ProductProgrammable Control

Starting Digital Transformation from the Edge

Edge-enabled PLCs are an accessible and affordable way for most users to collect and create value from use field-sourced data.

While many operations personnel at production and manufacturing companies are aware that their automated equipment can be a source of valuable data for analytics and other purposes, far fewer companies are positioned to create the required IIoT infrastructure to access this information. Damon Purvis at AutomationDirect wrote an Efficient Plant May/June 2024 article titled Transform From The Edge In, explaining how end users and OEMs can leverage existing PLC programming and maintenance skillsets to undertake digital transformation throughout their operations.

Accessing the Edge

Industrial data is primarily sourced from instruments, controllers, and other digital devices located at the operational technology (OT) edge. Using this data for visualization, reporting, analytics, and other purposes usually requires transporting it to an information technology (IT) platform, hosted either onsite or in the cloud.

Traditional PLCs are the most common factory floor controller, and users are very familiar with this technology. Modern PLCs have gained exceptional connectivity and computing features over the year, and are naturally positioned to aggregate edge data, yet many still lack certain data handling and analytics capabilities found in more expensive and complex PC-based computing products.

There is now a middle ground between PLCs and PCs, a region called edge computing, with specific product platforms using ruggedized hardware and PC-type operating systems. However, users of these so-called edge controllers will need associated PC skills to manage system upgrades and security, so moving to these new products can be problematic.

The Edge-Enabled PLC Option

Therefore, many end users find the best option for performing digital transformation projects is to choose a technology they are most familiar with, but which incorporates key features needed for data handling. An edge-enabled PLC supports all the classic OT-centric capabilities, along with extended functionality in the form of IT-type characteristics, included in this list of top features for an edge-enabled PLC:

  • Intelligent and rapid code execution
  • Motion control instructions
  • Tag-based and structured data
  • Rich math capabilities
  • Wide support of OT and IT communication protocols, including Modbus and MQTT
  • IIoT features for seamless cloud connectivity
  • On-board web pages, a web API, and support for other external HMI/SCADA systems
  • Built-in SD memory card slot and RAM

The AutomationDirect BRX series is an edge-enabled PLC providing a functional foundation similar to a classic PLC for deterministic control, but also incorporating extensive OT and IT connectivity/protocols, analytical computation functions, and data-handling capabilities.

Using an edge-enabled PLC allows any “PLC person” to preserve their investments in training and experience, while opening the door to more advanced digital-transformation capabilities, without requiring them to become an IT expert.

Some users will move to an edge-enabled PLC as they implement their next new automation project, while others will use the platform on top of existing systems to solve communication problems by using the device as a flexible and powerful gateway.

An edge-enabled PLC, like the BRX, includes PLC basic capabilities, and it is enhanced for data processing. Edge-enabled PLCs are a do-it-all device enabling OT/IT convergence, made accessible and affordable for all types of OEMs and end users.

Visit the AutomationDirect programmable controllers web page to find out more about the BRX, and other controller platforms, designed to help you automate your operations and achieve your digital transformation goals.