As I progressed through my automation career I was exposed to many different PLC platforms. My first job out of college was as an applications and sales engineer for a distributor of Eagle-Signal, Omron, Idec and Fuji PLCs. Back then all software programs were only available in DOS, though most manufacturers also had handheld pendants that would allow you to enter the program longhand.
In a way this was advantageous over the high tech methods and pretty software packages we have today. Programs had to be written out by hand and then converted to mnemonic symbols if you wanted to use the pendant. Memory was at a premium so you had to be very efficient in your coding, generally you had to keep an eye on the fixed number of counters, timers, data registers and other internal memory as you wrote your program. This made programmers very diligent in the preparatory work that went into planning the program.
The owner of the company I worked for back then had written a very nice DOS tutorial program that he used to educate customers. He had worked for Allen-Bradley prior to starting his company and was aware of all of the application and training help that the bigger distributors could provide. This program was written in the Eagle-Signal software which was free back then, we would have training seminars and give these 5 1/4 disks away with the program on it. I also attended the full range of Omron PLC programming classes while working for this company and had my first exposure to just how different software was between platforms.
I then took the full range of Allen-Bradley PLC classes in my next job. Allen-Bradley had (and still has) most of the market share in the United States back then. They had two different programming software packages back then, both DOS based. This was my first exposure to being able to use symbols for program elements; instead of having to enter an address for a contact you could assign labels such as PB102 for a pushbutton or MS27 for a motor starter.
After starting my own company I had to implement projects in whatever platform the customer wanted. I did projects using Siemens, Mitsubishi, GE and Koyo (Automation Direct). By this time I was pretty comfortable using different platforms and learned the advantages and disadvantages of each. I also started my own templates to outline programs and used them to train new engineers who worked for me. This mostly consisted of standard mode control logic, structures for input and output rungs, sample fault routines and some basic data collection. This also made it easy for all of us to work in each other’s programs.
With the advent of the various Windows upgrades in version software began to become more user friendly. PLC manufacturers started providing more classes and training software packages. Five years ago I closed my company and went to work for a much larger machine builder and integrator, They had (and still have) a much more in depth template than I had developed. Not only did this template allow everyone a common platform for development, they had also created a nice tag generation program using macros within Excel. This allowed all of the auxiliary HMI tags, permissives, faults, data collection and subroutine structure to be automatically created. XML files could be generated and a preliminary program actually generated. Definitely a timesaver!
As some people who have read my posts know, I am leaving my current employer to go back into business for myself by the end of this year. Part of my new focus will be on automation training as well as project management and integration. I plan on keeping a very non-platform-specific focus. After looking around a bit on the web I found an embedded PLC manufacturer that has a pretty nice software training package, you can check them out at This Website.
Of course PLC training will only be a very small part of what I plan on doing, my book Industrial Automation: Hands On has only a few pages on PLCs and software out of several hundred.
Dec. 4, 2016: I spoke too soon on this post in 2011… My entire focus now is on training! My newest book PLC Hardware and Programming – Multi-Platform is being released this month, followed by some online courses.
What is your favorite PLC platform and software package? Do you know of any great training packages out there? How about templates, do you use them in your job?