Monthly Archives: January 2024

Low-cost automation with PLCnext Technology

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Reaching into the box – simply explore new paths

Berlin-based Sikora GmbH has developed a proprietary robot controller (SRS) to automate manual tasks in the automotive industry. The company, founded in 1999, has been instrumental in shaping laser welding and soldering in the automotive industry. The SRS allows for easy programming of robot movements, and the first series used was in an application that “reaches into the box.” The solution for positioning bulk goods does not involve high-precision robotics or special drives and components but uses simple physical methods like magnetism and gravity. The low-cost automation system is energy-saving, with many components coming from the company’s 3D printers. This approach balances individual system elements according to demand, requiring less drive power and less waste heat. Additionally, mechanical wear is optimized and service life is increased.

Reaching into the box – simply explore new paths

Transparent processes – fast learning – easy operation

Sikora systems offer a self-explanatory process sequence for operation and maintenance, simplifying maintenance work. They are designed for limited operation in emergencies and quick fault identification without software-intensive configuration. The system’s interfaces between the user and controller are easy to handle, with a haptic interface for easy operation. A small robot with axes moved manually and a two-line display completes the unit, which can be taught using a 3D printer. The system’s simplicity makes it a valuable solution for skilled workers.

Transparent processes – fast learning – easy operation

IT and OT on the same hardware

Sikora GmbH has developed a robot controller using C++ programming on Linux-based computers, but it requires appropriate hardware for use in harsh industrial environments. Ralf Sikora discovered PLCnext Technology from Phoenix Contact, which meets all industrial use requirements, including real-time capability and data consistency. The controllers enable the use of high-level language programs like C++, C#, and Python. PLCnext Technology also meets IT security requirements in automation, as per IEC 62443 standards. This allows for sensitive banking transactions on smartphones in public WLANs, reducing the risk of network attacks or unsecured data transmission.

IT and OT on the same hardware

Intuitive operation by the user

Sikora’s automation solution, PLCnext Technology, is easy to use and gaining popularity among IT sector users due to its open ecosystem, which supports high-level language applications, database connections, cloud communication, artificial intelligence, and apps.

Industrial tasks have evolved from technical feasibility to user preference. Smartphones, for example, are intuitive and easy to use, but complex technology is still present. Automation systems must be quick and trouble-free for operators and maintenance personnel, increasing application availability. Open-source IT solutions make app interfaces on smartphones easier to use.

Intuitive operation by the user

Learn more about PLCnext Technology.

Compact box PCs for edge applications

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Significant cost savings

Compact box PCs

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a forward-thinking technology in industrial automation. Focusing on high-performance applications that process and transmit data. Traditional automation systems use wired or wireless communication protocols to concentrate data in a central location. However, the lack of a common network in distributed applications, such as water pumping stations and oil fields, poses challenges and costs. Maintenance personnel often travel to remote stations to collect or update data, causing data delays or latency.

Significant reduction in network traffic

Applications require high-performance engines that capture, store, analyze, and preprocess data, with connectivity for efficient transmission. Small IIoT-capable industrial PCs distribute computing power to the edge of the Internet. This allows data analysis by a physically built device. This reduces network traffic, storage capacities, and costs while ensuring data is communicated immediately, forwarded at predefined intervals, and stored locally as backup information.

High availability even under harsh conditions

The VL3 UPC from Phoenix Contact is an example of an embedded computer design that ensures reliable operation year-round, even under harsh conditions. The compact box PC features a dual-core or quad-core Atom processor, fast DDR4 RAM, and NVMe solid-state memory modules. It is passively cooled, enabling high connectivity, and features a DisplayPort interface for high-resolution displays with Multi-Stream Transport capability. The design also includes easy maintenance options and passive cooling, reducing power consumption and heat generation.

A variety of extension options

The box PC has two Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.1 interfaces. additionally, it can be extended with serial ports and WLAN configuration. Equipped with a DIN rail and mounting brackets for wall mounting, it offers versatility in installation. Furthermore, two extension modules increase system height by 30 millimeters, incorporating Gigabit Ethernet ports and M.2 interfaces for mass storage as well as accommodating 4G/LTE modems. This flexibility in WAN/WLAN connectivity is crucial for cloud computing installations.

Learn more about industrial PCs.

Learn more about HMI panels and industrial PCs.

Connectors for all weather conditions

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Evaluating the requirements on connection technology holistically

PRC series

Industrial systems require high-performance installation connectors to be robust, reliable, and flexible. These connectors must not become weak points, especially in extreme ambient conditions like cold water systems. These systems, often modular, must withstand moisture, frost, heat, and UV light for years without problems. Outdoor components, like cooling coils, require high IP protection and weather resistance. Connectors should enable intuitive operation during installation, commissioning, and maintenance, and ensure fast, error-free connections for power supply, signal transmission, and data transfer. These connectors are suitable for various industrial installations.

