Automation and Process Logic Control

Programmable logic controller

A programmable logic controller (PLC), or programmable controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedisedand adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, or robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.
Programmable logic controller

A programmable logic controller (PLC), or programmable controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedisedand adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, or robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.

They were first developed in the automobile industry to provide flexible, ruggedised and easily programmable controllers to replace hard-wired relays and timers. Since then they have been widely adopted as high-reliability automation controllers suitable for harsh environments. A PLC is an example of a "hard" real-time system since output results must be produced in response to input conditions within a limited time, otherwise unintended operation will result.

Over view
PLCs can range from small "building brick" devices with tens of inputs and outputs (I/O), in a housing integral with the processor, to large rack-mounted modular devices with a count of thousands of I/O, and which are often networked to other PLC and SCADA systems.

They can be designed for multiple arrangements of digital and analog I/O, extended temperature ranges, immunity to electrical noise, and resistance to vibration and impact. Programs to control machine operation are typically stored in battery-backed-up or non-volatile memory.

It was from the automotive industry in the USA that the PLC was born. Before the PLC, control, sequencing, and safety interlock logic for manufacturing automobiles was mainly composed of relays, cam timers, drum sequencers, and dedicated closed-loop controllers. Since these could number in the hundreds or even thousands, the process for updating such facilities for the yearly model change-over was very time consuming and expensive, as electricians needed to individually rewire the relays to change their operational characteristics.

When digital computers became available, being general-purpose programmable devices, they were soon applied to control sequential and combinatorial logic in industrial processes. However these early computers required specialist programmers and stringent operating environmental control for temperature, cleanliness, and power quality. To meet these challenges the PLC was developed with several key attributes. It would tolerate the shop-floor environment, it would support discrete (bit-form) input and output in an easily extensible manner, it would not require years of training to use, and it would permit its operation to be monitored. Since many industrial processes have timescales easily addressed by millisecond response times, modern (fast, small, reliable) electronics greatly facilitate building reliable controllers, and performance could be traded off for reliability.

Invention and early development
In 1968 GM Hydra-Matic (the automatic transmission division of General Motors) issued a request for proposals for an electronic replacement for hard-wired relay systems based on a white paper written by engineer Edward R. Clark. The winning proposal came from Bedford Associates of Bedford, Massachusetts. The first PLC, designated the 084 because it was Bedford Associates' eighty-fourth project, was the result. Bedford Associates started a new company dedicated to developing, manufacturing, selling, and servicing this new product: Modicon, which stood for MOdular DIgital CONtroller. One of the people who worked on that project was Dick Morley, who is considered to be the "father" of the PLC. The Modicon brand was sold in 1977 to Gould Electronics, later acquired by German Company AEG, and then by French Schneider Electric, the current owner.

One of the very first 084 models built is now on display at Schneider Electric's facility in North Andover, Massachusetts. It was presented to Modicon by GM, when the unit was retired after nearly twenty years of uninterrupted service. Modicon used the 84 moniker at the end of its product range until the 984 made its appearance.

The automotive industry is still one of the largest users of PLCs.
Early PLCs were designed to replace relay logic systems. These PLCs were programmed in "ladder logic", which strongly resembles a schematic diagram of relay logic. This program notation was chosen to reduce training demands for the existing technicians. Other early PLCs used a form of instruction list programming, based on a stack-based logic solver.

Modern PLCs can be programmed in a variety of ways, from the relay-derived ladder logic to programming languages such as specially adapted dialects of BASIC and C. Another method is state logic, a very high-level programming language designed to program PLCs based on state transition diagrams. The majority of PLC systems today adhere to the IEC 61131/3 control systems programming standard that defines 5 languages: Ladder Diagram (LD), Structured Text (ST), Function Block Diagram (FBD), Instruction List (IL) and Sequential Flow Chart (SFC).

Many early PLCs did not have accompanying programming terminals that were capable of graphical representation of the logic, and so the logic was instead represented as a series of logic expressions in some version of Boolean format, similar to Boolean algebra. As programming terminals evolved, it became more common for ladder logic to be used, for the aforementioned reasons and because it was a familiar format used for electromechanical control panels. Newer formats such as state logic and Function Block (which is similar to the way logic is depicted when using digital integrated logic circuits) exist, but they are still not as popular as ladder logic. A primary reason for this is that PLCs solve the logic in a predictable and repeating sequence, and ladder logic allows the programmer (the person writing the logic) to see any issues with the timing of the logic sequence more easily than would be possible in other formats.

Early PLCs, up to the mid-1990s, were programmed using proprietary programming panels or special-purpose programming terminals, which often had dedicated function keys representing the various logical elements of PLC programs. Some proprietary programming terminals displayed the elements of PLC programs as graphic symbols, but plain ASCIIcharacter representations of contacts, coils, and wires were common. Programs were stored on cassette tape cartridges. Facilities for printing and documentation were minimal due to lack of memory capacity. The oldest PLCs used non-volatile magnetic core memory.

