PLCnext – Connecting Industrial Automation to the IT World


They say if you want to earn
more, you need to learn more! That means as automation engineers, if you
want to put yourself at the head of the crowd, there’s no better strategy than
educating yourself as much as you can. And maybe the most important
part of that strategy is ensuring that you stay on top of
the latest trends and developments happening in the industrial automation field… and that’s where RealPars can help. As promised last month, we’re bringing you
an informative video about a brand-new PLC and you’re going to hear all about it from
one of the brains behind the technology… Martin Boers of the German PLC
manufacturing company, Phoenix Contact. If there’s one man that has his fingers on the
pulse of industrial automation, it’s Martin. I sat down with him to
talk about the new PLC and and discussed how it’s going to
deliver endless possibilities to you as a PLC programmer in your career. I know it sounds like a huge promise, but as you’ll soon see, this PLC delivers. Not only you can use your typical
PLC programming languages such as Ladder Logic, Function Block Diagram,
Structured Text and more with it you can also use other common
programming languages such as C++, C#, Rust, Java among many others. That means the sky is practically the limit as to which programming
languages you want to use, opening up a world of ways to
optimally match the PLC language with the project you’re working
on as a PLC programmer. But that’s not all… Martin’s going to share
some other cool operations you can execute with this new PLC,
so get ready to watch and learn. Also, as with every RealPars video, if you have
any questions about this new PLC technology, just put them in the comments below. We’ve asked Martin to personally
answer your questions, so be sure to use this opportunity
to pick the brain of one the best PLC programmers in the world. Now let’s get to the good stuff… So thanks Martin for making
the time for this interview and let’s just start with the simple
question of what is PLCnext technology? Yes, so we consider PLCnext
technology to be sort of ecosystem, and we have four pillars to that ecosystem. One is PLCnext control. Obviously just the
PLC Hardware with the firmware running on that. The next is PLCnext Engineer which is the programming
software that we use to configure the controllers. Then we have the PLCnext Store which is an
online marketplace that we’ll talk about it later and then we have the PLCnext Community which is
where we all get together and share our experiences and learn from each other. Okay, for the next question.
Let’s go with PLCnext control. So can you let us know a
little bit about the hardware and more details about the
hardware of PLCnext technology? Yeah, so PLCnext Control it would
be familiar to PLC programmers. This is our entry-level PLC. That’s the
AXC F 2152. It’s got an ARM processor and this is our top-of-the-range
PLC that we have at the moment. This is an RFC remote field controller. So this is among the most powerful PLCs
on the market. It’s a very high-end unit. But most people would be starting with the
entry-level unit that you can see here and this runs the Linux operating system. But you can also program it just in
case you need typical IEC 61131 languages, and obviously you can expand it with
I/O modules from our Axioline range. So here we’ve just got one digital I/O
module, but you can put up to 63 I/O modules Digital, analog, communications
modules and so on. That’s 63 I/O modules on one DIN rail. But of course you can expand it
as well on a PROFINET network. So however many hundred of PROFINET devices
you can have on a PROFINET network. Can you probably show them some of the
hardware that we have in there… like Some of the extensions. Yeah, that’s right.
So obviously this is a digital I/O module. We also have a left side extension module. So we have
a PCI Express bus on the left-hand side of the CPU and you can expand that with extra Ethernet port
so it comes with a built-in Ethernet adapter, but you can add a second Ethernet
adapter to the left side. So for example you could have your
lower-level PROFINET network from this Ethernet adapter and you
connect up to your corporate network, and just keep those two networks
isolated, which is pretty good practice. – Yeah. This is like a common
practice to keep these like office data away and separate
from the actual manufacturing data. Okay, so can you just give us some of the application
examples of people using this PLCnext Control. Yeah. Well, it’s already being used in a fairly
wide range of industries and applications. The RFC, the top of the range one, that’s
pretty popular in the wind industry. Because they have some quite complex calculations that
need to be done and they need a high-performance PLC. The process industries. The entry-level PLC is good for little sort of
skid-mounted units say in the process industries. Whereas the top-end PLC is
good for plant-wide controls because the integrated safety controller
obviously can take care of all the SIL rated control applications. Yeah, I mean the automotive industry, again, the RFC is used in automobile assembly. And we’ve even used this one
in the roller coaster as well. Oh, yeah. You mentioned that before. Yeah, so this is a fun application but yeah quite serious
obviously where you need a high level of safety. Yeah, that is really good. And one of the questions that viewers might have
is how many I/Os this PLC hardware supports. Yes, as I said you can have 63 I/O modules, digital, analog, serial, so if you’re talking just digital, you could have 32 digital
channels on one module, so that gives you thousands
of digital I/O channels. For analog, we have I/O modules with
