Processors, computing power, is getting cheaper. Will Moore’s Law hit the wall of physics during the next couple of years? I would like to think so, at least from the silicon perspective. If we are going to insist on ever smaller, more compact computing, it’s probably going to have to be photon based. But that’s another post.
When multicore processors become so cheap and small that they can be embedded physically in just about anything, then the possibilities become endless. The basic infrastructure doesn’t change much. You have to be able to talk to it. It has to talk to you. That means an input device and a monitor. Memory is there in case you forget (crash) or if you have to remember something important. Oh yeah, it has to talk to and play well with others, so you may want a Win – something or other embedded module. It’s all the same stuff under the hood.
There are tweaks in the hardware, system efficiency considerations, nuances about how throughput is managed, what constitutes “important” (i.e. – interrupt) conditions. Is there any such thing as “real time” or is that just a philosophical thing, existentialism or some such.
Control is Control. With standardization of ladder code through the efforts of companies like CoDeSys and pressure from the EU to apply IEC 61131 with some consistency, it’s all good. You can use almost any processor platform and move your code from one to another. With minor changes in the layout of the input output assignments.
Users are getting more of what they want. Suppliers are having to compete for customers. Where does all this lead? Price stagnation in the controls field an possibly declining prices for all but the most demanding requirements. Who would have thought a good quality micro PLC could be found under $200 including I/O)?
Where the rubber meets the road is the user interface. The next generation of products is going to have to be much more well thought out in terms of how the user programs it. Ladder is not the only solution, and bigger market forces that require more robot integration over the coming years, more additive manufactured parts, more complex tasking, will demand better descriptive languages that users can transition to easily. Just like any Microsoft application follows a set of rules (generally), users want to migrate to programming environments where where the command structure is more graphical, interpretive and easier to interface with. If the application is complex or requires some math, fine, open a dialog box and have at it. Keep the bigger structures simple and easy to configure.
At least, that’s how I see it.