How To Design And Build A Small Controls Project

Today’s post is a response to frustration. Some times when dealing with potential customers you waste a lot of time trying to save them money. They may want you to cut corners, spend a lot of your time (for free) chasing down cheaper parts or resources, all the while not realizing that they are only hurting their own cause. A consultant I know has been working with such a customer for the past year or so, and has been asking me for methods of getting their projects done cheaper. This is the same consultant and his customer that I wrote this post about last September.

Anyway, I wrote an article about what it takes to put together a small controls project and sent it to him. This is why I rarely do project work anymore; he had asked if it was something I could knock out “in a few afternoons”, cheaply of course. He also asked if I knew of anyone else who might. My question to him: why would they want to?


Building a Small Controls Project

This document is intended to describe some of the requirements and skills for a small project. It helps explain why these kinds of projects can seem very expensive; it takes more time to do a properly executed controls project than you would think, and often the skills required to do even a small project are not found in the same person. CAD, wiring, design and programming are entirely different skill sets. Of course controls components aren’t exactly cheap either! Hopefully you will find this article useful whether you are doing a project for someone else or in your own plant.

1. Specifying Parts

Describe the project on paper with as much detail as possible. Identify requirements – and potential future/expansion possibilities – in the document. Determine availability of utilities such as pneumatics, 480v/120v power, CFM and amperage. This should provide you with enough information to determine whether you will need a PLC, individual discrete control components such as temperature controllers, timers, counters or an HMI. Remember, you may need a 24vdc power supply.

This is also where you create an I/O list if specifying a PLC. This can be a temporary document, but starting a spreadsheet for the project at this point is a good idea. Handwritten notes should be kept in a folder or binder.

Catalogs and online resources are useful for selecting parts. A lot of detail goes into building a control system and there are a lot of small components such as terminal blocks, labels, jumpers, different gauges and colors of wire, etc. If this is to create a proposal rather than for the actual project, these small components can be estimated for cost and selection can wait until later. Use your local vendors to help if you don’t understand the specifications.

2.Designing the System

This part requires some knowledge of electrical and mechanical design. Again, for a small project items can be sketched by hand to determine sizes, one-line diagrams can be created for determining electrical requirements. Graph paper can be useful for determining sizing of the enclosure. The Excel spreadsheet used in specifying the system can be modified as part of the documentation process. If possible, AutoCAD or an equivalent design software package should be used for electrical and mechanical drawings. Dimensions will be very important here and any work done in this preliminary step may end up being used in the final documentation.

3. Ordering parts

Procurement of parts may involve some shopping around. Of course price is important, but don’t spend too much time trying to save a few pennies. Remember, time is money! Lead time is also an important consideration.

It is important here to keep all documents and paperwork for received components. Some of this may end up in the project binder, and packing lists can be used to reference purchase orders and possible returns later. Open boxes carefully and keep all packing materials for the same reason; some vendors won’t take components back unless it is in the original packaging.

4. Building the System

There are a lot of skills and tools required for wiring, panel fabrication and bracketry. Among these are panel layout (drilling, tapping, “pinging” drill points), panel prep (cutting of din-rail, wireway and component cutouts), wiring (Ferrule crimping, wire stripping and labeling), possible millwork and painting. There are also legal requirements that must be met for wire sizing, grounding and cabling/conduit outside the enclosure (field wiring). It is also often not economical to purchase some of the tools and components needed for proper panel fabrication, especially if you are doing a “one-off” project. It is often best to use an outside panel shop or electrician for this step. If the panel must be UL listed you may have to do this anyway. Also, without experience in this field, your system may not look very good; if it is going to a customer they may judge you by your work.

5. Programming and Software Design

For systems involving a PLC or HMI, knowledge of the platform’s software is required here. This software can often be quite expensive also, this should be taken into account during the specification design phase. Will your customer have the software? Is there an additional yearly licensing fee involved? Is there local support for troubleshooting or modification, or can the customer do it themselves?

