Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Articles

PLC Cabinets Take Center Stage in Manufacturing Automation

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are highly reliable automation controllers with their ability to perform in harsh environments making them ideal for industrial applications. But designing control panels that maximize loads, keep costs down, as well as offer programming ease and fault diagnosis has been a strong catalyst in spurring on manufacturing automation.

Central control of a manufacturing system provides convenience. But additions to these systems through connecting legacy wiring can create a wall of spaghetti. Modern wiring designs are revolutionizing control panel wiring and helping to untangle these networks. With the advent of more automated systems in manufacturing, the need for error-free operation only becomes stronger. After all, if both machine and human operator need to be present, operational savings dwindle.

How has PLCuse increased in automation?

Relays were the go-to method for controlling equipment in the past. Energizing one relay would pull the desired switch on. If more tasks were required, more relays would be installed. Large numbers of relays created logistical nightmares though. PLCs developed into devices that could take these multiple connections and signals (inputs) and run them in a specific order to operate relays, devices, and starters (outputs).

Machines in factories have a myriad of tasks programmed into them. By switching on one element, another one would move, and so forth. But the critical part of many machinery tasks is the need for a human to turn on the machine in order to complete the circuit. A PLC unit can reduce this interaction. For example, many factories operate conveyor belts that must consistently move products down the line. A worker turns on the motor and the belt moves. Can this task be automated? By installing a sensor on the belt, the motor can be programmed to start – a PLC unit would be given a programming code to start the motor when the sensor is activated on the conveyer belt. Additional sensors could be added to the system, reducing potential errors. Operational mistakes and delays will be eliminated if the series of tasks are automated through a PLC.

More productivity, please

What compels innovation? It is the desire to be more productive. And this productivity is encouraged with cost reductions, more efficient business operations, and healthy competition. Overall, production is what determines these factors. Producing one part of one project at reduced expense can only go so far – more overall efficiency and implementing standards during production encourages long-term savings.

Simply producing more of a product does not automatically give a company a competitive advantage. The time-to-market and pre-release testing of products are what truly gives someone an edge. So, with this push for manufacturers to up their production, so too comes a push for quality control panel development.

Automate it!

PLCs in manufacturing automation is critical. Start-up and shutdown of machinery are critical operations. Unnecessary operating hours waste time and money. But it is not just the PLC that turns machines on. PLCs monitor equipment as well. This ensures all functions are operating at a safe level. And if any abnormal operation is detected, the PLC is programmed to shut the equipment down. Management features of PLCs include energy management, safety, valve, and burner control.

Consider the automotive industry and its need to be able to complete a full production cycle within 24-30 months. The companies who provide this industry with machinery equipment (PLCs) must significantly reduce their own production time in order to deliver on schedule.

What is so complicated about a cabinet full of wires?

Control panel production includes a variety of factors: design, material, assembly, testing, installation, and commissioning during its integration with a specified system. As with most retrofits, things don’t necessarily fit perfectly the first time. Additional costs associated with PLC integration concerns can include preliminary designs and even extra assistance provided during the initial operational stages, when teething problems may arise.

Proper tracking of control cabling during assembly ensures no connections are missed. Individually, and physically, confirming each and every termination takes time, but increases overall time-to-operation. And although further additions to the control panel may not yet be known, specific components that the work site wishes to remove from the system needs to be determined prior to the panel being installed on site.

They’re growing

Growth in the PLC market declined in 2015. Slow economic growth in China and some industrial over-capacity are considered to be reasons for the downtick. However various markets across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are slowly showing encouraging signs. Global revenue from PLCs is expected to grow to start in 2017 and continue through 2020. The increase in the automation and robotics industries have encouraged this reboot of PLCs and these control units are central to products being developed in these markets.

Bob Buskirk
the authorBob Buskirk
About 10 years of computer experience. Been messing around with electronics since I was 5, got into computers when I was in highschool, been modding them ever since then. Very interested in how things work and their design.
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