PACs will create new opportunities as well as displace a small percentage of traditional configurations in some existing applications. Use of PACs will continue the shift in emphasis toward communication standards and software integration, with less focus on the hardware. Users will become more focused on total system performance than with hardware selection. PACS will address user concerns as to how to better monitor and control the real-world devices that are connected to the hardware. This keeps the suppliers of PACs thinking more about system performance and less about market differentiators at the component level.
Users want greater flexibility and portability in their HMI and programming devices, which will affect the operator interface hardware and programming device offerings associated with the PAC. Users are requesting more control data to feed their HMIs, necessitating support for higher- bandwidth networks such as Ethernet. There is also increased movement toward thin client/browser-based HMI, and devices with programming packages already installed. Integrating the operator interface functionality into the programming language makes life much easier for the user.
The multi-functional capabilities of a PAC enable access and exchange of production process information and connect factory floor operations to the enterprise level ERP and CPM applications enabling a collaborative manufacturing environment. Where traditional PLC products can only be controlled via proprietary programming languages, a PAC can be commanded via IT standards such as SQL queries, coupled with open data transfer technology such as OPC and XML. This provides faster updates of actual, not copied data, and minimal bandwidth utilization since the enterprise system does not have to poll the controllers, they simply up-date the enterprise based on events.
Today, there is an increased dependency on suppliers for services ranging from consulting to full turn-key projects. Users are refocusing their energies on core competencies and relegating all automation and control integration functions to their automation providers. This creates a much higher need for service and support offerings that will complement and utilize the multi-functional capabilities of PACs.