up to 8 analog channels on one Module. So again 63 analog modules, 8 channels per module. So we’re talking about thousands of inputs
and outputs even for this small PLC. the small CPU that we have here.
– That’s right. That’s just directly connected to the CPU, but of course you can expand
that over the PROFINET networks. So you’re talking about
thousands and thousands of I/O. I mean even your old I/O, people might
be familiar with this old in-line I/O which Phoenix Contacts been selling
for quite a while, and you’ll often find that all wired up
already connected to an old CPU. What you can do now is
take out your old CPU, put an adapter onto the PLCnext
Control and then reuse your old in-line IO with this new CPU, so it means you don’t
have to replace any of your old I/O, you can just use it with the new CPU. So if you have old facilities and you’re using
your old control panel, you can use this PLC and fit it into the old control panel.
Okay. Perfect. Is there anything that we want to cover
about the hardware in PLC control? Well, I suppose it’s worth
mentioning that the PLCnext Control, itself is running a Linux operating system. It’s an open operating system, so you can open a security shell session on to the…
-For the first time in the industry or not? Yeah, there’s not many people doing that and what Phoenix Contact has done is
taken that Linux operating system, we’ve added the real-time
extensions to the kernel. So it means we can operate it as a
true deterministic real-time PLC. We’ve got an IEC 61131
runtime running on that, so traditional PLC programmers can
just treat it like a traditional PLC. They can program it in ladder logic, function block diagram, structured text or
sequential function chart, any of the standard IEC 61131 languages, and they can just treat it like a standard PLC
and be very comfortable in that environment. But because it’s an open Linux operating system, It means your IT developers, people
coming from an IT background, your C++ programmers, your
C# programmers, Rust, Java, they can all operate on this platform,
be quite familiar with that, they can access the operating system directly, run their programs directly on the operating
system, use the real-time extensions or integrate those programs in
with the IEC 61131 program. So that’s what Phoenix Contacts has done, really
integrated the IT world with the traditional PLC world. Yeah, so you can for one PLC program, You can literally have two pieces, one
with the typical PLC programming language and one with the C++ or Java or…
– That’s right… So both these types of developers can
work together on the same project and they can integrate their programs
together on the one platform. So it really brings those IT and automation
worlds together on one platform. For example some of the complicated stuff
that is very hard to do in Ladder Logic, you can just bring in an IT person and
then they can do it in C++, for example. That’s right and there’s also a lot of open source
projects on GitHub written in C++ that you can utilize. So a lot of communication protocols,
software stacks, that sort of thing. So for example MQTT, there’s an
open-source project on GitHub. We can cross-compile that
for the PLCnext platform, and we’re not writing out our own
MQTT client from scratch. We’re utilizing open-source software
that’s already on the website. It really brings a lot of power to the PLC. So I have a question that might sound silly, but I’m sure that a lot of
people might have this question, but the thing is that when you talk, I don’t know anything about
the Linux operating system. You know, I’m an Electrical engineer. So when you say this software is
based Linux operating system, does that mean we cannot install
the software on Windows? So what that means is that the PLC itself
is running a Linux operating system. We have a software development kit. So people who come from the IT world
will know software development kits. They can cross-compile open-source projects,
cross-compile their own C++ programs for this platform. But the engineering software, PLCnext
Engineer, that’s running on a Windows PC. – OK. So you can actually install the software on a Windows,
– Correct when you talking about Linux.
That’s a different thing. Yeah, that’s right. The PLCnext Engineer with the
IEC programming software that runs on a Windows PC, whereas the PLC itself is running
a Linux operating system. Okay. Perfect. So let’s
move on to the PLCnext Engineer, the software that you’ve
already talked a little bit about. So I have that open on the
PC beside me here This would be fairly familiar
to traditional PLC programmers. So we have our programming workspace. I have a function block
diagram program open there. Here’s a function block that’s
written in structured text, and we instantiate those programs on the
PLC and we download that to the PLC. We do all our hardware
configuration here as well by dragging and dropping hardware
modules into the project. So, yeah, it’s a really familiar environment
for traditional PLC programmers, and we can also integrate into our C++ programs into the IEC program as well just
by importing libraries over here. We can also extend our program. So rather than reinventing
everything from scratch, we can import libraries that
other people have created and we can even look for those
libraries elsewhere, like from the PLCnext Store for example.
-Yes. We can download function
block libraries from the PLCnext Store and integrate them into our program. That is why you call it open-source, right?
Is it or not? Yeah, so we call it an open platform because I mean really you can integrate into as IEC
programs, function blocks written in IEC languages, You can integrate function blocks
