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The Basics of Programmable Logic Controllers

What do amusement park rides, factory assembly lines, and light fixtures have in common? They are all controlled by a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), a digital computer used to control machinery by constantly monitoring input and output devices.
PLCs are designed for multiple input and output arrangements, and can withstand various temperature ranges, electrical noises, vibrations, and impacts. Integrating a PLC into any production line or mechanical process is highly beneficial. PLCs enable operation processes to be changed or replicated, while simultaneously collecting and communicating important information.

How do PLCs work?

There are four basic operational steps for every PLC:

  1. Input Scan: Identifies the status of all input devices that are connected to the PLC.
  2. Program Scan: Implements the user-created program logic.
  3. Output Scan: Either energizes or de-energizes all connected output devices.
  4. Housekeeping: This includes communications with programming terminals and internal diagnostics.

What are input/output devices?

Input Device: An input device is a piece of computer hardware equipment used to provide data, and control signals to an information processing system (IPS).
Some examples of input devices include:

  • Switches and push buttons
  • Sensing devices
  • Limit switches
  • Proximity sensors
  • Photoelectric Sensors
  • Condition sensors
  • Vacuum switches
  • Temperature switches
  • Level switches
  • Pressure switches

Output Devices: An output device is any piece of hardware used to communicate the results of data processing carried out by an IPS, and translate the information into an understandable form.

  • Valves
  • Motor starters
  • Horns and alarms
  • Stack lights
  • Control relays
  • Pumps
  • Printers
  • Fans

What are the fundamentals of a PLC system?

CPU or processor: The Central Processing Unit, or main processor, is a microprocessor-based system. It executes the control program after reading field input status, then sends out commands to field outputs.
I/O section: I/O modules act as the Real Data Interface between field and CPU. A PLC knows the real status of field devices and controls them with relevant I/O cards.
Programming device: CPU cards can be connected with programming devices through a communication link via a programming port on the CPU.
Operating station: An operating station is used to provide an “operating window” to the PLC process. It is generally a separate device, like a PC, that is loaded with Human Machine Interface Software.

Why should I use a PLC?

  • PLCs eliminate the need for rewiring and adding additional hardware for each new logical configuration.
  • These devices increase the functionality of controls and do not take up much physical space.
  • Since PLCs are sectional, they can be mixed and matched, so you can choose the best combination of input and output devices for your specific operation.
  • PLCs can perform relay-switching tasks, as well as count, calculate, and compare analog process values.
  • A PLC’s flexibility makes it easy to modify control logic at any time.
  • PLCs are cost-effective for controlling complex systems.
  • PLCs provide easy trouble-shooting capabilities.
  • PLCs can work seamlessly with Human-Machine Interface computers.
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Collaborating on New Robotic Projects

No matter where robotics might take you next, a collaborative R&D approach can help realize what needs to be accomplished.

control systems engineersHave you noticed how ubiquitous robots are becoming? We’re used to seeing them in manufacturing environments welding car frames, assembling circuit boards or palletizing boxes, yet these days you can even find them pouring drinks on a cruise ship, moving LED screens at a concert or solving a Rubik’s cube.

We recently worked with two different startup companies with a vision for new product niches. Both lacked the manufacturing process knowledge to bring their ideas to life, and were stymied because there were no established norms to follow or OEMs with standard solutions. Their search led them to us because of our broad industry experience in constructing automation solutions, but more specifically because of our reputation for taking on challenging robotic automation projects. And trust me, neither of these are industries an automation solution provider would traditionally target.

The purpose of this blog is not how we appealed to a non-traditional industry, but rather how we approached these projects and applied our technology and industrial manufacturing knowledge to develop a solution that met their unique needs. Continue Reading →

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Concept Systems honored as a Small Business Supplier by Bechtel

Concept Systems Panel team

Concept Systems’ Panel shop team.

Albany, Ore. (May 3, 2016) – Bechtel Group, the largest construction company in the United States, recently recognized 35 companies with its 2015 Small Business Supplier Award for outstanding contribution and commitment. Concept Systems is proud to be among those honored for technical ability and workmanship, as well as knowledge and responsiveness.

Companies were evaluated on overall performance, delivering quality services on time, working collaboratively to reach milestones, and meeting or exceeding project expectations relative to safety, construction, performance, technical expertise, and environmental compliance.

