Why do you pay for PLC programming software?


Ronald Nijssen

This question was asked in the past pretty often, mainly because PLC HW has always been relatively expensive and the tool really only was meant to program the PLC Beside the answers that I have seen regarding the investment recovery for such tools, today there are other arguments as well PLC Programming tools have grown to design tools for Industrial Automation, covering much more than the ladder in the CPU. The features also serve engineering productivity, this is very important since the application complexity of today's PLC's has increased dramatically compared to 10 years ago
If you bring your car to a garage you will also be happy to see the mechanic use advanced tools to diagnose your problem, same for Industrial Automation
To those that have a problem with purchasing upgrades/support agreements for new software, I say if you do not want to pay for it, simply keep using your old software with the plc platforms and cards that it supported when you bought it. Otherwise if you want to take advantage of the new technology you need to pay for it. This is no different that when Microsoft releases a new version of windows and expects you to purchase the new version, or an upgrade from the version you had. You have a choice there as well, switch to a different operating system, and see how much it costs you to become productive again. At least the PLC manufacturers provide support for their software without asking for a credit card the first time you call them and want help.

Brian E Boothe

I like this question; and YEA it escapes me also why MY Company Spends 15,000 a Year on AB Software then anotehr 6k a Year on Training. For New Software.. and we're even switching to ControlLogix Processors another 10k on Software..and they KEYS to unlock the software Comes on a yearly Basis of 1,200 a year for new keys and u only GET ONE KEY per package. NOW everyone can see that THIS IS A COMPLETE Money RACKET. Can't you, Ive been a VB and VC++ for Over 15 years, Ive been the the automation field a little over 2 years, And I Am AB Certified<( Yea i Know, NOW My Boss Has Stuck with AB for 10 years..and WONT LET GO..Because He Knows Nothing Else. HE knows NO OTHER Way or method
of Doing anything except AB. He Knows NOTHING about Computer Programming. (or even cares) Except Ladder Logic and RS-VIEW, In-which is SAD.

Me on the otherhand Try and Handle all the other Delima's we face that our Customers & Company's want. OPC /DDE .TCP-IP / Networking /
Client-Server / Excel Value generation / SQL-DAO Database Processes./ Custom Active-x / .And Do u Realize What I Make a year.?? 32k yep thats All...but hey its a really Relaxed Inviroment.i get to travel And Eat For Free.and i have
(3) 2Ghz Machines in my Office.

well there is my ranting,
let hear some feedback

Linnell, Tim

I guess that when the guys who use the software and PLCs give the stuff they are manufacturing away for free, I'll no longer need to earn the money I make from creating industrial automation products I require in order to buy the aforesaid products. Until such time, you pay a small and highly reasonable charge applies for my expertise...

Tim Linnell
You could try supporting and using the software you own for free from projects who treat you as a member of the community. In time, probably a very short time, that would bring about change. I haven't weighed in on this discussion because I don't buy software to program PLC's. What I'm hearing, I generally agree with. I don't have a problem with buying and selling software at fair value, it's the abuse that seems to upset folks.

I don't think there is a solution if you keep doing things the same way. When rapid growth stops, the money has to keep coming in somehow. This leads to charging much and delivering little to keep things balanced. That system only works with constant growth or the continuing revenue stream generated by the nicks and gouges that annoy folks.

I suggest that if you adopt a method where everybody puts in a little and the users develop the software directly, there's no corporation or infrastructure to support, so the need for a revenue stream goes away. You still have programmers, you still have testers, and things get added as they are needed. Done this way, everyone receives more value than they contribute. And you actually own something, forever. No one can cut you off or force you to upgrade. Makes perfect sense to me, I don't understand why it's such a hard sell compared to the alternatives.


Michel A. Levesque, eng.

After reading most of the reply's on this thread, it seems to me that a lot of people just don't understand how software is priced. Software pricing is dependant on two factors

A=the cost of development over the life of product

B=the projected number of copies to be sold.


Let's assume a cost of 5 million, divide by 500,000 copies (not much more is possible for this class of sotware) = 10 dollars.

Compare MS Office cost 50 million divide by 10,000,000 copies (typical MS Office number) = 5 dollars. MS sells the Office for $500. For Rockwell, using the same ratio, you get $1000.

Other factors to consider, marketing, support, backward compatibility, etc. Do you all think that software prices are just dropped on users without some thought? THIS IS BUSINESS!
Anyone who thinks that industrial software prices are too high, have never tried to code and then resell the code! Get your heads out of the sand people!

George Robertson

Let's turn this thread up a bit...

Why do we pay for expensive, buggy, incomplete software, complete with incomprehensible (and don't worry about it since they're outdated anyway) manuals, and then have to pay additional fees for tech support to tell us how to ACTUALLY get it to work?

Not a theory, this has been my experience. No particular manufacturer is being singled out, as it's pervasive.

In a free market society, I'm afraid the answer is the same as that to the question, "Why is there so much violence on TV": because that's the
way WE like it. WE pay for it, and reward the manufacturers who do business that way, and penalize those who don't.

George G. Robertson, P.E.
Manager of Engineering
Saulsbury E & C
[email protected]
(915) 366-4252

Donald Pittendrigh

Hi All

>Of course, Mr. Customer, you must pay for the upgrade as well. When does it end?

It doesn't unless someone with the required size apparatus and a healthy budget finds grounds for sueing a company practising this catch 22 scam
and sets legal precedent, I wouldn't hold my breath while waiting were I you.

Donald Pittendrigh


I stayed on the sidelines so far on this one, but this post puts it all in perspective. Let's start with why I sell you PLC programming software and support contracts...

The programming software is a real cost of the technology, and has to be paid for somewhere. If it was buried in the cost of the hardware, it would increase costs to integrators while having no impact on end users. The existing model for PLC programming software moves the bulk of the costs directly to end users. This seems reasonable, since the machine builders/integrators have the product in their hands for days, while the end users have no limit for how long they need support. (I am supporting
28 yearold systems today!)

You have the choice of not buying our systems. If the customer demands that you use my stuff, it just means I'm doing a good job. Choose not to participate, or form a relationship with me, but stop doing the Whiny Whiny.

You can avoid the cost of upgrades by freezing your baseline (which several of my clients do with good reasons). This moves the cost and risk completely to the end user. I can still have a useful business relationship with you.

Bug fixes are another issue. Yet, I'm not aware of any reputable PLC manufacturer that charges its end users for serious product problems discovered years after product delivery. Just for an example, we completely covered customers back to 1993 for a problem we discovered in February 2001. Yes, bug fixes are included in upgrades--- but if the machine doesn't change, you don't need upgrades, and you wouldn't be using the machine if it didn't work in the first place. If your machine/process evolves continually, then you need support continually--- and damn, that costs something!

Ultimately, I'm the guy from the big automation company that you call in the middle of the night, on Sundays, holidays, weekends. Under better circumstances, you call me at 7:30am Monday morning and want to discuss how you can improve productivity in your existing automation. I'm the
person you need to have a relationship with if you have an evolving, completely normal set of automation.

You pay for the programming software because that pays for me. I actually like this job, so I hope you will continue! (My clients on the list: Chime in any time!)

Those are the positive aspects. There are negative ones. That brings me to the post from Brian E. Boothe. When a customer calls me at 3:00am on Memorial Day, I help him. If his employer has actually paid for the support licences, then my boss actually got some revenue from this. Otherwise, it's just me getting annoyed because a hostile user didn't learn anything useful at training.

We charge the big bucks because people often don't have the expertise they need to solve problems and we bail them out when they call. If you have a better business model, now is the time to post!

Hope this helps!

Larry Lawver
Rexel / Central Florida

Dobrowolski, Jacek

Because it's hard to get it for free :-(
Although sometimes possible...


Jacek Dobrowolski, M. Sc. E. Eng.
Software Eng.
I suppose that's an answer to the question, but many of the problems you note above are addressed by providing access to the actual, compilable source code. For software questions that's the ultimate documentation. If it's buggy, then someone who cares might get in and fix it, similarly if it's incomplete or if the attached documentation is incomprehesible.


Ken Irving <[email protected]>
I look at it from the O/S system side. If good old MS didn't change their versions so often then PLC producers wouldn't need a team of 20-30 persons to make new versions to run on the MS platforms available. I guess if PLC software was platform free there would be about a 60% saving in unecssary R&D costs. From a PLC producer point of view they recieve about 1000 enquiries a month from PLC users about new functionality which would be handy. In this case somebody must pay for these developments. In today's competitive market hardware margins are dropping like bricks so manufacturers need to break even somehow.
Some of us use our old version of RS-Logix and build all of the new machines with Automation-Direct, at a much reduced cost.

I think it will come to free software somewhere in the future, Emerson Drives now gives away it's software for programming for Free, I suspect competition will continue to drive the prices down, as more and more people find out there is an alternative to A-B, and they lose more market share...

Rokicki, Andrew

We don't pay for programming software we use Linux. This gives us more fexibility and I fill it gives us more controll over the equipment. Also there is no software versions, cables etc. to worry about. Yes, it takes more work up front, but it is well worth it in the long run. And yes ethernet card only cost us $20.00 (more less).
Down time is comparable to PLC systems. I think I know what I am talking about I worked in automation industry for close to 10 years and used PLC extensively. As it is now I will not touch a PLC (maybe for a small application).


Not all of them. If you don't pay your annual fee, rockwell won't talk to you at all. Even to recover the activation file that is required to run the software you already paid for.

--Joe Jansen
I could not read this article, and not to add something.

1. Documentation - !!! Cutting cost!!

Usually (on smaller projects) client is trying to avoid paying instrumentation and control detail design documentation (project). They usually give some instructions to the programmer.

(To prepare all information required for programming a I&C system requires technology, instrumentation & control knowledge and some basic programming knowledge. Of course it takes time as well.)

2. Pressure to finish the application software urgently, save money on communication cost etc.

Based on such basic instruction, the programmers who usually do not have instrumentation and control experience are programming (without consulting the client), and in case there is no pre-commissioning, the contractor delivers the application software, and comes to hand the work over.

Unfortunately the client realise that the I&C system does not work correctly, and the corrections commenced. Often (almost always) the
contractor is correcting his mistakes on the account of the start-up cost. The man/day price at site is of course huge (specially overseas), and the contracted amount for start-up is spent, and the work is not completed.

Often in turn-key projects, the contractor is misinforming the client by offering 1-2 weeks of commissioning and start-up services, which cannot be completed for a month.

In such project organisations (usually smaller projects in which the client has ideas to save money on detail design), the client at the end pays more, because the system integrator - programmer can claim that he had done it in
accordance with basic instructions.

So everything starts with detail design, and finishes with as-built documentation that will be very useful for maintenance or later upgrading.


a. Somebody has to finish the programming
b. If the application software is not OK, the problem is again on client side, because he did not prepare the tender with design papers, he gave the work to the company that has not sufficient experience in work (again price cutting) and he did not organise the work as it should be.
Hi Ian

And if the PLC producers didn't use Microsoft, they would have a lot more manpower to add functionality or could put those people on fixing
bugs. Running an OS wersion until it makes sense to switch would save a lot of money and tremendously simplify support. And when the old
software would run on the new OS and hardware with just a recompile sanity might prevail amongst vendors and customers alike. You give up a lot and work a lot harder when you abdicate control of your schedule to Microsoft. Not to mention simultaniously supporting half a dozen incompatible products Some of which would be better left to die. Do you suppose sensible stuff like that would lower the cost of the software?


Free Tools!
Machine Automation Tools (LinuxPLC) Free, Truly Open & Publicly Owned Industrial Automation Software For Linux. mat.sourceforge.net.
Day Job: Heartland Engineering, Automation & ATE for Automotive Rebuilders.
Consultancy: Wide Open Technologies: Moving Business & Automation to Linux.
I remember when A-B was embarrassed of their software. So they bought ICOM. Seem to me everyone is mad at A-B prices. Bite the bullet and look elsewhere. Otherwise keep paying through the nose. Watch AD raise prices if they can. Its business. At some point you must decide you want value, not ego driven marketing induced products that promise what everyone can offer.
As a former integrator, and now as a tech support specialist for an AB distributor, i can tell you there are many reasons for paying for software.

First, there is a real cost associated with developing, testing, producing, packaging, selling, improving, and supporting the software, and if it weren't paid for directly, then it would have to be spread out over the product line for which it is intended, making the hardware more expensive.

Second, it is an investment in your ability to deliver your product to your customers. If you are an OEM or an integrator, then you pass on the cost of the software to your customer as a legitimate project expense. If you are a part of an internal engineering group, then this is simply a capital investment that allows you to keep the machines running that make the products that you sell. As a capital investment, it is also tax deductible as a business expense; so, its real cost is only about 1/2 of what you physically pay for it. This goes for the support contracts as well.

Your company probably already licenses network software (it doesn't just come when you buy the network hardware), it probably already buys upgrades to MSOffice, McAfee or Norton, and your e-mail system (they don't just send you the upgrades for free when they have them, unless you are under support), and it probably has support contracts for the copiers and fax machines (just because you buy a copier, doesn't mean the vendor will fix it for free forever!).

Third, it is a given that anyone who purchases PLC programming software is going to need help either using the package, or help with making the code they have written, work. This cost is associated with the initial purchase of the package, and with the continued support contracts. We, as distributors, for the most part, do not charge for this service. Sure you can get free software from some of the vendors, but can you get a tech support person to come out to your facility when you are having trouble? How many field personnel does Automation Direct or Modicon have out there? As an AB distributor, you can call us when you can't figure out how to properly tune your PID loop, you can't communicate with your processor, or the communications to you drives have gone down, and we will send someone to you usually at no charge. But, just because there is no charge to you, doesn't mean there is no cost to us. These visits are paid for out of the money we make selling you the software and support contracts.

Finally, nothing in life is free. If you are an OEM or an integrator, do you not charge your customer for the documentation (drawings, user's manuals, program listings, etc.) that you supply with the machine? If we go by your logic, why should they have to pay to get documentation that you've already generated to build the machine? The reason is because there is a cost associated with supplying it. Don't forget that you get what you pay for. If you've paid nothing for your software, then you can probably expect that back when you're looking for help. If you've paid a fair price for this tool (and that is exactly what it is), then you can expect a fair amount of help when you really need it. Otherwise, your only option is to develop, test, support and supply your own package, and then see what the real cost of that to your organization will be!