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Can Machines Benefit from Software Configurable I/O?

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Improving Efficiency & Speed in the Automation Industry

Parallel programming has always created issues for the the programming industry. Coming towards the pragmatic workings of the automation industry, the processes are often trapped within a loop that makes use of the same block of code iterative. Software configureable I/O is an up and coming concept regarding automation that can greatly improve the efficiency and speed of a process.

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) forms the building block of any industry. Early models of PLCs didn’t give the user any control as they had fixed I/Os and interfaces. Today, PLCs have evolved and have the convenience of rack, allowing developers to add addition I/O units as per their desires. On top of this the concept of expandable I/O made adding remote I/Os simple, providing portability to the operation of industrial processes.

The I/O units may include a plethora of features but they still pack some drawbacks. Conventional I/O requires the user to allocate the I/O and maintain a list of inputs and outputs based on the system design. This makes the entire design process extremely sluggish, and even worse when it comes to making changes. Remote I/Os may have brought flexibility within the system but dealing with heavy number of parameters remained an issue.

Recently, the trend has shifted towards Soft PLCs, which places the entire PLC on a software-based server. The I/O for these PLCs are allocated to a remote I/O, located within the proximity of the sensor itself. The major reason behind the success of Soft PLCs, is the freedom of programming. A developer is no longer tied to ladder diagrams, statement list or function block style of programming and can integrate almost any programming language within the environment.

Soft PLCs became highly acceptable with the rise of Distributed Control System which often shifted the point of control to a far-off physical location. Such projects require the user to be aware of the digital and analog devices before the control system design is finalized. Imagine for a project that has 100s of I/O, conventional methods could take months.

On the other hand, Soft PLCs can solve this problem by simply allowing the user to assign a node of I/O at a location. The node will then assign all individual I/O points on its own, when needed. Basically, load is taken off the system during design time, and shifted to run-time operations.

As a developing technology, Software-Configurable I/O is a tremendous trend in industrial automation. If properly implemented, it has the potential to save companies upfront engineering costs while cutting down time and providing seamless flexibility while maintaining control systems.

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