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Top 10 PLC Processors of All Time

‘Top 10 PLC Processors’ is a somewhat hard topic to discuss, given how each model from each manufacturer can have different purposes application-wise. In this article, we’ll be looking at the top 10 PLC manufacturers and their most popular line(s) of programmable controllers.

Programmable logic controllers, sometimes also called ‘industrial automation workhorses’ are the electronic devices that revolutionized the realm of industrial automation. PLCs initially started their journey in the automobile manufacturing trade and eventually found their uses in pretty much every other automation application; even general purpose applications as well. Being extremely flexible and easier to use, they quickly replaced the relay-based, more permanent, and complex automation circuits; all while taking up less space and consuming relatively little power.

Programmable controllers are specifically built to perform in industrial environments where there are high levels of humidity, temperature, and dust that can easily damage regular computers that are not built to last in these environments. They are also designed to perform continuously, be it a few days, weeks, or even years without ever having a break. PLCs offer this extremely high reliability and guarantees functionality by conforming to industrial automation standards such as functional and operational safety standards.

Unlike relay logic-based automation systems, PLCs introduced a whole new level of competition into the field of industrial automation. Since their rise, there have been numerous manufacturers who surfaced with their own programmable controllers. Some have come and gone, and some managed to stay in the game by developing their own brand name in the realm of industrial automation.

Most Popular PLC Brand

Now that’s a tough question to answer. Instead of randomly picking one, let’s consider actual figures to find which one is the most popular. In 2019, according to research carried out by Mordor Intelligence indicates that the PLC market was approximately around $4 billion, and the market was having a steady rise. By 2025, it is expected to reach $4.3 billion with an annual growth rate of 2.3%.

A significant part of this percentage is from the automobile manufacturing industry, which was also said to be the birthplace of PLCs. Also, the same sector uses more industrial robots than any other industry to automate their tasks.

Mordor classifies the global PLC market into a few key sections, namely US (including Canada), China, India, Australia, and Japan that has the potential to grow the demand for PLCs in the years to come.

Over the years, there have been many PLC manufacturers; some of them have been dedicated to manufacturing PLCs and related industrial automation equipment, while others that not only have interests in automation but also in energy, infrastructure, healthcare, automotive, robotics, and even aviation and aerospace industries.

Considering the net sales revenue, it’d not be an exaggeration to say that Siemens is winning the competition by a whopping $18,281 million just from industrial automation sales in the year 2019. Their Siemens Simatic S7 series PLCs (S7-1500 being the latest lineup) is the most popular programmable controller series.

However, that’s just the beginning.

There are many other direct and indirect competitors for Siemens that also manufacture PLCs and their complementary devices such as sensors and even actuators. To name a few, the list includes Mitsubishi Electric, GE Fanuc, Delta, Rockwell Automation (Allen Bradley), Schneider Electric, ABB, Honeywell, and Hitachi. While these are the most popular, the list goes on and on.

Let’s start with Siemens, the most popular PLC brand and also the one that has the highest market share.

1. Siemens – The Simatic S7 Series

If you ask someone who’s been in the automation industry even for a little while about the most heard brand for PLCs, there’s a high chance that they will mention the name ‘Siemens’ first. Being the largest engineering company in Europe with a market capitalization of almost $12 billion and $60 billion in revenue, the German engineering giant claims that ’there’s a controller for every application.

Starting from the Simatic S5 series and venturing into their high-performance S7 series, Siemens introduced revolutionary changes in industrial automation equipment. The S7 series started with the S7-200 CPU in 1994 and the latest model is the S7-1500, introduced back in 2012.

The S7-1200 series was a basic PLC system, following the modular ‘micro-plc’ architecture. The successor, S7-1500 is a more advanced device series designed for memory-heavy applications that had redundant routines and relatively large amounts of I/O. This processor is not only capable of controlling based on predefined instructions, but an improved CPU of the family, the S7-1500 TM NPU can even run a trained neural network model for performing artificial intelligence tasks such as object recognition/identification and visual quality inspection. They are also equipped with the support for high-level languages such as C/C++ and support proprietary, out-of-the-box motion control algorithms for easier interfacing with sensors and actuators for more advanced control.

