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Automation: PAC vs. PC

The Automation Debate PAC vs. PC: Is it all a Matter of Opinion?

| Author / Editor: Mark Daniels / Dominik Stephan

PC based controls have evolved into an Android like approach whereas in the PAC world, the Apple philosophy is a better fit.
PC based controls have evolved into an Android like approach whereas in the PAC world, the Apple philosophy is a better fit. (Picture: Rockwell Automation)

PAC and PC based systems drive innovation – Both the systems prove beneficial for customers and the industrial automation sector as a whole.

Discussions on the merits of PC based control versus traditional Programmable Automation Controllers (PAC) has ebbed and flowed for decades. In the mid 1980’s, it was said that the days of the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) were dead; everything will be PC controlled within 10 years from then. So, where are we now almost 30 years later?

Android Vs Apple?

Well to take an analogy from the smartphone or tablet world, it could be argued that PC based controls have evolved into an Android like approach whereas in the PAC world, the Apple philosophy is a better fit. Let me illustrate this point. The Android world is open and allows easy access for developers to generate applications whereas the Apple world is far more controlled.

This is great from a flexibility perspective, allowing great innovation where anything is possible within reason. On the other hand, system compatibility and security are more assured in the Apple world. When was the last time your iOS device had a virus or significant application lock-up? In my experience, Apple’s iOS and associated apps just work.

Safe and Secure

Security is the key, the more ‘open’ the system in terms of how it connects to the world, the more ‘secure’ the system will have to be made. I believe that PACs are ‘less’ open to cyber-attacks than PC-based systems, which operate on an open Windows or Linux-based operation system. Like Apple, most PAC manufacturers restrict access to their operating systems, which limit cyber-attack opportunities.

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Over the past five years, we have witnessed a convergence of technologies in industrial automation, adoption of Ethernet into control systems being the most important. The standardization of EtherNet/IP into I/O systems, motion applications, safety applications and secure connectivity into the wider enterprise has brought about unprecedented levels of information access for customers.

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