Advantech’s APAX-5000, A PC with PLC capabilities

A few days ago, I received an email from Advantech mentioning the APAX-5000. The APAX-5000 is a PC based controller with PLC capabilities. These systems are also known as PAC (Programmable Automation Controller). Rockwell, NI, General Electric, OPTO22 and others do have similar systems also. The APAX-5000 is not new but it was new to me so I started reading the documentation. This post will give a brief summary of the system and highlight a few capabilities.

The APAX-5000 contains the following components:

  • PC based controllers  (APAX-5570, APAX-5571 and APAX-5520CE). The APAX-5520CE is a light weight controller running the Windows CE operating system on an XScale PXA270 processor. The APAX-557X controller runs Windows XPE on a Celeron M processor and is a more heavy duty controller. All three controllers can be used to control the I/O modules using the provided .NET libraries. These libraries enable you to create a control application in a short amount of time.
  • Micro PAC (APAX-5520KW). The Micro PAC is basically the APAX-5520CE equipped with ProCoNos, a softPLC from KW-Software. This controller uses ProCoNos to work with the connected I/O modules. The controller is programmed using Multiprog, an IEC61131-3 programming environment.
  • 4 digital and 2 analog I/O modules.
  • Backplane modules. I must say, these are pretty neat. You can extend the existing backplane of the APAX-557X but you can also use them to create a new backplane for the I/O modules and APAX-5520XX controllers. One nice feature of the backplane is the RJ45 connector. This enables you to extend the backplane by using a simple ethernet cable. And YES, you can use unmanaged switches to connect a series of ‘remote’ backplanes to a controller.
  • Modbus/EthernetIP gateways. These gateways can be used to connect the APAX-5000 I/O modules to a Modbus or EtherNetIP master.

The APAX-5000 system seems to be very flexible, you could:

  • use the compact controller on the same backplane as the PC based controller. The compact controller controls the I/O and the PC based controller does the HMI.
  • use the compact controller with it’s own backplane. The compact controller can control the I/O using ProCoNos or a .NET application.
  • use expansion modules to increase the number of modules on the backplane  or use the same expansion modules to create a remote backplane using a standard Ethernet cable to extend the local bus.
  • use I/O modules on a local or remote backplane.
  • use I/O modules as remote I/O using the Modbus or EtherNetIP coupler. You could connect them to a PLC or HMI station.
  • use 2 controllers in a fail-safe solution.
  • use the PC based controller with I/O modules.
  • and so on…

A few applications for the APAX-5000 that come to mind are:

  1. Remote I/O using the Modbus TCP/IP or EtherNetIP couplers.
  2. Smart Remote I/O units using the Compact Controller (XScale module) and I/O modules.
  3. Machine automation.
  4. Plant automation.
  5. Replacing PLC’s with PC based solutions.
  6. Energy management.

Personal thoughts:

I know, the above sounds like an Advantech sales pitch but there are a few things I don’t like about the APAX-5000. First of all, the platform is not open. You need Advantech’s assistance to get the system running QNX or Linux. I’m not sure if they are willing to help out but you can always ask. I can imagine that there are people, including me, who would like to see the APEX-5000 controllers running on Linux or QNX because that might perform better in their opinion. Second, the online documentation on the Advantech website is too much sales oriented and scattered all over the place. A micro-site containing all information would be much better. I can also imagine that decision makers may have problems finding the correct information that would help them selecting the APAX-5000 as a product they might use.

ATS will try to get the APAX-5000 in house so that we can work with it for a while. We will try to put all pro’s and cons down on paper so that we can inform you (and Advantech) about our findings. In the mean time, visit the Advantech PAC homepage for more information.

Conclusion:

It will take some time to have PAC’s accepted by traditional PLC users and I think that the PAC will relief the PLC from it’s duty. IEC 61131-3 and complete .NET building blocks make it easier for programmers to work with a PAC, even old school PLC programmers should be able to work with it.

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