Products to lower PLC software costs

How to avoid some software licensing fees from PLC vendors.


Figure 3: PLC software from vendors like Ingear costs much less than similar software from PLC vendors and doesn’t require run-time licenses. Courtesy: CimQuest IngearTo reduce PLC software licensing fees, alternative software solutions exist on the open market from several vendors, including Ingear (Figure 3; article linked below has more information and Figures 1 and 2).

For example, Rockwell Automation offers its customers RSLinx, a software solution built on OPC to enable connectivity between HMI software packages and Allen-Bradley PLCs. Once a user builds an interface application with an HMI development tool, the RSLinx software provides drivers and other connectivity components that enable communications with the PLC. Users purchase individual RSLinx copies for each machine on which they want to run the application, along with annual software maintenance fees for each copy.

Trien Dao, senior software engineer at a major medical device manufacturing facility in the Minnesota Twin Cities region, evaluated the cost of using RSLinx server to communicate with numerous Allen-Bradley PLCs deployed throughout the plant, but the license and annual maintenance fees required for each copy set him searching for an alternative.

“With [CimQuest] Ingear solution, once we developed the interface, all we had to do is export the DLL to any machine on which we wanted to run it. We didn’t have to pay additional fees. We have PLCs running on many machines, so not having to buy additional licenses for each one is a tremendous cost savings, definitely in the six figures,” said Dao.

Mike Sluz, electrical superintendant for Wynndel Box & Lumber, a specialty wood product manufacturer in British Columbia, Canada, also purchased Ingear. According to Sluz, “Wynndel faced the challenge of displaying real-time error messages and production data at various workstations around our plant. Realizing that we could use the Ingear products to help gather data from numerous Allen-Bradley PLCs in our plant, we used Ingear to replace the need to purchase and install multiple RSLinx licenses at more than $1,100 per workstation.” Although vendor-supplied software is proprietary, requires licenses, and can’t be modified by a customer, almost all of it is written in Microsoft Visual Studio. In other words, anything the vendor can do, a machine builder or an end user can do, too.

Ingear is a library of programs for PLCs that programmers use to create their own customer applications using Visual Studio. Ingear provides access to PLC memory, databases, I/O, and communications, allowing programmers to obtain the information they need from a PLC, process it in a PC, and send commands back to the PLC for control. And, because Ingear has no run-time licensing fees, the applications created with Ingear can be distributed by a systems integrator or machine builder without additional costs, lowering the costs for PLC software licensing.

- Chuck Karwoski is president of CimQuest Ingear LLC, a supplier of PLC software. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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