A good PLC is the brains behind any quality automation process.
A programmable logic controller (PLC) is a computer program used to automate a range of industrial processes, including manufacturing, assembly lines, mining, power generation, robotics and any other activity that requires a high degree of precision, repeatability, ease of programming and simple fault analysis. PLCs monitor industrial processes and carry out logic-based, machine-learning decisions to optimise output, efficiency and safety.
The difference between an efficient, well-running system and a poor system can come down to the quality of the PLC programming. PLC programs tend to be custom designed and implemented depending on the application and and the client’s specific requirements.
The program consists of a set of textual or graphical instructions that present the program logic required for the machine to carry out the real-time industrial process. Programming can be carried in a range of different languages. Common textual languages include structured test and instruction list. Common graphical languages include ladder diagrams, sequential function charts (SFC) and function block diagrams (FBD).
The different languages each have their own pros and cons making them more or less suited to particular systems or applications. Graphical languages are generally the preferred option over textual languages, since they tend to have simpler and more convenient programming features.
PLCs tend to be proprietary. This means that software and hardware are usually made to match and won’t be easily compatible with systems from other manufacturers.
Benefits of PLC automation
PLCs offer plenty of benefits across a range of industrial applications. Benefits include:
- Improved reliability and product
A PLC automated system will eliminate human error and deliver precise consistency every time. This ensures consistent and reliable output.
- Reduced lead times
Process automation means reduced machinery downtime. Processes are more efficient and more work can get done within a designated time frame. This can reduce lead times for product fulfilment. New processes or process adjustments are quick and easy to program, which means new products or processes can be quickly brought online.
- Lower operating costs
When set up correctly, automated processes and machinery can cover the work of several employees. While a PLC system may be a significant initial expense, it will pay for itself in production efficiencies and lower staffing costs. They can also save you money on repairs, since the system can detect when machinery isn’t working as it should or where there are process inefficiencies.
- Improved understanding of processes
A PLC system will collect detailed data on your operations. This data can be used to optimise processes.
- Tough and rugged
These systems are designed for use in heavy industrial situations. This makes them incredibly durable and rugged. Since they are computer operated, there are very few moving parts, reducing the risk of breakdown.
- Improved specialisation
with the correct program, you can automate specialised processes, helping to diversify your production capabilities.
A single PLC system can be programmed to run several machines and carry out a large number of different tasks and processes.
- Fewer errors and easier fixes
Correcting errors or making changes to processes or sequences is as simple as retyping the logic. Process corrections are quick and cost effective, meaning less downtime for crucial machinery.
- Small footprint
PLCs are completely solid state devices making them particularly compact compared to hard-wired controllers. As technology continues to evolve, PLC system memory expands, capabilities improve and the physical footprint gets smaller. This is great news for businesses where space is at a premium.
- Process testing
New program or sequence testing is quick and easy and won’t involve major disruption to your operations.