Furthermore, the ET-200SP series distributed I/O controllers are very popular in applications that need a large number of I/O ports and distributed I/O channels which also need the PLCs and control cards to be in a compact form factor. Oftentimes, these are hot-swappable with S7-1500 full-sized PLCs.

2. Rockwell Automation – Allen Bradley

Allen Bradley was acquired by Rockwell Automation in 1985 and has been producing programmable controllers under the name Allen Bradley ever since. Their line of products range from very small scale, low-cost PLCs, namely MicroLogix, MicroLogix though CompactLogix 5000 series up to their highest end ControlLogix series of programmable logic controllers.

The Micro series programmable controllers support a high number of I/Os in a compact and expandable form factor. Their Micro810 PLCs also work as programmable high current relay modules (4x 8A) with the capability to work as a standalone PLC as well, with their 12 I/O points.
The Micro800 series controllers come as plug-in modules where we can extend their functionality through adding memory and clock modules as well as I/O modules.

3. Mitsubishi Electric – MELSEC

Mitsubishi Electric accounts for a market capital of around $28 billion. It is a part of the conglomerate, The Mitsubishi Group, which not only focuses on electrical/electronic products but also automotive, information and communication, and home appliances as well.

Mitsubishi Electric’s PLC series, the MELSEC (Mitsubishi Electric Sequencing Control) series includes a wide range of products starting from the compact, cost-effective MELSEC-F series.

The MELSEC iQ-F compact series is the latest model from the compact PLC series introduced by Mitsubishi Electric. Its functionality can be expanded with powered I/O modules which provide 32 I/O points (16DI/16DO) and comes in two variants; AC power supply type and DC power supply type.

The iQ-R series is their most powerful and feature-rich one so far. These programmable controllers consist of advanced features such as a shared system bus, high-speed networking interfaces, motion control, and built-in recipe database management integrated onto the controller itself. iQ-R PLCs also provide powerful security features to safeguard intellectual properties such as recipes through hardware security keys. The most powerful CPU in the line, the iQ-R R120CPU has an extremely high program capacity, capped at 1.2 million steps.

Mitsubishi’s safety PLCs are also very popular among users to ensure safety at production sites. These are interfaced with sensors such as light curtains and emergency stop switches to initiate emergency shutoff sequences and alarms; independent of the main controller.

The Process Control series PLCs in MELSEC are designed especially for high-speed processing and full-scale monitoring and control tasks to control processes. A high-reliability version in the family offers dual-redundant CPUs with dedicated sets of power and network modules with a high-reliability base unit to ensure extreme reliability and lightning-fast switch-over speeds in the case of primary CPU failure.

4. Schneider Electric – Modicon

Schneider Electric is another European industrial and electrical equipment manufacturer that has business interests in energy management and industrial automationWith an approximate revenue of €27.2 billion from industrial automation equipment sales in 2019, the Modicon series is another popular PLC found in the industry. They are also known for their energy management equipment such as circuit breakers, motor drivers, switches, and indicators.

Schneider also offers a wide range of PLCs, suitable for almost any application. Their Modicon M221 controller is suitable for a hardwired system which requires less number of I/Os for a cost-effective solution.

For performance-demanding applications, the M241 is the PLC-to-go, with 5 expansion ports with support for CANopen Fieldbus to interface with up to 63 devices. These controllers also provide industry-standard Ethernet and Profibus

The Modicon M251 controller series is designed to form distributed architectures by being a controller and providing a Modicon TM3 expansion bus to connect a plethora of compatible I/O modules. As supported by the TM3 bus, there can be up to 14 ultra-compact terminals (modules) in the bus, extending the I/O point count up to several thousands. 

Specifically targeting the machine builders (OEMs) by Schneider Electric, the Modicon M258 series logic controllers are designed to provide a relatively simple, out-of-the-box PLC solution to be integrated into machines with minimal wiring and configuration. Their features include Ethernet and CANopen master communication interfaces, 16 channel servo drive, 12 or 16-bit analog to digital converter, high-speed counters, reflex outputs, and expandable digital I/O from 42 points to 2400.

