Future of PLC Software Coding

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Future of PLC Software Coding

We actually don’t realize that the future is already here and in a few years we can expect some drastic changes in technology and science. Because PLCs are in the market for over 40 years, you can assume that there isn’t much to be changed, but as computer become more advanced it also happens with controllers. They are becoming smaller, stronger, faster, and the price is lower.

The industry is constantly looking for updated versions, and the companies that are making them are always meeting the expectations. From the start, when they replaced a large number of timers and relays, there has been a drive to simplify maintenance and support and to decrease automation system size. When we talk about software, PLC ladder logic programming simulated the system based on timers and relays. Besides this language, others were made as well like IEC 61131-3.

Smaller and Faster Controllers

Everyone can notice that electronic industry components, processors, and circuit boards are shrinking. Professionals are implementing this new tech to the PLC, but because it needs to be reliable, stable, and have ruggedness, it is harder to improve it. They were able to enhance processor so they will be faster in order to improve cycle time. There are new communication features and the memory capacity is larger.

Because the market loves when something is small and compact, they are investing in improving functions and features to some lower-end PLCs. You can expect that a small controller that is meant for controlling a crane will be so advanced that it can do many complicated functions that high-level PLCs should do. The main goal is to make everything easier to manage. There is a large decline in size and costs for solid-state memory which is an advantage for PLCs. This allows hugely expanded local data storage, supporting the use of a PLC in various applications previously demanding expensive data acquisition systems.

What you can expect is the USB technology is going to be more involved in PLCs because it has a lot of benefits and it is evolving continuously. The communication on small controllers will be easier because of mini and micro USB connectors. Nonvolatile portable memory devices are another feature that is coming from expanding electronics world. This is important for controllers because they will have more memory in a small box.

PAC and PLC Merge

Even if suppliers praised the difference between PACs and PLCs, this doesn’t matter to the engineers that are just looking for new technology that will have every feature that the system needs. Through this development, there will be lots of opportunity in the market for high-end and low-end processors. The suppliers will have to include features than their competition has in order to stay on the market.

Read more about it here: https://www.machinedesign.com/mechanical/what-s-difference-between-plc-and-pac

We will have features like vision system integration and motion control because of high-speed processors. They will still be very simple like now, but there will be a lot of support for communication protocols. It is great that we have the competition behind these two because they are advancing faster. Designers also did a great job of fitting everything in place which is very important for the industrial environment. The focus now is on processing power, memory expansion, and connectivity while lowering the cost and maintenance.

Programming Language

In the beginning, the ladder diagram replaced relay logic. It was very easy for engineers and technicians that know the relay logic. The only problem was the limitation of data handling and process control. Even when IEC added a new language for these controllers, ladder diagram also improved which was great for technicians.

Especially for process control, you can find applications function chart is greater. The expectation is that ladder logic will be used instead of other languages because it has room for improvement. The customers and suppliers don’t like to change things too much so they are sticking with ladder logic. There are also big groups of electricians, technicians, and engineers that favor using simple technology. Function block programming methods can decrease the amount of code while ladder logic is the anchor of machine control simplicity, especially as PLC coding mixes into one programming environment.

Unified Programming Environment

The mixing of human-machine interface, motion control, and PLC programming is what will happen in the next few years. Everything will be in one environment. The integration of HMI and PLC in the same frame will likely happen, and the monitor will be set as an external option. It doesn’t matter if we ad HMI module to PLC rack or if we have the same processor, we have the tech for each configuration.

This unified environment is great for every user. The main reason to mix these packages is less total development time and reducing the learning curve. It isn’t so easy to do so because it can end up with great function but hard to work with or navigate. If they want to be on the right path the devices need to be able to share the identical tag name database. The key link between process and program are the tag names.


The USB is doing great so far, but it has some limitations that need to be changed in the future. Even if it is plug-and-play, the integrating hardware, and software needs extra investment from the supplier. To support many protocols PLC includes many communication ports. The users always demand some standardized options that can be just wireless and Ethernet in the future. A possible option may also be industrial Bluetooth.

Everything now works wireless, but for the industry, you need to have robust technology that has more range and it has to be more stable in order to work with large systems. There are some improvements from the ZigBee protocols and the latest Wi-Fi to the use of mesh networking and ad hoc. They can be implemented in less critical apps where control in real time isn’t required. Even if we have Near Field Communication and Bluetooth, they aren’t a great solution yet.

Danny White

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