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  • David Peterson

Why is 'Programmable' such a Big Deal in Automation?

The idea of automation has existed for many decades - way before the first computer circuits.


The ability to allow the environment to influence other reactions is the idea of 'automating'.


For example, a limit switch may extend over a conveyor, and when a box of a certain size travels past, a solenoid opens a bypass gate. It's a simple example, but it happens automatically.


Reliability.


Repeatability.


Instant.


Those are three major benefits of this type of control system. Using only switches and relays would be considered an 'analog' circuit. They have existed since the beginning of automation and will exist until the end.


But in modern manufacturing, everything seems to revolve around 'Programmable Control'. Usually, this is in the form of a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).



A control system like this can be quite expensive (but not always).


Even though they can be as low as a couple of hundred dollars, it's usually in the scale of hundreds of thousands for a massive-scale system...


So why then would we switch from an inexpensive, simple system to a complex, programmable, expensive system?


They exist everywhere, so there must be a list of good reasons.


1. Ease of modification.

You WILL need to change your system someday. Add new sensors, re-arrange a machine center, or replace an obsolete encoder with a new model. Many reasons.


With a modular control system, only the new device needs to be replaced and the entire control system remains exactly like it was before with the exception of a couple of little screw terminals.


2. Cost of Operation

Certainly, up-front costs can be expensive. But consider those times when the system must be changed or upgraded. The downtime losses can be massive.


Imagine adding a new machine center, and when it's time to plug it in, you simply power it up and download a new program update to the controller.


3. Sharing of Information

With a computer controller, you can create a local or wide area network, and share critical system data around the entire facility.


Most controllers support a variety of protocols, like Ethernet, Modbus, Serial, and others.


4. Compatible with Every Generation

Every generation has an affinity for current technology. Control systems must be used not only by generations of technicians and engineers, but generations of equipment as well.


It is common to tie an ancient, irreplaceable machine together with a brand new piece of equipment. The variety of control system modules and options usually makes this process not just possible but often pretty easy.


5. Optimize in an Instant

The term 'optimize' really just means to make your system more efficient.


Efficiency means speed, cost savings, and simplicity - all of which are positive attributes in any system.


Programmable control systems can calculate better solutions and give the operators more insight into ways to make the system a little bit better. Data can be viewed, saved in spreadsheets, accessed on smartphones, printed into reports... If any kind of data can be measured, it can be used to improve the process.


Try that with relays and timers!





There is no doubt that Programmable Logic Controllers have solidified their place as the backbone of modern control systems. But with the speed of progress, imagine how even this technology will evolve over the years.


Don't fall behind. You can take advantage of these systems - small, medium, or massive scale integration are all more simple than you might think.


All it takes is a willingness to learn.


Find yourself the right people to tackle the project, and we can supply them with the knowledge and training to perform the task the RIGHT way.


the FIRST time.



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