Also, just because someone has done some PLC maintenance work does not mean they are a programmer. Even with years of experience, there are a lot of considerations that should be taken into account for maintenance and operator usage. HMI design is a bit of an art, as is PLC programming. As always, documentation is also critical. There should be LOTS of diagnostics, messages and faults programmed into a properly designed and programmed system, downtime costs money.

6. Startup and Debug

Most experienced programmers know not to worry too much about small mistakes during the programming and software phase, they will be discovered and fixed easily after the system is powered up. This is where the system gets fully tested before going into production. For larger systems, there is often a testing phase at the factory (FAT or Factory Acceptance Test, your shop) and another at the customer’s location after it is installed (SAT or Site Acceptance Test, final location). These events take up to two weeks each in some cases.

-Frank Lamb, April 16, 2018

Automation Consulting, LLC

Posted in Applications, Consulting, Controls Design, Machine Design, Techniques, Thoughts Tagged with: , , , ,

Hands On Training Equipment

This post is both an update on the status of “My Little Factory” and an article on some new fun trainers that I am working on.

As you can see in the above picture, all of the hardware for the machine side of the factory is pretty much done. Everything is operable in Manual Mode and mostly there in Auto. The infeed conveyor indexes, escapements work (though sometimes the balls bounce out of the boxes…), the dial rotates, and both pick and places operate correctly. All wiring and pneumatic plumbing is complete, and the system runs in “semi-Automatic”.

This is a layout of the operation of the system. A box is placed in the first pocket of the indexing conveyor and the “cycle” button is pressed on the HMI. As boxes make their way down the conveyor, balls are dropped into them at stations 2, 4 and 6 from the escapements, based on the selected recipe. The filled box is picked up at station 10 and placed on the dial table. They are inspected at station 13, where the results are compared to the recipe for ball color and number. The box is then picked from station 14 and placed on the outfeed conveyor, where boxes can be moved either left or right based on the inspection results.

As you can see, the escapements can be loaded with balls of a lot of different colors and materials. I have done some preliminary machine vision work with my Keyence camera system, and some of the balls can be quite challenging to differentiate. I have also purchased a Cognex color camera and will probably use that in the actual application.

So what is the idea behind this training machine? There are a lot of different techniques that can be taught. The program has been completely written, but there is still some debug left to do. The most complex part of the program is the recipe management and part tracking. This will be for very advanced students only.

The program is organised into lots of different routines, which can be disabled so that students can put their own code in while still using the rest of the program. Listed below are some of the techniques that students will be able to learn and program themselves:

Mode and Cycle Control (Basic)
Indexing Conveyor Sequence (Basic)
Escapement Sequence based on count (Basic)
Pick and Place Sequence (Intermediate)
Dial Sequence/Servo (Intermediate)
Outfeed reversing conveyor control (Basic)
Recipes and Part Tracking (Advanced)
Faults and Alarms (Basic)
HMI Interfacing (Intermediate)

This is all nearly ready using the Allen-Bradley ControlLogix/CompactLogix platform. Siemens will be next, the hardware is already there (S7-300) but the program needs to be written.

I have also made some progress on the process control side as shown above. The load cells for weighing the tanks have been wired and are ready to be tested. I now have a good idea of how I plan to wire the pumps and valves, but the interconnect manifold and its associated sensors are the next big challenge. I will be using the Siemens controller to start with.

Now for some other fun stuff: I mentioned in a previous post that I was looking for a lower cost way to build – and sell – trainers. In particular I wanted to use small conveyors with various attachments so that students could easily program them using different platforms. Enter Fischertechnik…

Fischertechnik Color Sorting application

This is a conveyor with color sensor and several bins to eject different colored pucks into. The sensor is analog 0-10v, there is actually a tiny compressor to actuate the pushers. I would call most of the programming associated with this “Intermediate” level.

Fischertechnik Machining Line

This is a series of conveyors and motor-driven actuators. Again I would consider this to be intermediate level programming. I’m not exactly sure what the small machining center and drill are actually supposed to do other than turn, but it should be fun.

