Opto 22 has released the white paper, “Meet the Future: Edge Programmable Industrial Controllers,” which discusses how controls engineers can use PLCs to meet the demand for obtaining, using and sharing data. The white paper focuses on three main communication challenges: complexity, security, and expense.

Opto 22, EPIC devices, edge devices, ARM, Linux devices, PLC, IoT, edge computing, control engineers
The edge-based PLC was created to include a number of functions needed for network-based data capture, from traditioanl automation through IoT applications. (Image source: Opto 22)

IoT and other data-intensive automation applications usually require many steps and a lot of middleware: hardware, drivers, parsers, and custom software. These steps tend to be time-consuming to set up, difficult to maintain and change, and create major security concerns. This white paper was designed to explain how a new kind of industrial controller—an edge programmable industrial controller, or EPIC—can simplify and secure automation and IoT projects in a manner designed to reduce cost and complexity.

Realtime-Control for Traditional Automation

The edge-based PLC was created to include a number of functions needed for network-based data capture. “With the EPIC, bunch of pieces and parts have been stitched together to achieve an objective. Until now it’s been many systems pulled together,” Benson Hougland, VP at Opto 22, told Design News. “It’s been a dramatic shift to get all of these functions into a single design. It brings together performance and complexity as well as security. It’s about getting where it needs to be simply.”

EPIC devices are also used to provide real-time control for a variety of traditional automation applications. EPIC devices allow users to connect legacy systems and smart systems, get data, transform it into actionable information, visualize it on an HMI., and perform real-time control. “We’re starting to see other vendors take the same approach of combining functions on edge PLCs,” said Hougland. :You have to think things through and throw out what you thought you knew and start from scratch. These edge devices are innately expandable. We built it on a platform that is well known, using an ARM processor on Linux.”

Using ARM and Linus for Compatibility and Expansion

The ARM and Linux offers a wide range of compatibility across automation systems. “The reason for ARM is that it’s commercially available and it runs cool. The Linux it gives you the capability to expand,” said Hougland. “Off-the-shelf processors with an open source platform gives you a lot of capabilities for future growth on the same hardware system. It’s a full circle from 25 years ago with PC control.”

Opto 22 created the white papers to give users a view into the value of a multi-function processor that operates on the machine level. “The reason for the white paper is to try to introduce the notion there is a new type of system to address the IoT and combine it with control,” said Hougland. “You can’t just be call it a PLC or a PAC. It has become complicated. It’s a PAC, a database, and an HMI. Past descriptions don’t work to describe this device. The white paper helps define what the device is and why you would use it.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.