PLCs evolve with increased functions and efficiency

Programmable logic controller (PLC) technology continues to evolve, which may help market revenue bounce back after a sluggish 2019.

By IHS Markit January 1, 2020

After two years of strong expansion, programmable logic controller (PLC) market revenue growth is set to slow to nearly zero in 2019 due to weak demand from downstream industries, according to IHS Markit | Technology.

Global PLC market revenue is set to rise by less than 1% in 2019 from $9.5 billion in 2018, said IHS Markit | Technology. This follows a recent peak of 12% growth in 2017, and a 9% expansion in 2018.

“The PLC market has gone into a slump in 2019 as demand from industries including automotive, semiconductor, electronics and machine tools has decelerated,” said Daisuke Muto, senior analyst, manufacturing technology, for IHS Markit | Technology. “This trend started in the first quarter of 2018, and now has gained momentum this year. However, growth is expected to rebound slightly in the coming years, stabilizing market conditions.”

Transformative technologies, PLC advances

Long-term market stability is being driven by transformative technologies applied to industrial sectors. Technology advances like the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and new communications approaches have had a significant effect on PLC product evolution in recent years, allowing these devices to diversify their roles in within industrial automation control systems.

Today’s PLCs support multiple functionalities, such as inspections, robotic guidance/positioning and high-precision quality control/sorting. AI technologies can be deployed at the edge, the near-edge or in the cloud. With increasing computing power, PLCs represent the ideal equipment to run the appropriate AI algorithms or work as part of AI-based cloud solutions.

Moreover, rather than being part of a cloud solution, an AI algorithm can be embedded in separate models that can fit inside PLCs or integrated into the PLC hardware. By “learning” an application running on PLCs, AI algorithms can help build a model of it automatically. The models can guide robot systems, perform visual quality checks in production plants, reduce time for developing programs, or handle several key steps in a data-driven decision process for predictive maintenance.

Through new communication technologies, PLCs can communicate with the cloud directly, without gateways or host computers. They are customizable for retrofit projects to upgrade legacy production lines and enable connectivity. Additionally, they reduce machine builders’ time-to-market.

Increasingly, advanced PLCs are now designed with multi-core processors, enabling end users to install more applications. PLC manufacturers also are investing in edge computing, enabling PLCs to process data in real-time and streamline the amount of data sent to the cloud.

The core of the issue

The stage appears to be set for higher productivity and enhanced efficiency in the manufacturing industry. However, a substantial amount of effort and time will be required before the next-generation PLCs become a reality.

“Due to the complex application environment, diversified production processes and strict requirements for reliability and stability, it will take a few years before PLCs integrated with AI technologies are ready for mass production,” Muto added.

The PLCs Report – 2019 from IHS Markit covers the global PLC market, including all regions (EMEA, Americas, Asia Pacific, and Japan), sub-regions, and segments of countries.

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Edited from an IHS Markit | Technology release by CFE Media and Technology.