Fischertechnik High Bay Warehouse

This bad boy is an X-Y-Z application to store and retrieve items from 9 different locations. I would consider this to be an advanced topic, especially when linked with the part tracking and recipe topics I mentioned previously.

Fischertechnik Conveyor

This little conveyor will need to have some technique added to it to be useful, but it also shows the interface board that is common to all of these “toys”.

I also bought an obsolete system that I will probably use for spare parts as much as anything. It is all 9 volt stuff, so it will be harder to use the parts than the more typical 24v that everything else runs on.

There is quite a bit that needs to be done before this can be used or made into marketable trainers. I need to be able to plug different trainer PLCs into it, I’m hoping to use AB CompactLogix and Micrologix, as well as Siemens S7-300 and S7-1200 platforms. I also want to incorporate an E-Stop, Power On/Reset, light stack indicators and maybe a small HMI as an option. I may use remote Ethernet/IP or Profi modules to interface with my equipment. Automation Direct or EZ Automation platforms would also be a possibility, but I would need to be convinced that there is a market for it.

Another very useful interface would also be troubleshooting blocks where signals can be disconnected/cross-connected so that technicians can use a meter and their new PLC training to troubleshoot. This is something that a lot of my students have requested.

Anyway, this is where I’m currently at in my venture. It’s hard to make quick progress on all of these ideas since I’m still spending a lot of my time traveling and teaching, but I feel like its all getting there. Hopefully some of my partners in training will be able to help me with some of this. I am always looking for new partnerships in some of these ideas also, hit me up if you want to be involved.

Posted in Material Handling, My Little Factory, Process, Software & Programming, Trainers, vision Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Ladder Logic 403: Message Scrolling and Multiple Faults

Sample Fault Logic

Today’s post is in answer to a question from Bruno on my last post on Faults and Messages. Bruno asks “If two faults happen at the same time, will this procedure work?”

This is a more complex question than it might appear to be, so I have created my third advanced topic in my Ladder Logic series.

First off, we need to address whether two faults can happen at the same time. Often one fault may cause another; an example might be a fault causes an “air dump”, which prevents another cylinder from reaching end of stroke. The logic at the top of this page shows that if a normally closed System Fault bit is placed in series with the fault logic for an individual fault, it prevents multiple faults from occurring. Even if somehow two faults happen during the same scan (highly unlikely, scans are typically on the order of 30-50ms max), the first fault would prevent the second from happening. So proper programming can isolate the initial cause quite easily.

Still, on larger “zoned” machines which have multiple fault registers, sections of a machine or system may operate independently of each other. Yet if you only have one HMI, all of the faults still need to be recorded and enunciated. In this case there needs to be a fault register for each cell or station. On the “Fault History” screen of a typical HMI, each register would have a separate trigger, so multiple faults would appear on the list.

But what about if you have a single information banner and want to put multiple messages on the screen? This requires code that will search your fault and information registers and then scroll them across your banner or message display. The following logic shows a method of doing this.

This code is from a template I used to use when working at Wright. There is a lot more explanation that goes with this, some of which can be found in my other ladder logic posts. This template used a spreadsheet to generate “cells” which were populated with standard code that would serve as a starting point for a program. Look at my posts on program organization and PLC templates for more info.

Each cell generates its own Faults, Info and Warnings, three separate message categories that are searched and scrolled on three different banners on each screen of the HMI. There are typically 20-40 cells on a large machine or system, so the search for messages covers 60-120 different registers, each of which may contain 10 or more messages, categorized by bits of a double integer. This allows for thousands of possible messages to be searched and displayed on just three banners.

This template is for Allen-Bradley ControlLogix, but is quite easy to reproduce on most major PLC platforms. It is even easier on a Siemens platform using STL (Statement List) or by using any of the Structured Text languages. Do-While and For-Next loops are common in these languages, a bit more difficult in ladder logic. Another method of doing this uses Allen-Bradley’s FSC (File Search and Compare) instruction.

