Choosing a controls platform for a new machine | Customer/Industry Preference

This is the second part of our multi-part series on choosing an industrial automation controls platform (IACP for convenience) for a new machine.

Customer preference on IACPs will be the biggest influence in choosing your machine’s controls platform. Customer’s preferences are influenced by the following:

  • Controls standards
  • Location
  • Industrial segment
  • Controls installed base
  • Maintenance knowledge and skills
  • Database integration

Controls Standard, Location, and Industrial Segment

Most customers in the manufacturing or processing industry have a controls standard. Obviously, if you want to do business with these companies your machine should meet their standards.

Customer controls standards are usually based on their industry and location. Oil & Gas, Nuclear, Waste Water, and general utility companies in North America mostly use Rockwell Automation components such as their GuardLogix family of controllers in order to meet strict industry specific safety and redundancy standards. Because Rockwell is based in the United States this gives North American companies convenient access to Rockwell’s platform. Automotive manufacturers in Germany tend to standardize on Siemens controls hardware because Siemens have pre-built controls solutions for automotive. Siemens is also a German based controls company and skills to support the Siemens platform are prevalent in Germany (some German automakers are standardizing on other platforms as well).

Controls Installed Base, Maintenance Knowledge, and Skills

If the company does not have a controls standard, they will prefer a platform already installed and functioning in their facility. This helps the customer reduce their spare components list which reduces their overhead expenses and increases their bargaining power with their controls component providers. This also helps the customer’s maintenance team as they will be able to support and troubleshoot the machine based on their previously learned skills instead of sending maintenance professionals to specialized training and creating new troubleshooting procedures.

Database Integration

As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0 continues to grow in popularity, executives are prioritizing data accessibility from their industrial assets/machines. If the customer has a functioning data pipeline infastructure in terms of software (databases, protocols, cybersecurity) and hardware (wireless or wired communication infastructure) they will emphasize smooth integration with your machine’s controls platform in order to get data from the machine into their data infastructure. Some controls platforms are easier to integrate with databases than others, but most adhere to OPC UA standards which creates an easy interface to pass data between machines and business enterprise systems.

The next post will discuss criteria for evaluating the IACP’s hardware and software capabilities.

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