Control Techniques is market leader in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa in intelligent drives with almost 50 per cent of the market share, according to the recently published IMS Research Report 'The EMEA outlook for automation components with embedded PLCs – 2006'. This is three times the market share by value of Control Techniques' nearest competitor in this leading-edge drives sector.
Control Techniques predicts that this lead is set to increase with the launch of a new plug-in programmable controller for the Unidrive SP range of AC drives, the SM-Applications Plus module.
"We have been designing drives with powerful PLC functionality since the early 1990s; we are now investing heavily in more and more powerful devices with enhanced functions to keep us well ahead of the market," says Control Techniques' product manager, Imad Rajraji. "Our latest plug-in applications module – SM-Applications Plus - for our Unidrive SP range, is blisteringly fast, with more processing power, better diagnostics and more features that greatly extend our technology leadership in this sector."
SM-Applications Plus uses a new, faster processor, typically delivering 150 to 200 per cent more processing power than its predecessors. This improvement means that a position loop will now run synchronously with the drives' high-speed internal control loops with enough spare processor resources remaining to carry out other automation tasks. Drive-to-drive communications also improves significantly as the module has more power to process data and to clear its buffers.
Software that has been developed to run on existing modules can be easily recompiled to run on the new 'Plus' version. SM-Applications Plus now offers a platform to extend the capabilities and benefits of the SM-Applications range. The first new feature to appear is PLCopen 1.5 axes function blocks, which will make use of the high-speed drive-to-drive communications link.
The SM-Applications modules are programmed in a friendly environment called SyPT Pro using industry-standard IEC-style languages such as function block, ladder and structured text. The environment also allows the remote I/O and drive-to-drive communications to be configured centrally, which is an important feature in a distributed control system (DCS). SyPT Pro can connect to the drive system using various communications media including Ethernet for flexibility and remote access.
Market endorses Control Techniques philosophy
Control Techniques' strategy is endorsed by the market, which confirmed to IMS Research that embedded PLCs offer cost savings, lower installation costs and a reduced requirement for panel/cubicle space compared with separate products.
The IMS Research report covers the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, addressing systems integrators, machine builders and manufacturing company end users, and looks at both electric drives and operator interfaces with embedded PLC hardware.
While most drives with embedded PLCs offer a low level of capability that is often insufficient to replace an actual PLC, Control Techniques can point to thousands of instances where this has been the case, where its SM-Applications modules have exceed the performance of some of the most powerful PLCs and motion controllers.
Imad Rajraji comments: "Even the standard on-board processor within the Unidrive SP gives micro-PLC performance and covers many applications where the purchase of a PLC is an over-kill. But our SM-Applications Plus module definitely eliminates the need for a PLC, bringing control right to the point where it is needed – a point that was raised by survey respondents."
The report recognised the specific advantages of embedded PLC functionality: a reduction in cabling costs and space, a single contact partner for the system, increased system intelligence and standardisation of software.
The IMS Research report identified the great importance placed on the communication abilities of embedded PLCs, with over 80 per cent of respondents emphasising the need for communication with other embedded PLCs, synchronised communication and fast communication to upper-level PLCs. All are standard features of the SM-Applications and SM-Applications Plus modules!
The trend toward decentralised control was very clear, allowing machine builders and systems integrators to lower the level of automation decision-making from a central point in the factory and distributing it throughout the factory floor, thereby isolating failures, freeing-up main controllers to provide system monitoring and diagnostics, and giving greater stability and robustness.
Finally the IMS Research report suggested the market for intelligent drives with embedded PLC functionality would grow above the rate of the overall market for drives. The report also estimated that the largest proportion of drives with embedded hardware is sold direct to OEMs, with Control Techniques leading the way.