Drives and Controls Magazine
Open control platform supports your favourite tools
Published:  04 January, 2017

At the recent SPS IPC Drives show, Phoenix Contact unveiled a “future-proof” open control platform, called PLCnext, that will allow engineers from different disciplines to work together simultaneously on projects, each in their preferred development environments. They can continue to use their chosen programming tools – such as Visual Studio, Eclipse and Matlab Simulink – and to link their program code, saving time and reducing the risk of errors.

The technology allows IEC 61131-3 functions to be combined with routines from C/C++, C# or Matlab Simulink, for example. Data is synchronised between the applications. Open-source software from technology libraries, or functions from third-party suppliers, can be integrated via standardised interfaces, to create a single automation system.

All of the programs running on the platform exchange information with each other, and with communication interfaces, via a common application layer, which is part of the Linux-based operating system. “Encapsulated” function modules can be created to execute specific functions. These are interchangeable and can be integrated into a project, like an app, via a download.

PLCnext supports OPC UA as well as standard fieldbus protocols and IP-based communication systems such as Profinet and Modbus TCP.

Announcing PLCnext at SPS, Phoenix Contact’s chief technology officer, Roland Bent, declared that it “represents a milestone in technology, providing the foundation for a new and open control platform”.

Bent: a milestone in technology

Phoenix has also developed a compatible adaptive engineering platform, called PC Worx Engineer which, it claims, offers a new user experience for programming to IEC 61131-3. It has an adaptable, “clutter-free” interface, and can configure, diagnose, and visualise entire systems.

The basic version of the software is free. Extension modules can be bought individually, allowing users to create customised engineering tools. Reusable automation modules reduce the development time.