5. Omron – Sysmac

Omron Corporation is a Japanese company based in Kyoto, Japan. Its global network has spanned across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

Omron manufactures industrial automation equipment ranging from switches and relays, control components to automation systems that include programmable logic controllers and industrial PCs. There are multiple series of PLCs manufactured by Omron: NX, NJ, CP, CJ, and CS.

The NX7 series is a high-performance CPU that supports high-level functions such as AI and motion controlling of up to 256 individual axes. It has the fastest cycle time of just 125 microseconds. The unit consists of a built-in AI predictive maintenance library for error prediction and provides support to run a machine learning model along with the main program. This CPU also supports direct database connections such as SQL, Oracle, DB2, and MySQL through the EtherCAT and 2xEtherNet/IP ports.

The CP1L is another PLC class by Omron, which has a compact form factor with just enough I/Os to fit into small and compact machines. These are also considered micro-PLCs due to their highly integrated design. They are available in all common input/output types (PNP/NPN and Relay output) up to 60 points and analog channels expandable through analog option boards. The CPUs are equipped with Ethernet TCP/IP ports for connectivity and offer RS232, RS232C, CompoBUS/slave, or RS485 communication options. The CPUs have a typical memory capacity of 5-20K steps and 10-32K words of data memory capacity.

6. Emerson Electric (GE Fanuc) – RX3i & VersaMax

Emerson Electric is a US company that provides automation solutions and commercial and residential solutions. Their main products include measurement & instrumentation, fluid and pneumatic actuators, control & safety systems, electrical components, heating, and air conditioning. It acquired General Electric’s Intelligent Platforms Division in 2019transferring the ownership and technologies of GE Fanuc programmable controllers to Emerson Electric.

The GE Fanuc 90-30 and 90-70 were some of the most successful PLCs ever produced. Even though General Electrics announced these two models are officially obsolete and discontinued since 2011, they are still being used in older machine designs even today.

After Fanuc was acquired by Emerson Electric in 2019, the RX3i series CPUs were introduced, the direct successors to Fanuc 90-30 and 90-70 PLCs. These are also known as Programmable Automation Controllers.

These CPUs have high-performance features such as gigabit communication links, multi-core processors, and built-in ethernet ports and switches for reducing application complexity. They also conform to Achilles level 2 reliability certification and have support for Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) and digitally signed and encrypted firmware for improved security.

Available in backplane form factor, the RX3i series provide user memory space options from 2MB to 64MB. They support Digital I/O up to 16k bits (16,000 points) and 32k words for analog inputs. Each of the models in the PACSystems series CPUs also comes equipped with 1-10/100 Ethernet ports and USB A 2.0 ports with support for multiple Ethernet protocols like PROFINET, DNP3, SRTP(client/server), and Modbus TCP/IP. Selected models have built-in RS232/485 interfaces as well.

7. Keyence – KV & V-8000

Keyence is a Japanese automation specialist. The V-8000 and KV series programmable controllers have been popular from the manufacturer who also happens to be in the top 5 companies in Japan in 2020.

The KV Nano series from Keyence is an all-in-one PLC, meaning that everything that needs to form a compact, yet complete control system is contained within a single module. For example, the model KV-N14AT operates from an AC supply, and the base unit contains 8 inputs and 6 outputs; one common point per each. Excluding the base unit, the I/O can be expanded upto 128 points using externally attachable I/O units; limited to a maximum of 3 units.The CPU has a program memory capacity of 8000 steps, and operates at 50ns per basic instruction and 170ns per application instruction speed.

For higher speeds and higher I/O counts along with networking capabilities and extended hardware peripherals, The KV-5000 and KV-3000 series controller series have CPUs that can store upto 260k steps with the ability to have a maximum of 3096 I/O points. The KV-5000 and KV-3000 series operate at a speed of 10ns per basic instruction.

The highest end CPUs are in the KV-8000 series, which operate at a speed of 0.96ns per basic instruction and have the ability to store 1500k steps. The CPU memory is capped at 64MB, and has a nonvolatile RAM with battery backup. All KV series CPUs support expanded ladder, KV Script and mnemonic programming languages.