written in c#, written in C++ Using MATLAB Simulink for instance. You can integrate simulations written in
MATLAB Simulink directly into an IEC program and that’s used in the
wind industry for example, for simulating the flow of
air over the turbines. Yeah, so that’s why we call it open
platform because you can really use any language. So the open platform means that like other people can literally write a PLC program and then you can use
those PLC programs in your application as well. – That’s why we call it open platform.
– Yeah, that’s right and we share all that through the PLCnext Store,
which might want to look at next. Yeah, so let’s move
on to the PLC store. Yeah, so we were talking
about PLCnext Engineer and how we can use functions or import
libraries, function block libraries. So one way we can get function block
libraries is from the PLCnext Store. So the PLCnext Store is
a website that we have. There you go, “plcnextstore.com”. And this is like a marketplace. So as a
developer, I can browse the store and say for example, I’d like to get some function blocks that help
me with analog input modules. I can download this AnalogTechnology
function block library onto my development PC. I can import that library into
my PLCnext Engineer project. And then I have all those
function blocks available. So that’s one type of app that
we have on the PLCnext Store. Yeah, so it should be as easy to load an app as it is loading an app onto your smartphone. Okay. So this is basically a new, you can consider it as an App Store for
industrial automation space, right? Where you can go
just download an app and then use that program
into your project, right? And people sell their project there. You can also create… Can they or should they create a
developer account or something to be able to sell their applications? Yeah, so it depends on how you’re
going to use the store. So if you’re a developer
of automation solutions for end-users, then yeah, you’re developing your
project using PLCnext Engineer and you can browse the store and use whatever
you find in the store in your project. On the other hand, you may
be a vendor, an app vendor, in which case you can create a
contributor account on the PLCnext Store. – Contributor account.
– Yeah, and then you can upload your apps to the store and you can even charge money for them. Yeah, You can even make money… Selling your apps, selling your
industrial PLC programs, right? Yes, so if you develop a function block
library that does something really neat – that you think will be applicable to a wide range.
– What be an example? – Well, so for example MQTT.
– Like a simpler one. Let’s say a particular type of calculation, I don’t know, maybe some sort of calculation
in fluid dynamics or something. That is Complicated again. Something like a pump station. Yeah, okay. So one type of app we
actually have on here is a solution app. Yeah, so a solution app, it’s not
just a library of functions. It’s actually a complete solution. So let’s say you manufacture pump stations
and all your pump stations are the same and you want to include control capability
with that pump station hardware. Yeah, but you say that if you buy
this pump station from our factory, then you can go download the PLC
program from the PLCnext Store. Exactly, and that will turn your PLCnext Control
hardware into a pump station controller. So it takes over your whole PLC turns
it into a pump station controller. You’d configure that app using a
web-based configuration tool perhaps, and then you know that could
even send information up to a cloud-based service
from your pumping station. So if you’re the vendor of that pump station, you can put your pump station
control app in the store. People who buy your pump station can
download your app from the store. So you can sell both the pump
station and also the PLC and PLC program for that at the same time
using the PLCnext Store. Perfect. So Is there anything else that we
need to cover about PLCnext Store? Which I think, like open-source
advantage that we have. Yeah, like I say, things like the MQTT client
that’s really like an open-source software, written by PAHO. You’ll find that in GitHib. That’s been cross-compiled for the PLCnext Control
platform and then made available on the store. So that’s what we call a function extension app. Function extension app. So that really extends the
function of the PLCnext Control, so you can run that alongside
your ladder logic program and you can add MQTT
communications capability to your PLC just by downloading this
function extension app from the store. Okay, so just to make sure
that viewers know what this – What was that again?
– MQTT so it stands for Message Queuing Telemetry Transport. This is an application that enables you to
connect office data to the factory data, right? Yes, if you’re running an MQTT Broker, let’s say in your office, then the device
in the factory or out of the field can publish messages to the MQTT
broker and can subscribe for messages? So it’s a method of transmitting messages to and from the field up to a broker
whether it’s in the cloud or in your office, and it’s an industry-standard
way of doing this, so a lot of different devices
from different manufacturers, all understand how to
transfer MQTT messages, so really you can integrate
this into an open sort of way. Yeah, and one of the other things
that we discussed earlier was that with this open-source feature
that we have for this PLC, you can literally have PLC programmer like in
controls engineer working on a PLC program at the same time someone
with an IT background, both can work on the same project, right?
How does that work? – Can you a little bit elaborate on that?
– Yeah So your traditional PLC
programmer would be writing their program using ladder logic