This topic can get pretty complex, and as I mentioned involves a lot of other concepts listed in my series on PLCs. I teach automation and programming topics like this for a living and also consult with companies, so if you need help with a program or want to learn more on the topic, hit me up on my company site or Linked In.

Posted in PLCs, Software & Programming Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Ladder Logic 209: Faults and Messages

This post is another in my series on Ladder Logic. As with the other posts in this series, I am using generic logic and addressing so that it can apply to various PLCs.

In previous posts in this series I have explained how numbers can be used in a fault register to determine which fault is present. Ladder Logic 203: Faults shows how a specific fault moves a number into the register, then a reset pushbutton is used to move a zero after the fault is cleared. This logic uses the same technique, however the fault message register is cleared automatically when the fault has been eliminated.

There are several ways to display fault messages on an HMI, I will cover one of the most common first. Most HMI software allows you to make a list of faults and then call them by number to display in a banner or other type of text display.

Another option is to configure the trigger to display the message by bit number as shown above. This also allows multiple messages to be displayed on a timed cycle, unlike if the message were to be displayed by value or placing a number into the message register.

The background color of the message can also be configured so that fault messages and warnings or other informational text can be displayed in the same banner. This is especially helpful if the HMI is small and doesn’t have room for more than one message display.

Besides faults and messages, these displays can be used as multi-state indicators to show the mode of a machine or station status. Other properties of the message display can also be configured such as its visibility.

As with my article on Auto Sequences, there are advantages and disadvantages to using bits versus values. Using bits allows several “states” or messages to exist at the same time, whereas a value allows only one message to be called. If your HMI does not have the ability to cycle through messages with several bit triggers active at the same time, it will be necessary to write code in the PLC that cycles through the messages.

Another method that is sometime used for message displays is to simply place a String Display on the screen. While this is simple on the HMI end, it requires the PLC program to cycle through the strings and place them into the message register, which of course must be of the STRING data type. This technique again has advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, string messages can be changed dynamically by the PLC programmer. As a matter of fact, the programmer can give access to the user of the touchscreen by placing links to the locations of the string registers on a screen! This allows the messages to be configured without using the HMI software.

On the minus side, it is difficult to manage background or text colors using strings. The background would have to have a color register assigned to it which would be managed separately.

In my next post I will explain some of the more advanced techniques that can be used to cycle through messages. Stay tuned!

Posted in HMIs, PLCs, Software & Programming Tagged with: , , , , ,

Application: Sensor Choices 103

Courtesy of Misumi via Omron

Today’s post concerns how sensor choices are made in real applications. I have written various posts on sensors in the past, and even participated in a Control Engineering webcast and forum last year on the topic. While I have covered a variety of technical aspects of sensing, I thought I’d explain a bit about how I chose some of the sensors in my own application.

Last Summer I showed some of the fibers I had selected for my tabletop factory, explaining that some sensors were a bit more complex than needed for certain applications. The fiber optics I had installed are now used on a more delicate application as shown in the following pictures:

Escapement Ball Detection

These fibers are positioned to detect small balls as they are ejected through the hole into these plastic boxes.

There are three of these escapements along the indexing conveyor. Each escapement drops a number of different colored balls into each box and the boxes are then examined later with a machine vision system to ensure that the correct balls are in each box.

In this case the balls don’t block the fiber optics for very long and it was important to ensure that the fiber amplifier could switch quickly, so I selected these Banner amplifiers that are used for high speed, small object detection.

Banner Fiber Amplifiers

The threshold can be set remotely using a “teach” signal, but there are also controls on the amp itself to accomplish this.


Another special purpose sensor I chose were the ones that are used to detect the plastic boxes themselves.

In this case I was constrained by both space and the fact that other objects were in the way. I want to detect the box, but not the rail on the other side of the conveyor. The sensing range of these sensors is less than two inches.

