• Nick D

Transformative Technologies Driving the Evolution of PLCs

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.

Global PLC market revenue is set to rise by less than 1 percent in 2019 from $9.5 billion in 2018, according to IHS Markit | Technology, now a part of Informa Tech. This follows a recent peak of 12 percent growth in 2017, and a 9 percent 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 Help Drive PLC Advances

The long-term stability of the market is being driven by transformative technologies that represent the long-term fundamental drivers of the market. 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.


Thanks to AI technologies, 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 customisable 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 are also 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.

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“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.

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