Finally, ABB launches its own controllers brand of programmable

01 October 2006

The AC500 is all dressed up and ready to set its foot into the world of machine controllers.

For many years, industry observers have wondered why ABB, one of the world’s largest industrial control companies, did not offer a line of programmable controllers (PLCs). It seemed to be an anomaly in the automation marketplace.

It certainly wasn’t because it lacked the ability to do so. ABB Stotz-Kontakt GmbH, based in Heidelberg, specialises in low voltage control equipment and is certainly equal to the task of designing and building a stateof- the-art PLC. In fact it launched its first PLC, the AC31, ten years ago. But sales of the ‘brick’ style microPLC have been slow and even ABB admits it gave ‘incoherent’ support for the AC31.

Now the company—which admittedly has gone through difficult economic conditions, but is now past the worst of it—is making a serious attempt to capture some of the multibillion dollar international market for PLCs. It launched its AC500 system rather quietly last year in Germany. The product was seen at major German trade fairs such as SPS/IPC/Drives in Nürnberg and Hannover Fair, but it was not a highly visible product launch and didn’t appear to be aggressively promoted. This year ABB has gone ‘international’ by
launching the product in other countries. With new people in place to support the PLC, ABB appears to be
serious about its attack on the market.

The AC500 system comprises three new automation products: the AC500 PLC, the S500 Input/Output (I/O) module, and the CP500 HMI operator interface terminal, all available through ABB’s low voltage products division. ABB says the new system ‘complements’ its existing AC31 PLC on the low end, and the 800xA DCS family of controllers on the high end. Privately, ABB engineers talk about the rollout of a microPLC in the
next year.

With ABB’s market-leading position in motors, motor drives, and industrial robots the AC500 seems to be a natural fit. The company is surely hoping its position in these related automation markets will help ‘pull’ sales of its PLC.

In its U.K. launch, ABB says it has identified a potential PLC client base worth over Û80 million, a market size
hard for even a giant company to ignore. It is being aimed primarily at machine OEMs and plant operators
looking for a system that can be readily expanded to meet changing requirements. Typical potential applications for the system range from water pumping for utilities, through to complex heavy industrial applications.

Without having to worry about maintaining compatibility with an installed base, ABB enjoys the luxury of
designing a system as it sees fit, to meet state-of-the-art requirements of its perceived customers. Thus, it has decided on a design that is easily upgraded as user needs change over time.

The AC500 is available with three different CPUs; PM571 (micro), PM581 (mini) and PM591 (midi). The first has a memory of 64kbits, while the last has a memory of 4MB, to manage complex multiple tasks. The plug-and-play design allows the CPUs to be interchanged when necessary to meet changing demands. All CPUs share a common physical size, eliminating the need to change connecting parts or the terminal
base to accommodate increased sizes.

Further flexibility is provided by the S500 I/O modules, which provide extra expansion options including
decentralised expansion, making it possible to both adjust the PLC and control operations remotely. The PLCs follow ABB’s philosophy of making ‘fieldbus neutral’ modules which accept one of five different
‘fieldbus plugs’ to interface to different fieldbuses (Profibus DP, CANopen, DeviceNet, Modbus or ABB-CS31). This enables different fieldbus protocols to be used to communicate with any AC500 or S500 device through a single interface.

The AC500 can also be accessed remotely from a PC via Ethernet or serial networks, enabling operators or
maintenance staff to change command settings offsite.

ABB likes to say that ‘no electronics are required’ to install the products. By this they mean that cabinet builders can install the wiring racks and terminate the wiring, and later plug in the electronic blocks when they need to begin operation. Conveniently, the wiring terminals have both spring or screw-clamp fittings. The plug-in connectivity of the modules is another convenience that reduces time spent changing components.

Programming and operating
Operating the AC500 PLC is simplified by an LCD display that can help users to identify and locate specific problems via on-screen diagnostic codes. Other key features include an operator keypad, two integrated serial interfaces, and an SD card to download or upload data, such as firmware updates or programming codes, without the use of a PC. Data can also be written to and from the SD card to enable data logging.

The system is programmed with thirdparty Control Builder CoDeSys software, programmed according to IEC 61131-3 standards with any of the five languages.

The software can be used for planning, programming, testing and commissioning of an automation
application. It can provide process screens to enable offline simulation testing before installation.

Further monitoring options are provided with the HMI CP500 operator terminal. The CP500 provides local
monitoring and control options to users, including alarm management, recipe management, trend curve analysis and data logging.

The CP500 HMI has 10 different displays available, ranging from a 2 x 16 character text display to a 10.4 inch TFT touch screen display. The functions of the 10 versions vary depending on the customer’s needs and cost limits. The full version provides numerous functions including moving graphics and an interactive touch screen display.

The AC500 system can be purchased as a complete solution, or each of the three products can be bought
separately, as each can be integrated into an existing automation system. For example, additional I/O modules can be added to different parts of a factory plant to help handle increased data traffic.

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