The thirst for data collected from automation systems is easy to understand. When properly analysed, detailed information about every aspect of plant performance – right down to sensor level – makes it possible to implement effective preventative maintenance programmes. It also helps to identify areas for efficiency improvements, and to spot negative trends so that they can be addressed before they become problematic. In a nutshell, data from an automation system can help to cut costs, improve productivity and minimise downtime.Providing all of that data does, however, pose something of a headache for the automation system designer. The problem is that PLCs, as their name suggests, are primarily designed to provide control functionality, rather than to collect and curate data from multiple sources and then deliver it in a readily useable form – key requirements for an effective IoT implementation.On the other hand, using one system for control and another for data collection would massively increase complexity and cost. It’s clear that what’s needed is some way of integrating PLC and IoT functionality, but this brings challenges of its own. Specifically, the PLC functionality requires a fast, deterministic real-time response and this must never be compromised by tying up resources to provide the IoT functionality, which is not required to operate in real time. Fortunately, advances in hardware have made possible a very effective solution: automation controllers have recently become available that use dual-core processors, with one core dedicated to providing the PLC functionality while the other independently handles the IoT tasks.
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