or function block diagram, sequential function chart, whatever they’re comfortable with.
– Yes They can just use PLCnext Engineer or CODESYS
if they like to write their IEC program. At the same time the C++ developer, they
can download an extension for “Eclipse”, and IT developers would
be familiar with Eclipse. They can write their C++ program, they can use open-source
software from GitHub. They can build the C++ program
and then they can package that as a PLCnext Engineer library, and then the IEC programmer
can import that library and treat it just like a program that was
written in ladder logic for instance. So what I understand, is that for one project, we can have some part of the logic
some part of the PLC program written in ladder logic,
FBD or STL or whatever type of plc programming language and
some of the parts that are really hard to write with these typical
plc programming languages, you can just hire an IT person, people with
IT background and they can write those sections in C++ for example and
then we can combine those two in one PLC project, right?
-That’s right – Programing project?
– That’s Right. So if it’s C++, you can
get a C++ Programmer. C#, you can integrate C#
programs into here as well MATLAB Simulink. A lot of process
simulation is done using MATLAB Simulink. You can actually integrate MATLAB
Simulink real-time programs into IEC programs as well. So it’s really quite flexible.
– Perfect. So do you want at the end of the video, Do you want the viewers to do any… Do you
have any call to action for the viewers? Yeah, well, it would be great if people could
get their hands on a PLCnext starter kit, something similar to this. Once they’ve done that what they should
do is visit the PLCnext Community, So that’s at plcnext-community.net and this is where we also get
together and share our experience. We learn, we teach. We put a link for this PLCnext Community
in the description below the video and also you can just google it,
PLCnext Community and it will pop-up. Yeah, all the manuals are on there.
We’ve got getting started guides. We’ve got videos. We’ve got
tutorials, E-Learning, FAQs. We’ve got links to our YouTube channel where again, there’s a lot of tutorial
videos, some getting started guides that you can follow along with
to just feed your first project. That is really helpful. So if you want to learn some getting started videos on YouTube you can just search for
PLCnext, Phoenix Contact and YouTube. – Yeah. That’s right. And also we’ll put a link for that Youtube channel
on the description below this video as well. Yeah, that’s right. For
the more advanced users, our C++ programs, we have
a GitHub channel as well. So a lot of the software we developed,
some of it that you’ll see in the store is actually available as open-source
software on our github channel. So yeah, I mean if you have any questions, you
can go onto the forum in the PLCnext Community You can ask your question. You usually
get an answer within 24 hours. It might not even be answered by
somebody from Phoenix Contact. The community is very active
and we all help each other, and once you build something
that you’re proud of, you can actually post
in the Makers blog. – Makers Blog?
– We consider ourselves a little community of makers and we’re all proud of what we build
and we often post on Makers blog. So for example, somebody connected
they’re ALEXA or they’re Google Home to a PLCnext Control
– Yeah, that’s very cool. Yeah, and they have a little
example of how to do that. So yeah, and I mean it seems like a
bit of a fun example, but you know that’s the way industry is
going in, voice control, face recognition, camera,
optical recognition and so on. So yeah, all these types of applications described in the makers blog.
– So they can post those at PLCnext makers right?
– At plcnext-community.net, and then go into the Makers blog and you can see what other people
have done and you can post your own. -You can also just Google PLCnext makers, I think it will pop-up.
-That’s right. That’ll find you there Yeah, and for a bit of fun, you can
also go on to our Instagram channel. That’s “instagram.com/plcnext”, and that’s a great way
to have a bit of fun and just connect with everybody
in the community as well. Yeah, you can just search PLCnext on
Instagram and it will pop up and we also again will put a link for that in
the description below the video. Okay. Thank you Martin for making the time and
sharing your knowledge with the RealPars community. I really appreciate it. – Yeah, no problem.
– Thank you I hope you learned
something new from Martin… and I assure you, you’re learning
from one of the best in the business. As I said at the start,
staying on top of what’s new is a big part of getting ahead
as an automation engineer. Again, if you have any questions about
what Martin and I discussed in the video, feel free to put them in the comments below. Martin will personally answer all of
your technical or other questions. If you want to learn even more
about the PLCnext technology, make sure to follow PLCnext on Instagram. Just type in PLCnext on Instagram
and their page pops up. You’ll also find a link to their
Instagram page in the video description. Also, following the PLCnext community can
be another great online resource for you to stay on top of what’s
new in PLC technology. They have numerous step-by-step
video tutorials available online that can help you learn how to get started with configuring and programming
of the PLCnext control. Also be sure to check out their
website at: PLCnext-community.net Or just Google the word, PLCnext. You’ll also find this link
in the video description. Thanks for joining RealPars for
another career-changing video. See you next time!

