PLCs, DCSs & Controllers


Open PLCnext Technology ecosystem

February 2021 PLCs, DCSs & Controllers

With the new PLCnext Control AXC F 3152 controller, Phoenix Contact now provides a high-performance Axioline controller based on the open PLCnext Technology ecosystem. Thanks to the implemented technology, the PLC processes high-level language programs and Matlab Simulink models deterministically in addition to IEC 61131 code, which opens up entirely new prospects in application development.

PLCnext Technology is an open ecosystem for current and future automation requirements. At the same time, the technology allows the combination of automation tasks and IoT demands in a single device. From the perspective of the controller hardware, the ecosystem is comprised of the modular software platform PLCnext Engineer, the digital marketplace PLCnext Store, the informative PLCnext Community, and the option for systemic cloud integration. The innovative firmware architecture is based on a Linux platform and allows the user to use both IEC 61131 code and numerous high-level languages, such as C, C++, Python, and C#, and to control algorithm models in Matlab Simulink. Here, a control program can consist of just one or any combination of the programming languages listed. The user can also work in their preferred environment, which significantly accelerates coding.

Access through the OPC UA server

PLCnext runtime includes the Global Data Space (GDS) to allow data exchange between the programs generated in various languages and the IEC programming. This involves a ‘shared memory’, which guarantees a cycle-consistent data transfer between the respective program elements and the I/O level. In this context, it is irrelevant which priority a task has been assigned or which programming elements it contains. Therefore, a consistent process image is present over the entire task cycle.

PLCnext Technology integrates itself over two interfaces into higher-level operating and communications networks. This allows the user to create a visualisation based on HTML5 in the PLCnext Engineer programming tool which runs on the web server integrated into the controller and which can be shown in a browser on the corresponding operator terminal. The new controller also includes an OPC UA server, which allows access to PLCnext Control from all directions via the OPC UA communications standard. The OPC UA server shows all information that is exchanged in the GDS. Access is entirely transparent.

Cloud connection via various apps

As a digital software marketplace, the PLCnext Store makes various apps available. This includes programmed applications, software libraries, and an alternative runtime environment. The constantly growing selection includes both apps from Phoenix Contact and from third-party providers. This allows the user to load fully generated applications onto the AXC F 3152 that do not require any additional programming. They only need to perform a configuration via the web interface. Moreover, they can use software and expertise from the constantly growing open source community to extend the functional scope of the controller.

Interface extension through extension modules

In the PLCnext controller portfolio, the AXC F 3152 is positioned between the already-established controllers AXC F 2152 and RFC 4072S. The new PLC is therefore suitable for realising demanding applications without safety requirements. Alongside the software-side extendibility, the AXC F 3152 can be extended functionally by up to two PLCnext extension modules. The modules are arranged to the left on the controller for this purpose. Currently, an Ethernet and an Interbus extension are available. With the Ethernet extension module, the controller has an additional gigabit-capable network interface, which allows it to communicate simultaneously with up to four separate networks.

Protection against unauthorised access and risks

A comprehensive and integrated security concept is the basis for protecting machines and systems against unauthorised access and risks. In the future, even more attention will have to be paid to industry-specific requirements for IT security. Today’s systems are required to have integrity, be available, and primarily maintain the confidentiality of all data. To meet these user requirements, PLCnext Technology offers security-by-design.

This allows security aspects to be implemented in accordance with the leading international standard IEC 62443. PLCnext Technology therefore includes wide-reaching security features, such as a role-based user management system, support for VPN functionality, and a certificate handling system. In addition, the AXC F 3152 has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). This is a microchip that provides basic security functions on a hardware basis. The TPM allows cryptographic keys to be generated securely and to be stored in a way that they cannot be changed by outside parties.


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