The PLC, or Programmable Logic Controller, has been around since the 1960s, and it is a great piece of technology to improve automation systems. It is an efficient option to replace banks of hardwired timers and electromechanical relays.
You will see PLCs frequently in industrial settings, like assembly lines, conveyor controls, mixers, pumps, wind turbines, and other production processes and machines. You will even see them controlling traffic signals and amusement rides!
PLCs are everywhere — and they can be helpful in your automation process. But are you using them in your business, and if not, should you be?
What Are PLCs?
First off, let us talk more about what exactly PLCs are. Programmable Logic Controllers have an embedded processor and work as a specialized digital computer in industrial settings. They handle logical decisions and precise sensing needs.
First introduced in the 1960s, the need for industrial automation has only grown with time and pushes PLCs to be faster, smaller, and better.
While PLC may seem like another name for a computer, they are not the same as a PC or even a smartphone. PLCs are unique in that they:
- Perform a single set or sequence of tasks with optimal performance and reliability. It varies from regular PCs that perform multiple roles simultaneously.
- Have unique features not available on everyday devices, like extra durability in industrial settings like cold, heat, or dust.
- Are low cost compared to other microcontroller options. PLCs only need a software component change for each application, whereas some systems need the hardware changed.
What Are the Benefits?
PLCs can upgrade automated processes while also allowing:
- Increased memory
- Ease and versatility in programming
- Scalability and small size
- High-speed Gigabit Ethernet capability
- Easy maintenance
- Lower cost control solutions
So, where will a PLC improve an automated process? These are some top places to consider applying PLCs.
A common downfall of a centrifugal pump is the inability to deliver the necessary flow and head. These pumps require due care to ensure they operate smoothly and precisely.
PLCs can help with this by maintaining pressure control and balance, a configuration needed in liquid delivery, wastewater treatment, and fuel production — all industries using these pumps. PLCs will prevent cavitation in the pipelines as vapor circulates through these pumps.
Conveyor and Sorting
One of the first uses of a PLC is still a popular one today. PLCs can sort objects on a conveyor system. It uses infrared sensors to input length or height, which triggers a pneumatic wiper to solenoid valves as an output to move items left, middle, or right. It is a simple industry application but a clear example of PLC’s logical decision and sensing functions.
PLCs are the barrier between an automatic door closing suddenly and sensing the person caught in the doorway. The controls use a built-in sensor on both sides of the door to prevent hitting someone while opening or closing.
Generally, it takes a detector to prompt the PLC to identify something between or in front of the doors. If you are looking at PLCs in the brick-and-mortar setting, a high-quality sensor at the door can ensure customers enter and exit safely.
The logical analysis capability of PLCs can be excellent for fault detection. It can alert if a water level is too low, identify if an object is defective, and help protect the integrity of industrial machines. It is hard to be everywhere at once in the industrial process, and fault detection is one way to catch what the human eye may miss.
The Bottom Line
Whether you see these controllers or not, chances are you have benefited from PLC technologies. They are at work in our everyday lives and have helped various industries increase efficiency. To increase your efficient industrial processes, look around and see where automation can improve your work.