32 thoughts on “PLCnext – Connecting Industrial Automation to the IT World

  1. What a pleasure to watch a video with an entrepreneur like Martin who really understands what he is talking about, speaks simply and without spewing unnecessary jargon or buzzwords!
    Congratulations on this interview, Realpars!

  2. What communication protocols can your PLC support other than ProfiNet that you mentioned? For example does it support EtherCAT?

  3. What forms of security are you implementing in your hardware? I am both an individual in implementing designs and am merging into Info-security.

  4. Thanks for this video… I love to develop my self with someone developing it self… Like realpars I love seeing realpars develop day after day because develop of realpars it my develop… And I have request of adding a new library on (robot arm and knimatic motion control) best regards

  5. Hi Martin, a more general question. Do you have an opinion on the time scale that text based plc programming will be accepted by industry?

  6. Very informative. Thanks realpars team you all are doing a very good job keep it up… awaiting for more productive videos like that. Great 👌👏

  7. Thanks RealPars and Martin for the video. Having recently just started looking into this space for household automation and small machine shops, it surprised me how inflexible and 'anti-integration' many of the industrial based PLC offerings were.

    Great to see some companies making an effort to change that!

  8. Fantastic content. You can tell he knows what he's talking about. Kudos to the interviewer for clarifying potentially confusing areas

  9. Real Pars has such amazing content! Im currently going to school for engineering and I enjoy watching all this videos to further my knowledge. Keep up the great work guys!

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