they don’t have extreme power or form-factor constraints.

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