Selecting the Right Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) Supplier for Your Manufacturing Plant

This resource helps manufacturers navigate through the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) marketplace by identifying some of the most innovative companies and those who provide the best implementation of PLC hardware and software solutions.

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PLC Market Background

Manufacturers continue to embrace industrial automation, particularly in the West due to re-shoring and the need for automated solutions to maintain competitive efficiency. As a result, there will be robust growth in the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) market throughout the rest of the decade. This growth is further driven by new manufacturing markets, such as battery manufacturing, promoting new production techniques, with plants being built with a “digital-first” mindset and encouraging the use of automation solutions.

Manufacturers shopping for a PLC solution can expect a few noticeable changes in product design, including a shift to software-based products, the incorporation of open designs, the use of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) for coding, and a move to vendor interoperability. In its Industrial Automation: PLC Hardware and Software competitive ranking, ABI Research evaluated the PLC supplier landscape to help you evaluate what makes a PLC solution a key facilitator of industrial automation.

The graph below depicts the overall rankings, summarizing where PLC suppliers lie in terms of product innovation and implementation.

A graph depicting the overall best PLC companies based on ABI Research's latest competitive ranking

PLC Hardware and Software Innovations Your Company Should Prioritize

In this section, we list the innovation criteria that manufacturers should look for when weighing their options for a potential PLC product.

Product Capabilities: When evaluating a potential PLC hardware and software solution, it’s important that it has unique and innovative functionality. For example, is generative AI included to streamline the programming process? Or can 5G be integrated with the controller solution? Moreover, it’s essential that the PLC software solution supports high-level languages, such as C and C++.

Pricing Options: Manufacturers should also ensure that the asking price of the PLC hardware and software solution reflects the functionality offered. Further, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) pricing models are a benefit for flexibility and scalability.

User Experience: This innovation criteria assesses how easy it is for your engineers to work with the PLC software. Some of the top PLC companies offer low/no-code tools and services, and allow engineers to simulate proposed programs. Another key feature is the ability for multiple engineers to be able to collaborate simultaneously on the same automation project.

Customizability: Manufacturers should prioritize PLC suppliers that can provide a high level of customizability, as it facilitates deployment flexibility and tailored solutions. The suppliers hitting this mark offer multiple variants of the PLC and a wide range of processors. Not only that, but the top-ranked vendors allow manufacturers to easily extend the number of Inputs/Outputs (I/Os) and let them add new I/O modules at will.

Top Innovators of PLC Hardware and Software

Our competitive assessment ranks Siemens, Phoenix Contact, and Rockwell Automation as the three most innovative suppliers of PLC hardware and software. This section provides a broad overview of why these companies scored high for innovation.

#1: Siemens

Siemens leads the PLC ranking for the innovation criteria, due to the SIMATIC S7-1500 controller portfolio’s ability to be equipped with not only Intel processors, but also proprietary Siemens processors that are optimized to work effectively with Siemens’ equipment. This provides an integration level completely unique to the market. Furthermore, Siemens’ full range of controller offerings have integrated failsafe capabilities, removing the need for manufacturers to extend the functionality of their controllers with additional add-ons.

The solution is also part of Siemens’ broad Industrial Operations X, found in the company’s Xcelerator ecosystem, allowing for manufacturers to effectively deploy Siemens’ PLC solution alongside its other wide range of manufacturing solutions. Siemens’ PLC software also has comprehensive low/no-code functionality, with the company’s acquisition of Mendix in 2018 serving to now underpin this capability across Siemens’ offerings.

#2: Phoenix Contact

Phoenix Contact earned second place for PLC innovation due to the company’s modular design, supporting PLCnext Store, and extensive future-proofing of controllers, with its open Linux core design. The company offers numerous ways to build out its solutions, as it is easy to extend the platform with function add-ins and software apps. This is augmented by the PLCnext Store, which gives customers immediate access to pre-made function blocks, allowing for rapid deployment of automation solutions.

With its open Linux core design being PLCnext controllers’ only real standout feature, Phoenix Contact lost out on a first-place innovation ranking due to an overall less innovative controller design compared to Siemens’ PLC offering. While the PLCnext Engineering software solution is packed with strong innovative functionality, the associated controllers were simply not as competitive.

