Industrial control systems are rapidly evolving towards standardized, general-purpose platforms that incorporate concepts traditionally associated with the domain of Information Technology (IT). The push of IT into the industrial sector is occurring both at the field level, where sensors and actuators are more and more intelligent, and at the control level, to replace the dedicated hardware approach found in previously designed applications. New programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are being designed using commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware based on embedded PCs. Key to the design are benefits associated with PC software architectures where designers have many choices to incorporate the reliability, determinism, and control functions that are required. This makes the PC software extremely flexible and well suited for complex applications. These new types of industrial controllers are in effect open control platforms that bring into scope the advantages inherent in the PC industry including open programming, connectivity, and greater flexibility.

This article describes a suggested design approach for an open control platform using the Intel Atom processor. It illustrates how these new processors provide the benefits of IA-32 open architectures while at the same time meeting the power and cost envelope associated with designs at the control level in industrial factory automation.