Automation Controllers Industry

Industry Overview

The Automation Controllers industry plays a vital role in industrial automation by supplying the "control center" for complex automation systems. These controllers, such as Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs), and Motion Controllers, serve as the brains of various manufacturing and industrial processes. These industrial computers store and execute embedded programs to monitor, coordinate, and control all devices in the system to achieve a desired action or result. A wide range of automation controllers are available today, from small, low-cost ARM-based microcontrollers to high-end industrial PCs with advanced hypervisor functionality for motion control. Given the complexity and precision required from automation controllers, the industry faces substantial implementation challenges, many of which are directly addressed by acontis' EtherCAT and Real-time Hypervisor solutions. Many of today's leading automation controller suppliers rely on acontis' software solutions to guarantee world-class performance and reliability in their products.

In industrial automation, split-second decisions are paramount. Delays in communication and control can lead to decreased productivity, inefficiencies, and potential safety hazards. acontis' hypervisor solutions enable customers to run both hard real-time and non-real-time operating systems together on the same controller. With this configuration, customers can delegate time-critical tasks to the RTOS and leave non-critical tasks to the non-real-time OS. Furthermore, acontis' EtherCAT technology ensures ultra-fast "on the fly" data exchange, enabling deterministic real-time communication for timely control and coordination.

Automation controllers often must execute complex motion and control algorithms with utmost precision. EtherCAT's deterministic nature ensures that motion commands can be carried out with minimal latency, guaranteeing accurate, real-time positioning and smooth motion profiles. The EC-Master Class-A package further enhances this with support for Distributed Clocks Master Synchronization (DCM), enabling users to achieve precision synchronization across all network devices.

Modern industrial processes require seamless communication and integration between hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of different components and systems. The challenge lies in connecting a variety of devices from many different manufacturers. EtherCAT's ability to unify communication within a single network through standardized ESI and ENI file support simplifies integration and enhances interoperability. acontis' EtherCAT network configuration tool, EC-Engineer, makes network setup a quick and easy process even when changing or adding devices, leading to less downtime and development hours.

Automation controllers are regularly the center of complex applications with countless moving parts. One faulty device, severed cable, or bad terminal contact can take equipment out of use for days or weeks while a technician troubleshoots the problem, leading to production halts, delays, and lost revenue. For this reason, it is crucial for automation controllers to include powerful diagnostics tools for their customers to use. acontis offers a suite of powerful EtherCAT troubleshooting and diagnostic tools that can be integrated directly into the automation and motion controllers. This suite includes both graphical and programmatical software tools that provide fast and straightforward identification of EtherCAT issues, including 300+ error codes, automatic detection of unexpected slave changes, and advanced monitoring of network traffic. Many leading automation controller companies have collaborated with acontis to integrate these troubleshooting and diagnostic tools into their products.

Industries are evolving, and so are their demands. Automation controllers must be able to scale up or down to accommodate changes in production or process requirements. EtherCAT's flexible topology and scalability support allow the expansion of control systems without compromising performance. For example, the Hot Connect feature pack for EC-Master makes it possible to connect or disconnect devices without taking the EtherCAT network offline or re-configuring the network information file. This feature makes it possible to have many different equipment configurations and reduces both complexity and downtime.

Many companies producing automation controllers (PLC, PAC, and motion controllers) strive to offer the most cost-effective products to their customers. acontis' EtherCAT and Real-time Hypervisor solutions excel even on low-cost controllers with limited resources. This efficiency is due to the minimal CPU and memory requirements. As a result, automation and motion controllers can integrate EtherCAT functionality without expensive hardware upgrades. Furthermore, acontis' real-time Ethernet drivers can connect directly to the onboard ethernet controller, eliminating the need for additional hardware or peripherals.

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