Relay Control Panel

A programmable logic controller (PLC), or programmable controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedisedand adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, or robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.

They were first developed in the automobile industry to provide flexible, ruggedised and easily programmable controllers to replace hard-wired relays and timers. Since then they have been widely adopted as high-reliability automation controllers suitable for harsh environments. A PLC is an example of a “hard” real-time system since output results must be produced in response to input conditions within a limited time, otherwise unintended operation will result.

PLCs can range from small “building brick” devices with tens of inputs and outputs (I/O), in a housing integral with the processor, to large rack-mounted modular devices with a count of thousands of I/O, and which are often networked to other PLC and SCADA systems.

They can be designed for multiple arrangements of digital and analog I/O, extended temperature ranges, immunity to electrical noise, and resistance to vibration and impact. Programs to control machine operation are typically stored in battery-backed-up or non-volatile memory.

It was from the automotive industry in the USA that the PLC was born. Before the PLC, control, sequencing, and safety interlock logic for manufacturing automobiles was mainly composed of relays, cam timers, drum sequencers, and dedicated closed-loop controllers. Since these could number in the hundreds or even thousands, the process for updating such facilities for the yearly model change-over was very time consuming and expensive, as electricians needed to individually rewire the relays to change their operational characteristics.

When digital computers became available, being general-purpose programmable devices, they were soon applied to control sequential and combinatorial logic in industrial processes. However these early computers required specialist programmers and stringent operating environmental control for temperature, cleanliness, and power quality. To meet these challenges the PLC was developed with several key attributes. It would tolerate the shop-floor environment, it would support discrete (bit-form) input and output in an easily extensible manner, it would not require years of training to use, and it would permit its operation to be monitored. Since many industrial processes have timescales easily addressed by millisecond response times, modern (fast, small, reliable) electronics greatly facilitate building reliable controllers, and performance could be traded off for reliability.

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