WELLINGBOROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM - The global programmable logic controller (PLC) market is in the early stages of a recovery following the sharp contraction of 2009. Although financial conditions have already improved more than expected during the second half of 2009, the global recession is not over, and response of global manufacturing industries is generally slower than the change in the general economy. As a result, the recovery of the market for PLCs, which are perceived to be in the first step toward complete factory automation, is expected to be slow. In addition, progress in different regions and for product types is uneven.

The PLC market outlook in 2010 is brighter for emerging economies. The driver of projected growth potential is not only the stimulus of governments and increasing consumer demand, but also continuing globalization of production. Further globalization cause manufacturers to investment in developing economies to create new capacity in electric power generation and transmission, in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and in exploiting natural resources.

From a global perspective, the drive behind investment in PLCs is coming more from the desire to enhance machine productivity and, at the same time, to become more energy-efficient. OEMs have to take into consideration machine operating variables for the wide spectrum of their clients’ plant use, as well as the integration of the full gamut of equipment options that will interface with them. As for end users, they are increasingly demanding a more efficient automation process. Once the economic situation recovers, more upgrades of existing facilities or more process optimization will take place. Improving PLCs compatibility and function flexibility is therefore extremely critical for PLC manufacturers, to be prepared for when market growth resumes.

There are indications that manufacturing was starting to pick up during the second half of 2009. Loadings have been strengthening for several months, and volumes are finally looking stronger than at the end of 2008. For compact PLCs, which are typically aimed at high volume, less engineering-intensive OEM applications, the figures have been and will still be largely driven by the rapidly developing regions of China, Eastern Europe, Russia, India and Latin America.

As for modular PLCs, they will still be the most significant part of the PLC family, generating the largest proportion of PLC revenues. Enhancing the price-performance ratio of standard modular PLCs will enable them to do more jobs that larger more expensive PLCs did previously. Last, high-end modular PLCs will continue to evolve into fully-fledged automation controllers, penetrating the hybrid or process applications that were traditionally DCS strongholds.