The challenges in practice

Device and system developers face challenges in creating reliable connection systems for IIoT and Industry 4.0 applications. Phoenix Contact’s PRC series offers high-performance power, signal, and data connectivity, IP6X protection, and UV resistance. The series includes circular connectors and assembled cables, with special housing inserts for a defined terminal point on the field device.

Standardized basis for safe connectors

Phoenix Contact's PRC series

Standardized connectors are advantageous in everyday life, smartphone market developments, and electric vehicle introductions. Standards like IEC 61984 and IEC 61535 define safety requirements and tests for connectors, while application-specific standards ensure permanent connections in fixed installations. These standards form a solid basis for power distribution, ensuring user safety and reliable connections.

Failure causes and starting points


The reliability of a system depends on its weakest link, and follow-up costs often outweigh the cost of materials or spare parts. Minimizing system failure risk is crucial, considering maintenance costs and intervals. Low-investment components often lead to failures, while quality upgrades can reduce costs. Cutting costs on connection technology can make error diagnostics difficult due to sporadic problems.

Selection criteria

Selection criteria

Planners should consider key characteristics like current, voltage, and conductor cross-sections, as well as seal tightness. The IP degree of protection, as per IEC 60529, defines protection against contact, foreign bodies, and water ingress. Higher IP degrees result in better seal tightness, with groups like IPX6, IPX5, IPX8, IPX7, and IPX9 forming groups.

General conditions are decisive

Repairs, maintenance, or inspections on existing systems can cause damage if connectors are loosened or the terminal box is opened. This can be due to inadequate design or incorrect selection of connectors and mounting materials. Environmental conditions, such as humidity, temperatures, UV irradiation, and wind, can affect the materials used, causing brittleness or corrosion. Substances in the environment, such as ammonia, sulfur, and salts, can also affect the materials. Environmental simulations and tests, such as ISO 4892, DIN EN 60068-2-52, 2 PfG 1911, and ISO 6988, are essential for material resistance. Impact and vibration tests are also necessary for mechanical load resistance. The Phoenix Contact product portfolio offers PRC series connectors for energy technology applications, such as lighting, infrastructure, and power distribution. These connectors are designed for fixed and permanent installations and feature high stability even with frequent plugging and unplugging. The PRC 20 series supplements existing products for up to 35 A and can be used indoors and outdoors.

General conditions are decisive

Learn more about Phoenix Contact’s PRC series.

Profisafe transmission over 5G networks

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Full speed ahead

The next generation of 5G standard promises significant advancements in wireless industrial data exchange. Historically, cellular technology focused on consumer communication, but now it takes industry interests into account. The standardization also includes requirements for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), such as Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) and time-critical communications (Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications). The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standardization organization has released several specifications, with the current functions expected in Release 18, set to be published in 2024. However, developing semiconductors, network technology, and products is expected to take at least two years.

Structure of private cellular networks

Private cellular networks, similar to public networks, use wireless communication between end devices and radio towers. These base stations connect to a central data center, which manages and authenticates connections. The network core, consisting of local 19-inch equipment, acts as the central communication element, routing user data and forwarding it to the internet. This ensures reliable communication with low latencies and high failsafe performance.

Low cabling overheads in wide-area networks

Private 5G networks use a licensed frequency band, allowing better control, efficiency, and prioritization of communication devices. This technology is beneficial in small areas with a large number of wireless devices and outdoor applications with fewer base stations. 5G can serve various applications across one infrastructure, including eMBB, video application, remote maintenance, AR, logistics, and on-site facility management. It also offers uRLLC functions for field communication, allowing robots to reassemble without adapting communication cabling. Automated guided vehicles can exchange data and outsource the intelligence of these devices to a central server system, reducing equipment costs and increasing scalability.

Forwarding small data packets quickly and reliably

The examples discussed above involve reliable data transmission from an AGV to safety sensors and other AGVs, allowing them to traverse hazardous areas at full speed without collisions. This is achieved through Profisafe protocol, a safety profile for the Profinet fieldbus. This communication is based on Layer 2 of the OSI reference model, with data exchanged via MAC addresses in a closed network. In a 5G network, routing is required due to the separate network of AGVs, robot cells, and production networks. Data is transmitted via a Layer 2 tunnel connecting the AGV’s network with another AGV’s network, encapsulating data into IP packets.

Falling costs as the number of private 5G networks increases

5G technology is promising for wireless industrial data exchange, but challenges remain. Current hardware is not suitable for uRLLC communication, and Profisafe transmission is feasible but not reliable. Hardware for later releases is under development to address latency spikes in AGV applications. As costs decrease, private 5G networks will increase for customized applications. However, wide-ranging projects demonstrate the variety of applications 5G can create, especially in uRLLC applications in AGVs and robotics, highlighting its potential in industrial communications.

Learn more about Industrial 5G and Safety-related PLCs for Profisafe.