Its diminutive size is set to help machine builders and manufacturers pack ever more functionality into a smaller space – while also providing the web access and network connectivity demanded by the latest smart factory applications.Mitsubishi Electric has history with the micro-PLCMitsubishi Electric launched its first range of micro controllers, the FX family of PLCs, over 35 years ago as part of the MELSEC-F series. The high quality, compact size and cost competitiveness of control systems built around them established a precedent for creating new opportunities and revolutionised the industrial automation landscape and this still applies today. Over the years, the FX product portfolio has expanded to deliver state-of-the-art solutions to address different applications and requirements.Now re-positioned as part of the high functioning MELSEC iQ-F series the new FX5UC model (the ‘C’ denotes compact) is engineered to handle the increasingly sophisticated data processing and communication tasks demanded by smart manufacturing applications. More precisely, this tiny PLC now houses the same performance CPU as Mitsubishi Electric’s premium FX5U model in a product as small as a micro FX3S.Multitasking is the futureThis super compact PLC features a program memory of 64,000 steps and a large device memory. In addition, it has an execution speed of 34ns, resulting in extremely fast machine responses and increased productivity. Even more, the FX5UC PLC can perform positioning and advanced motion control functions for up to four axes, eliminating the need for dedicated controllers that would increase hardware and maintenance costs, programming time and equipment footprint.Additional built-in functions include tools to prevent data theft or tampering such as security key authentication, while allowing operators to access system status safely via the Web and interact with on-board features such as data logging.Very noticeably, the CPU module is a quarter the size of a conventional one, therefore it can fit into smaller spaces, freeing-up valuable on-machine or production floor space usually occupied by larger more conventional control panels. Other features also contribute to the space saving rationale such as incorporating built-in relay and transistor outputs, avoiding the need to install additional, space-consuming terminal blocks in many applications.Automation system engineers and integrators can also benefitBy incorporating flexibility and scalability, the FX5UC designers are looking to deliver an ideal solution for cost sensitive small machines as well as larger, networked multi-PLC systems. Networking capabilities help manufacturers to develop more integrated automated applications, especially when using other Mitsubishi Electric automation solutions. In this scenario complete manufacturing lines can be controlled, offering simpler system architectures and more transparent data management. On the other hand, open connectivity ensures compatibility with a wide choice of network options.Many small details have been considered in the pursuit of increased user flexibility and ease of installation, the use of spring clamp terminals for example speeds-up wiring activities whilst ensuring reliable and vibration-resistant connections. Since modules can be unlocked and moved together with their wires, maintenance and system change tasks are also made far easier.Just when we though compact PLCs might have reached their zenith in terms of size and performance, Mitsubishi Electric’s FX5UC PLC seems to have broken the mould yet again, time to start redesigning those control panels and boxes.
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