8. ABB (B&R Automation) – AC500, X20 & X90

ABB is one of the largest industrial robots manufacturers. This Swiss-Swedish industrial giant has become a giant in the industrial automation sector in recent years. Following that, ABB is also one of the manufacturers that has a wide range of PLCs to offer.

The X20 series CPUs from ABB are compact and follow the slice-based I/O control system architecture. Starting from the entry-level X20CP0201 compact CPU which focuses on cost/performance ratio rather than speed (5ms typical cycle time), the range spans up to X20EM1613, a fully embedded, powerful CPU that has a 1.3GHZ Intel Atom processor with an integrated I/O processor. The latter comes with a 1GB LPDDR4 SDRAM and 2GB onboard flash memory. The X20 family CPUs all support the connectivity of expansion cards, through which their functionality can be extended such as the number of I/O points.

The AC500 series PLCs by ABB is one of the highest performing and capable PLCs in the market. When combined with AC500-S500 I/O modules, the system can interact with hundreds or thousands of external devices. Similar to every other PLC, the AC500 CPUs also support stacking multiple I/O, communication interface, and communication modules to expand their functionality even further.

9. Bosch – Rexroth ILC

Rexroth AG is a German engineering company, whose parent company is none other than the famous Robert Bosch GmbH. The Bosch Group has interests in mobility solutions industrial technology, consumer goods, and energy and building technology.

Rexroth manufactures the Bosch ILC range of PLC products, namely, ctrlX, ILC-CML, ILC-XM, and ILC-VPB.

The ctrlX (control X) series offers a scalable PLC solution, combined with the modern-day Internet-of-Things capabilities. The ctrlX automation platform is based on the Embedded Linux Ubuntu Core, which means it can operate as a full-fledged embedded computer while also acting as a programmable controller. ctrlX devices use EtherCAT to communicate with field devices such as servo drives and distributed I/O modules.

ILC-CML is also another cutting-edge PLC manufactured by Rexroth with a 2nd generation state-of-the-art PLC kernel based on CodeSys v3. They natively support Ethernet-based real-time communication.

10. Hitachi – EH & H

Hitachi is another popular PLC manufacturer from Japan. They manufacture PLCs in two different series, modular and compact. The compact series has Micro EHV+, Micro EH, and web controllers while the modular series has HX, EHV+, EHV, and EH-150 models.

The MICRO-EHV+ is suitable for applications where the controller needs to be compact and integrated. These are ideal for small to mid-scale applications. EHV+ also has built-in Ethernet, USB, and serial interfaces and offers support for multiple Fieldbus protocols such as EtherCAT and Modbus RTU. The EH model is similar to EHV+, but is scalable and has removable terminal blocks. The MICRO-EH PLC only supports ladder programming whereas EHV+ supports 5 different languages conforming to the EHV-CODESYS V3.5 standard.

Web controller is another PLC from Hitachi’s compact PLC series, which can host web pages and function as a remotely accessible embedded device. It can be controlled through a web browser and has built-in serial and Ethernet for connectivity. This model only supports programming through Hitachi Pro-H and Ladder Editor.

For more demanding applications, there is the EH-150 series CPU from the modular series. It is based on a 32-bit microprocessor and offers a multitude of options in terms of communication, I/O expansion, and integrated hardware peripherals. It also has an optional memory board for data storage and offers modem remote connection remote configuration. The HX series is also from the modular series, which is a PAC controller with IoT capabilities. HX PLC has multiple independent ethernet ports, an SD card slot for large capacity cards up to 32GB, and supports embedded C/C++ development through HX Hybrid.

Conclusion

While the list goes on and on, we discussed some of the most popular brands and their PLC lineup in brief. Almost all modern-day PLCs are designed keeping the industry 4.0 concept in mind, and we now often find new models that have IoT capabilities. This has improved the SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) concept by providing not just data acquisition, but also interconnectivity between different types of controllers to form much larger and access control systems. For more information or to discuss which equipment might be best for your application, please visit our website here, or contact us at sales@pdfsupply.com or 1-919-535-3180. 

This entry was posted on January 3rd, 2022 and is filed under Uncategorized. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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