More recently, PLCs are programmed using application software on personal computers, which now represent the logic in graphic form instead of character symbols. The computer is connected to the PLC through USB, Ethernet, RS-232, RS-485, or RS-422 cabling. The programming software allows entry and editing of the ladder-style logic. In some software packages, it is also possible to view and edit the program in function block diagrams, sequence flow charts and structured text. Generally the software provides functions for debugging and troubleshooting the PLC software, for example, by highlighting portions of the logic to show current status during operation or via simulation. The software will upload and download the PLC program, for backup and restoration purposes. In some models of programmable controller, the program is transferred from a personal computer to the PLC through a programming board which writes the program into a removable chip such as an EPROM

Basics of Programming
There are two types of contacts in PLC's and they are normally open and normally closed switches. A normally open contact means the contact is on when pressed/closed, and a normally closed contact is on when open/not pressed. Contacts represent the states of real world inputs like sensors, switches, if the part is present, empty, full, etc. PLC's also consist of coils, which are outputs like motors, pumps, lights, timers, etc. The PLC examines inputs and turns coils on or off whenever it is needed. They can also be used as inputs to other rungs in the ladder diagram.

The functionality of the PLC has evolved over the years to include sequential relay control, motion control, process control, distributed control systems, and networking. The data handling, storage, processing power, and communication capabilities of some modern PLCs are approximately equivalent to desktop computers. PLC-like programming combined with remote I/O hardware, allow a general-purpose desktop computer to overlap some PLCs in certain applications. Desktop computer controllers have not been generally accepted in heavy industry because the desktop computers run on less stable operating systems than do PLCs, and because the desktop computer hardware is typically not designed to the same levels of tolerance to temperature, humidity, vibration, and longevity as the processors used in PLCs. Operating systems such as Windows do not lend themselves to deterministic logic execution, with the result that the controller may not always respond to changes of input status with the consistency in timing expected from PLCs. Desktop logic applications find use in less critical situations, such as laboratory automation and use in small facilities where the application is less demanding and critical, because they are generally much less expensive than PLCs.

Basic and Complex functions
The most basic function of a Programmable logic controller (PLC) is to receive inputs from status components, which can be from sensors or switches. Some of the basic components of a PLC are input modules, a central processing unit, output modules, and a programming device. When an input is activated, some output will also be activated by whatever the machine is told to do. Some examples of this are setting a timer to 10ms, activating the timer and once 10ms have passed a siren goes off. Some advantages to using a PLC over other programming devices are the user doesn't have to rewire anything, the PLC has very little downtime in between running different programs, the user can program off-line, and PLC's aren't time constrained. If the user tells the PLC to perform an output in 10ms, it will perform the output in 10ms unlike other programs like LabView which can have a delay in activation.

Timers and Counters.
The main function of a timer is to keep an output on for a specific length of time. A good example of this is a garage light, where you want power to be cut off after 2 minutes so as to give someone time to go into the house. The three different types of timers that are commonly used are a Delay-OFF, a Delay-ON, and a Delay-ON-Retentive. A Delay-OFF timer activates immediately when turned on, counts down from a programmed time before cutting off, and is cleared when the enabling input is off. A Delay-ON timer is activated by input and starts accumulating time, counts up to a programmed time before cutting off, and is cleared when the enabling input is turned off. A Delay-ON-Retentive timer is activated by input and starts accumulating time, retains the accumulated value even if the (ladder-logic) rung goes false, and can be resets only by a RESET contact.

Counters are primarily used for counting items such as cans going into a box on an assembly line. This is important because once something is filled to its max the item needs to be moved on so something else can be filled. Many companies use counters in PLC's to count boxes, count how many feet of something is covered, or to count how many pallets are on a truck. There are three types of counters, Up counters, Down counters, and Up/Down counters. Up counters count up to the preset value, turn on the CTU (CounT Up output) when the preset value is reached, and are cleared upon receiving a reset. Down counters count down from a preset value, turns on the CTD (CounT Down output) when 0 is reached, and are cleared upon reset. Up/Down counters count up on CU, count down on CD, turn on CTUD (CounT Up/Down output) when the preset value is reached, and cleared on reset.

Programmable logic relay (PLR)
In more recent years, small products called PLRs (programmable logic relays), and also by similar names, have become more common and accepted. These are much like PLCs, and are used in light industry where only a few points of I/O (i.e. a few signals coming in from the real world and a few going out) are needed, and low cost is desired. These small devices are typically made in a common physical size and shape by several manufacturers, and branded by the makers of larger PLCs to fill out their low end product range. Popular names include PICO Controller, NANO PLC, and other names implying very small controllers. Most of these have 8 to 12 discrete inputs, 4 to 8 discrete outputs, and up to 2 analog inputs. Size is usually about 4" wide, 3" high, and 3" deep. Most such devices include a tiny postage-stamp-sized LCD screen for viewing simplified ladder logic (only a very small portion of the program being visible at a given time) and status of I/O points, and typically these screens are accompanied by a 4-way rocker push-button plus four more separate push-buttons, similar to the key buttons on a VCR remote control, and used to navigate and edit the logic. Most have a small plug for connecting via RS-232 or RS-485 to a personal computer so that programmers can use simple Windows applications for programming instead of being forced to use the tiny LCD and push-button set for this purpose. Unlike regular PLCs that are usually modular and greatly expandable, the PLRs are usually not modular or expandable, but their price can be two orders of magnitude less than a PLC, and they still offer robust design and deterministic execution of the logics.
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