As most of my regular readers know, I have spent much of the past several years teaching PLC and HMI classes across North America for Automation Training. I recently moved my office from a small shared space facility in Nashville to a larger place only 5 minutes from home, and in January held my first class there for AT.
The class went really well. There was plenty of room for the eight students and it was kind of a “Grand Opening” for my new place.
Since then I have still been traveling and teaching, but I have also started building a hands-on section for advanced training classes. The idea is that rather than teaching instruction sets and specific platforms, I am creating a set of courses that allow students to interface with real equipment.
This is what I’ve got so far. My wife builds control panels, so I am very fortunate to be able to do most of this in-house. I’m afraid my panel-building days are behind me, but I’m still pretty good at making parts and doing the field wiring.
The drawing at the top of this post shows what the system will eventually look like. There are two sides, a machine control side and a process control side. The machine control side starts with an indexing conveyor from QC Conveyors. Boxes will be place at the left end of the conveyor, indexed to the right where three escapements will drop different colored balls into the boxes. As the boxes arrive at the right end of the conveyor, a pick and place will move the box to a dial table. The dial will index the part under a machine vision station, which will inspect the boxes for the proper number and color of balls. Another pick and place will remove the box to the rear conveyor (also by QC) which will then move the box to different ends based on pass fail status.
This allows students to learn recipes, part tracking, pick and place sequences, and a host of other techniques needed in the machine control world. There will be dual channel safety circuits (good for troubleshooting), operator interfaces, and whatever else I come up with as I’m building it.
The process control side will have two ingredient tanks with load cells for volume/level, A mix tank (also with load cells), electric valves and pumps, and a flow meter. There are lots of opportunities here to train on calibration, PID control, configuration of flow switches and other techniques used in the process world. I am still considering doing some temperature loops also.
Notice that there is an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix and a Siemens S7-315.Originally I though I’d use the AB on the machine control side and the S7 on the process side. Mieko had already wired the CompactLogix when I thought what if a student wants to control the Machine side with the S7? This is when I came up with the idea of using cables to connect the PLCs to the different setups.
Its a good thing I did, because now I’ve added a Beckhoff 9020 to the mix. This will also be wired with cables and located behind the outfeed belt conveyor. I have a lot to learn about the Beckhoff, but I hope to create classes for it soon also. This allows me to get into the computer control and CodeSys world, which I believe will be popular in the future. Other platforms may appear later too.
Yup, that is a wood backplane. Obviously some of this stuff is expensive and I need to save money where I can. I will be painting it and mounting the conveyor drives next week and hopefully it will still look professional.
There are a lot of other things to show you in my shop; there is a fabrication area for making widgets, an “invention” area with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Tibbo and lots of board level electronics stuff, a pneumatics area, a machine vision lab and of course the training area I showed in the beginning of this post. Altogether I have about 3500 square feet and I hope to make good use of it.
Other classes I hope to add that will complement the PLC, HMI and SCADA stuff I am already doing include AutoCAD, Machine Design, Electronics, Pneumatics/Fluid Power and Machine Vision. My business website hasn’t really caught up with all of this yet, but I am already accepting students for classes. The courses are very customizable and I expect most of my students to come from around Nashville at first.
Because this project will be taking quite a while, I will be updating progress in a series of posts titled “My Little Factory” with the month listed. There will be some useful stuff in these posts; one of the things a I am working on right now is interfacing the load cells through a summing board and into a signal conditioner. I am also designing the pick and places and will be building the escapements over the next couple of weeks.
If you are interest in knowing more or have any suggestions, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail!