PCI stands for peripheral component interconnect (PCI.) It is a computer bus for connecting together various hardware devices. A PCI motion control card is simply a card that is PCI compatible, that is, one that plugs into a PCI bus on a PC or industrial PC.
In fact, for motion control cards, the most common form factor is PCI. The reason this is so goes back to the origin of the bus itself. In the early ‘90s Intel introduced the PCI bus and by the mid ‘90s with Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system and it’s plug-and-play feature, PCI took off. This made it easy to add new functionality to PCs, quickly and with a minimum of programming and setup. Combined with the steadily increasing processing power of PCs, motion control algorithms could now be executed on PC-based systems via the PCI bus.
A typical PCI-based system consists of a host computer in which the PCI cards reside, and an interconnect card that interfaces between the control and feedback signals from the field (from motors, drives, and feedback devices) and the controller card itself. Because PC-based systems were the first ones to use motion control cards that were PCI-based, the PCI-bus card was one of the original and still is fairly common throughout the industry.
These days, a standard PCI card for motion control has a certain number of fairly standard features. These can include multiple axes of motion control (from 1 to 4 is typical, but more axes up to 8 or 16 and even beyond are increasingly common), a range of I/O options, motion profile generation and control algorithms such as PID, as well as options for different network connections.