Concept received high praise from Sunnie Scott, a senior expeditor with Bechtel who said, “I’m always impressed with the knowledge, responsiveness and patience your team demonstrates time after time in getting purchase orders executed, documentation submitted, and panels fabricated in a timely manner.”

Hundreds of candidates were considered, and Concept expressed its understanding of the significance of the Small Business Supplier Award. “Bechtel is a leading vendor for both the public and private sectors and works with literally thousands of companies throughout the year,” said Michael Gurney, Concept’s CEO. “Our team takes pride in meeting high standards for quality and exceeding client’s expectations. Their performance helped us garner this recognition.” Continue Reading →

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Improving Automation

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Automation may seem like a relatively modern concept, with its buzzworthy contribution to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and already monumental importance to the future of global enterprise. However, the technological birth of automation as we know it today dates back centuries.
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The first recorded use of automation control was a feedback control mechanism used to tent the sails of windmills, patented by English inventor Edmund Lee in 1775. Automation came to America in the late 18th century with the centrifugal governor, invented by Scottish mechanical engineer James Watt in 1788 to help regulate the admission of steam into the cylinders of his steam engine. American inventor and engineer Oliver Evans later used the centrifugal governor to adjust the gaps between millstones in his automatic flour mill, making this the first completely automated industrial process in history.

The innovations snowballed from there, culminating in a present-day automation boom. In 2016, automated mining, retail, security systems, highway systems, waste management systems, homes, offices, and industrial plants are no longer pipe dreams, but exciting realities with lush opportunities for growth.

For a more detailed assessment of automation’s leaps and bounds over the past few years, Quality asked two automation insiders for their takes: John Neeley, product manager of mobility solutions at Fluke Corp.; and Michael Lindley, vice president of business development and marketing at Concept Systems Inc.

What recent strides has your company made toward improving automation, and how do these strides fit into the broader automation landscape? Continue Reading →

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Collision Avoidance Moves into More Dynamic Automation Environments

Manufacturing environments are busy places with multiple machines, bustling workers and numerous machine-human interactions. Avoiding collisions between robots and humans is a high priority. Some solutions require a multilayered approach, integrating a variety of technologies, to create a reliable system. As more manufacturers add robots, there’s an increased interest in ensuring they work safely with each other and with humans.

Manufacturers that deploy robotic painters, such as the one shown here, can use a multilayered approach that integrates a variety of technologies to create a system that reliably reduces the risks of collisions. Courtesy of FANUC.

Manufacturers that deploy robotic painters, such as the one shown here, can use a multilayered approach that integrates a variety of technologies to create a system that reliably reduces the risks of collisions. Courtesy of FANUC.

Leveraging techniques from stacker cranes
Companies that increase their use of robotic automation can learn from collision avoidance techniques used with cranes, which received early attention because a collision with equipment in the work environment or the component itself was unacceptable. This posed a serious safety hazard that could cost thousands of dollars in lost production time and rework or scrap. By using 3D vision and industrial computers, collisions are now largely avoidable.
As technologies advance, dramatic system improvements are possible. That was the case with Boeing, which found its floor-based registration system for painting planes no longer provided the accuracy it needed. As a long-time partner to Boeing, Concept Systems Inc. stepped in to assist the aircraft manufacturer in addressing this issue by deploying a new collision avoidance system.

A key component of the new system adopted by Boeing in one of its paint hangers was the proximity query package (PQP), which can detect imminent collisions between two computer-generated objects. Information about the exact size and shape of the plane is exported from Boeing’s design software and then rendered as a 3D graphic in OpenGL, a widely accepted open graphics standard. It similarly renders the stacker platforms for validation and troubleshooting the system. Continue Reading →

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Collision Avoidance Key to Operator and Robot Safety

Manufacturing environments are busy, and avoiding collisions between robots and operators is a high priority. As more manufacturers add robots, there’s increasing interest in ensuring they work safely with each other and with people.

The robotics industry can take pride in its impressive safety record with more than 1.5 million industrial robots operating worldwide, according to Carole Frank, safety director for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). As robotic applications increase, it’s vital to continue to be vigilant about robotic safety. In fact, risk assessment is now required by new safety regulations: ISO 10218-1 and -2 delineate safety requirements for robots, replacing ANSI/RIA R15.06.

Collision Avoidance

Many robots are certified by a third-party source or approved by their manufacturers. That’s good, but it’s also important to be sure the robot is safe in its surrounding environment. So take a holistic approach and evaluate each industrial application rather than each device separately. Continue Reading →

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