Embedded IEC 61131 is Enabling Industry 4.0 & Industrial Internet of Things

  • June 07, 2016
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor, Automation.com

Embedding intelligence in devices at the network “edge”, where sensing and control is performed, is fundamental for the successful implementation of Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things. Luckily, this can be done using standard Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) IEC 61131 Integrated Development Environments (IDE) and embedded run-time software.  Embedded intelligence, at the network edge, is imperative to achieve responsive systems that satisfy the make-to-order, business system and supply chain synchronization requirements of flexible and agile manufacturing.   Processing at the “edge” is absolutely crucial for today’s organizations. CISCO estimates that IoT applications will result in over 50% of network traffic by 2020, due, in no small part, to the dramatic growth of edge devices. The approximately 25 billion Internet connected devices today are estimated to double to over 50 billion by 2020, which will equate to nearly seven Internet connected devices per person.  This will require control, automation, data refinement and analytics to be pushed to the lowest level in the network, in order to achieve reliable and effective system performance.   Dramatic advancements in hardware and software are making this future both practical and economical for a wide range of applications.

Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) IEC 61131

Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) IEC 61131 Integrated Development Environments (IDE) and embedded run-time software are examples of the innovative technology which is making it easier to create industrial and process controllers that run on standard processors. This creation, in turn, provides the opportunity to create powerful automation controllers using standard computer hardware, industrial PCs, processor modules, or System on a Chip (SoC). Systems on a Chip (SoC) are ideal platforms to leverage integration capabilities to create smart sensors, actuators, and other field devices at the network edge, which incorporate powerful computing processors and communications such as Ethernet, serial, and CAN (Controller Area Network).  Already, companies like Grid Connect, Inc., Hilscher, and Digi International Inc. offer module and chip solutions with integrated communications and processing that can run COTS IEC 61131 offerings.

Software model outlined by IEC 61131-3

Distributed Architecture

With implementations of Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and Smart Manufacturing, Computing power is increasing and being distributed throughout the automation architecture, including edge devices. Edge device computing includes control, automation, analytics, and rules-based processing. Edge devices are designed to provide refined and intelligent information to enterprise and cloud applications, in order to create more efficient and responsive manufacturing. With organizations constantly innovating in this area, implementation is getting simpler as well.

Economics & Software Unbundling

It is no longer a requirement to write a complete code for your Integrated Design Environment (IDE), communications drivers, and embedded control logic engine, in order to create your own controller. This can simply be purchased from a vendor and installed on a PC or embedded solutions.  These solutions are designed to conform to the IEC 61131 standard, as well as the PLCopen vendor and product independent worldwide association standards and conformance requirements.   

Software vendors support a wide range of platforms for control, such as PCs (Desktop to Embedded) and virtually any target processor including ATOM, Intel® IoT Gateway, ARM, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi. Many of these vendors also offer their own embedded operating system, and often support others including Linux, Wind River, Android, and QNX.  

Companies offering IEC 61131 Software solutions include:


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