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Edge Control for the Win

Traditional operations technology (OT) industrial controller options, represented most often by programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process automation controllers (PACs), are mature technologies, and today’s users often need more modern industrial computing experiences.

Edge controllers, like the Emerson CPL410, are more than a PLC or PAC. My article in the May 2020 issue of Control Engineering, "Should I Use an Edge Controller, PLC, or PAC?," shows why edge controllers are a winning proposition for end users upgrading existing systems and creating new designs to improve productivity, address skill gaps, and enhance security.

 It’s the Hardware and the Software
To deliver the deterministic real-time functionality needed for industrial control systems, the Emerson edge controller uses multi-core processor designs virtualized at the hardware level. This provides superior performance from the real-time operating system (RTOS) with deterministic runtime control similar to a PLC or PAC. This virtualized design also enables a completely independent general-purpose operating system (GPOS) running a variant of Linux.

Edge Controller Differentiators
The unique edge controller configuration ensures the rock-solid RTOS deterministic operation required for OT automation is carried out securely and independently of advanced GPOS computing activities such as analytics, optimization, and IT communications.

 The GPOS includes defenses and secure communication protocols suitable for IT environments, such as: HTTPS, SSL, FTPS, OPC UA, and MQTT. Users can program within the GPOS environment using IT-oriented languages like C, C++, Python, and Java.

Moving to Edge Control
This flexible architecture lets OT personnel focus on the deterministic system, while IT personnel work with the general-purpose system, and the two groups can coordinate or cross over as needed. The edge controller can be used just for the PLC/PAC feature set, taking advantage of its standard IEC-61131-compliant programming. More tech-savvy users can employ the native toolbox of IT-friendly features for many applications, such as transforming raw data into pre-processed information.

The Human Factor
Edge controllers make it possible for users to learn just one common automation environment. Experienced users  familiar with PLCs and PACs can continue to apply their skills in an intuitive way. New users entering the workforce will be comfortable assembling code elements to create a solution. The productivity of subject matter experts is improved by using their experience to create advisory algorithms running right in the edge controller to optimize operations.

Securing the Future with Edge
The edge controller and PAC solutions offered by Emerson help users:

  • Validate the supply chain
  • Build systems using trusted components
  • Incorporate modern security provisions

For industrial automation end users, the technology discussion today is less about product acronyms like PLCs and PACs and more about delivering the right performance.

Edge controllers are the next step to help industrial automation end users improve productivity, address human factors, and apply best security practices.

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