#3: Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation came in third for innovation with its Studio 5000 Logix Designer providing wide-ranging functionality, such as pre-built function blocks, engineers able to simultaneously work on the same project, and strong simulation capabilities to test projects prior to deployment. The company’s controllers can be augmented with Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI modules to run analytics programs within the controller application, allowing manufacturers to optimize their automation solutions.

Rockwell Automation missed out on a higher innovation score due to a lack of generative AI functionality to support PLC programming, no SaaS deployment options, and Studio 5000 Logix Designer having weaker innovative functionality compared to the TIA Portal (Siemens) and PLCnext Engineer (Phoenix Contact).

Are you implementing PLC solutions at your manufacturing plant? Speak to an Analyst to discuss more.

PLC Hardware and Software Implementation Factors

Effectively implementing PLC hardware and software requires a supplier to hit on the following factors:

Bookings and Customer Base: The best implementers of PLC solutions support manufacturers globally. This means you should try to find out how many installations the supplier has and where these installations are located to gauge its ability to support your plant. It’s also worth assessing the customer trends of the PLC supplier. If the customer base is growing, it’s a good indicator that manufacturers are left satisfied with the PLC deployment.

Connectivity and Integration: Manufacturers must ensure that the PLC solution can connect to all communication protocols to provide operational versatility. Besides that, the top suppliers support REST Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), OPC Unified Architecture (UA), MQTT, and other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connections. Further, it’s beneficial to choose a PLC hardware/software product that allows for a number of Ethernet ports that suit your plant’s needs.

Vertical Market Expertise: PLC suppliers with demonstrable experience in your manufacturing vertical will be the most effective at facilitating industrial automation at your plant.

Partner Base: What is the scale of the company’s System Integrator (SI) and market partners base? Suppliers with a comprehensive partnership network will be better positioned to help manufacturers deploy automated solutions because it lets you leverage other firms’ competencies.

Top Implementers of PLC Hardware and Software

In ABI Research’s competitive ranking, Siemens and Rockwell Automation tied in terms of the top implementors of PLC hardware and software. Bosch Rexroth rounds out the top implementers.

This section reveals the “why” behind the high scores for these PLC suppliers.

#1: Siemens and Rockwell Automation

Siemens and Rockwell Automation are tied for first for implementing PLCs, with both companies providing manufacturers with PLC solutions that are very adaptable to the given needs of different manufacturing verticals. Siemens lays out its organization and product development by vertical markets, tailoring solutions, and pre-developed code libraries Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) to support the rapid development of specialized automation solutions.

Similarly, both Rockwell Automation’s ControlLogix 5580 and Studio 5000 Logix Designer are developed and adapted to offer manufacturers industry-specific features and modules that address regulatory compliance and industry-based needs. Both companies also represent some of the largest market shares in the automation hardware space, with significant customer bases and deployment experience, alongside comprehensive partnership networks.

#2: Bosch Rexroth

Bosch Rexroth comes in second place for implementation due to the company’s strong growth figures driving a competitive scoring in the bookings and customer base criteria, despite the company’s smaller customer base than many other PLC solution providers. This is further augmented by the company’s solution being able to not only code ctrlX CORE controllers with ctrlX WORKS, but also third-party controllers that can run ctrlX OS, with the first to implement the Operating System (OS) being WAGO, the German-based automation company. This flexibility is further augmented by strong communication protocols and IIoT connection support.

Furthermore, the company’s partnership network, its ctrlX World Partners, provides manufacturers with significant support in deploying automation solutions. Keeping Bosch Rexroth from the top spot in the implementation ranking was a lack of hot swapping capability and a smaller customer base.

Get the Complete Ranking

Gain a more in-depth assessment of the top suppliers by downloading ABI Research’s Industrial Automation: PLC Hardware and Software competitive ranking. In addition to learning more about the four technology suppliers already discussed, the report evaluates seven other companies on their innovation and implementation strategies.

Download ABI Research's competitive ranking for the top PLC companies