This overview of the key takeaways from ABI Research’s Industrial Automation: PLC Hardware and Software competitive ranking (CA-1402) breaks down the general outline and methodology of the assessment. This ABI Insight lays out the key differentiation in the measured criteria and strong scorers in both innovation and implementation. Finally, it provides a breakdown of the top three solutions.
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In the PLC Market, Product Capabilities, User Experience, and Deployment Experience Are Key
ABI Research’s new Industrial Automation: PLC Hardware and Software competitive ranking (CA-1402) ranks 11 suppliers of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) solutions, assessing the combination of both the vendors’ hardware and software offerings. ABI Research identifies key innovation and implementation criteria to score a vendors’ solutions, with the analyst choosing these based on the most important factors recognized during primary research. Both innovation and implementation had four key criteria that were assessed:
- Innovation: Product capabilities, pricing options, user experience, and customizability.
- Implementation: Bookings and customer base (deployment experience), connectivity and integration, vertical market expertise, and partner base
The assessment sets out the market positioning of each company as either a leader, mainstream, or follower. The vendors were ranked as follows:
- Leaders: Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Bosch Rexroth, ABB
- Mainstream: Phoenix Contact, Emerson, Omron, Beckhoff, B&R Automation, Mitsubishi Electric
- Followers: Schneider Electric
Innovation and Implementation Highlights: Phoenix Contact's PLCnext Store Provides Immediate Access to Automation Solutions
In the evaluation process, vendors’ scoring for innovative functionality, user experience, customizability, bookings and customer base, and vertical market expertise varied markedly.
Standout companies for innovative functionality and product capabilities criteria were Bosch Rexroth and Siemens. Examples included Bosch Rexroth’s provision of speed and flexibility of PLC solution deployment with its wide range of pre-designed automation applications and Siemens’ unique market solution, proprietary processor designs that ensure deeper integration with other Siemens products and solutions. In the vertical market expertise criterion, Emerson performed strongly with the company’s focus primarily on hybrid and process manufacturing markets, providing function blocks specifically designed for process manufacturers.
Strong innovation scorers included Phoenix Contact, scoring second for innovation, and ABB, scoring fourth, with both companies offering comprehensive solutions with wide-/ranging functionality and strong low/no-code capabilities. Phoenix Contact scored highly due to its open Linux core in the company’s PLCnext controllers allowing for strong future-proofing, and its digital marketplace, PLCnext Store, providing immediate access to complex automation solutions almost immediately. Similarly, ABB scored well for implementation, ranking third, due to strong connectivity capabilities and PLC solutions that are specialized for process manufacturing verticals, only missing out on a top spot due to a smaller customer base and deployment experience, and weaker growth compared to Siemens, Rockwell Automation, and Bosch Rexroth.
Top Three Ranked PLC Solutions
Siemens was the top performer for PLC solutions, positioned first for both innovation and implementation, driven by:
- The company’s significant customer base and deployment experience as the world’s largest vendor in the industrial automation hardware market (see ABI Research’s Industrial Automation Hardware: HMIs, IPCs, PLCs market data (MD-IAH-23)).
- The holistic functionality of its software solution, the TIA Portal, is all supported by excellent low/no-code capabilities underpinned by Mendix. The TIA Portal is also part of Siemens’ broad Industrial Operations X, found within the company’s Xcelerator ecosystem (see ABI Insight “Siemens Xcelerator Digital Business Platform 2023 Strategy Update: Openness and Everything-as-a-Service”).
- Strong customizability of PLCs, with Siemens offering proprietary processors designed to work effectively with other Siemens hardware assets.
- Effective design of solutions to support specific manufacturing verticals with Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) function libraries. Siemens lays out its organization and product development by vertical markets to tailor the solutions to the needs of each industry, with more than 15 different manufacturing markets served.
Rockwell Automation claims the second spot overall, tied for first for implementation and in third place for innovation, with its high ranking due to:
- Its extensive customer base and deployment experience, representing the third largest market share in the automation hardware market (MD-IAH-23).
- Wide range of connection and communication protocol support, with the PLC technologies providing support for REST Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), MQTT, and OPC Unified Architecture (UA), allowing for easy data exchange between PLC technology and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms.
- Comprehensive catering of different market verticals, designing the solution to be adaptable to address automation and control requirements of each specific industry, both in discrete and process manufacturing.
- Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Analytics LogiX AI module applies analytics within the controller to achieve process improvement. Engineers can easily apply Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to the data to identify product quality issues, creating a positive feedback loop for automation solution design.
Bosch Rexroth came in third overall, ranking second for implementation and fourth for innovation, with its success due to:
- The extensive flexibility of its PLC software and ctrlX PLC app, providing a wide range of apps enabling manufacturers to rapidly design and deploy automation solutions. This is augmented by Bosch Rexroth’s ctrlX Store, which contains many pre-made automation solutions that can be deployed with minimal coding.
- Bosch Rexroth’s scalable licensing of the ctrlX PLC app, as manufacturers simply pay per ctrlX CORE PLC installed, providing an easy to track, linear scaling cost.
- Provision of the ctrlX Device Portal, a cloud-based system that gives customers remote access to controllers, supporting easy updates or creating new apps for the automation system.
- Opening of the company’s ctrlX OS software to be used by third-party automation providers, so customers can use the PLC software to code ctrlX CORE controllers, as well as other third-party controllers that can run the ctrlX OS.
These rankings serve to highlight the PLC market’s continual shift toward customers looking for increasingly easy to use and deploy, open designs, with the most innovative vendors responding with a vast swathe of low/no-code functionality and pre-built function blocks and applications, found within easy to access digital marketplaces. The value of manufacturing vertical-specific solutions has continued to remain a prominent theme, with customers demanding solutions tailored to their exact manufacturing process requirements.