Despite the uncertainty over whether PCs or PCLs get the job done more efficiently, there’s no doubt that food manufacturers need automation to improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase flexibility.

According to a recent ARC Advisory Group report, PLC suppliers are worried. Rapid changes in computing and communication technologies, a strong user acceptance of open systems, the global economic slowdown, impact of events in 2001, and a small but growing threat from Industrial PCs are combining to create turbulent market conditions for PLCs.

But, ARC says, the industrial PC is not yet a threat. The research group advises suppliers to view it as an ally, providing the hardware and software components to upgrade “traditional” PLCs out of the “outdated” label. Intelligent sensors and actuators are also not yet a threat, ARC reports, though increasing processing power at that level does make it possible to create complex automation systems with less PLCs that were required earlier.

Users, on the other hand, need assurance that components have a proven history of having worked together, and that service support is available in case they do not, ARC advises.

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