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  • Writer's pictureEric Reiner

Hardware and Software Considerations – Industrial PCs vs PLCs, Part 2

Smart hardware and software enable flexible machine control

A Beckhoff embedded PC with TwinCAT 3 automation software

The flexibility and upgradeability of Beckhoff Industrial PCs (IPCs) comes from the way they implement machine control. With PC-based control, functions previously handled by dedicated hardware are created in automation software, such as TwinCAT 3 from Beckhoff as function blocks or other forms of code. The function blocks and code can be easily moved, changed, upgraded or altered to meet the system’s evolving needs.

Replacing or upgrading hardware units is a similarly simple process, particularly with Beckhoff IPCs. The software-based PLC project can simply be downloaded onto the new machine controller or changed by swapping Cfast cards, bringing the machine back up after modification or service in a matter of minutes. Further expandability for machine control is assured via PCIe, PCI slots and multiple hard drive disk (HDD) slots with motherboards that are RAID-enabled. All of this gives controls engineers the ability to have one powerful IPC run an entire machine in a centralized control architecture.

The PC-based control software from Beckhoff also brings many unique features when paired with the IPC hardware. The multi-core and many-core technologies in IPCs and Embedded PCs can handle tasks on one CPU that in the past may have required many separate controllers. With the core-isolation mode in TwinCAT 3, users can harness the full power of multi-core and even many-core technology.

Core isolation enables numerous computation-intensive tasks to be handled by one powerful hardware controller without overburdening the CPU by assigning specific major control functions and tasks to specific cores. In a quad-core system, for example, a machine builder can assign the PLC projects to run on CORE 0, motion control system on CORE 1, the HMI software on CORE 2 and a vision system on CORE 3. In addition, TwinCAT 3 efficiently distributes functions across processor cores if the user does not do so independently.

Want to learn more about the benefits of PC-based controllers in automation? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Eric Reiner is the IPC Product Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.

A version of this article previously appeared in Control Engineering magazine.


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