Diffuse photoeye with box

Diffuse photoeye with no box present

Notice the large cutaway. The sensor would actually detect the rail even though it wasn’t directly in front of the sensor. It’s a bit of a hack job when viewed close up like this, but I can clean it up later.

These diffuse sensors from Automation direct are pretty cool. They are very small, fairly inexpensive, and easy to mount. I have four more of these I need to mount and this application will be complete! Unfortunately two of them are on the back side of the machine and are hard to access.

Close-up of diffuse sensor shooting over rail of conveyor

Another place where there are sensors on this application is on the air cylinders. In this case though there is very little to choose from, since the sensor has to fit in the slot of the cylinder. The only real choices were NPN vs. PNP, or quick disconnect vs. pigtail wiring. These sensors are actually hall effects rather than proxes; they detect the magnetic piston inside the cylinder. Since they have to fit in the slot, the only choices are from SMC.

This is a little insight into some of the decisions that are made in machine design. Often a mechanical designer will draw all of the sensors and brackets into the design before the sensors are purchased, but in my case I just “wing it”. This machine’s entire purpose is to use as a training tool, so a but of imperfection is o.k. After all, troubleshooting and changes will be a big part of what I will be teaching.

Most of this machine is operational now via the touchscreen, at least as far as manual functions. There are indicators for all of the sensors which makes it easy to debug the operation of the system. This is going to be a lot of fun for programmers!

Posted in Applications, Machine Assembly and Fabrication, Photoeyes, Sensing, Sensors Tagged with: , , ,

Happy New Year! What Can I Teach You?

Hey, I know the holiday season is gone, but Happy New Year anyway! After all, the year is still pretty new and I’m sure everybody is excited and optimistic.

Usually around this time of year I post my plans and ideas and this year is no different.

A lot of things have changed since this time last year. At that time I had just moved into my new facility in Lebanon, Tennessee, near Nashville.

Automation Consulting Offices, January 2017

Things look very different now, as you can tell from pictures in the following posts from last year:

April 2017: First Class in New Facility
May 2017: Innovate/Fabricate
June 2017: Open House
December 2017: My Little Factory

A lot of other things have changed also. I still travel and teach classes for Automation Training, we have had three classes here in my new facility also. One of my goals was to do less traveling though, which has led to me forming a relationship with a local engineering firm, Automation NTH.

We have been creating courses for NTH customers using actual moving hardware, and I have learning a lot about how to structure courses using the more elaborate system here in my training facility. One technique that has been very successful is to provide a fully operational program and system, then remove or alter parts of it and allow students to write their own code and troubleshoot the machinery.

My own “little factory” is now partially operational, and I am ready to start teaching techniques such as Auto Sequences, Part Tracking and Recipes, and various system functions. I have posted a lot of free “how to” material in the PLC tab of this blog, but there is nothing like coming here and actually doing it yourself.

Which brings up the main point of my post today: what do you want to learn?

I am finally to the point where I can offer courses on nearly any automation topic you can think of (with the exception of robotics, no hardware for that yet). I have held courses for as few as one person at a time, and my rates are right on par with all of the other training you get from other providers. The biggest difference is, I can customize the material to exactly what you need. I have quite a bit of hardware and training equipment, as well as lots of course materials including two published books. I can cover any PLC related material (Siemens, Allen-Bradley and Automation Direct), machine design and fabrication, CAD, troubleshooting, sensors, and even board level stuff including Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Now is the time where the rubber hits the road for me, and its time to fill some classes. So what do you say? Hit me up for some training, you’ll be glad you did!

Posted in My Little Factory, Training Tagged with: , , , ,

Starbucks Roastery

Starbucks Roastery, Seattle

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Seattle to visit my daughter Yuki and her family. She used to work at Starbucks’ corporate headquarters, and among other projects was involved in the design and startup of the Roastery, an immersive experience in coffee, from the unroasted bean to your cup.

Of course being involved in automation, I was interested in checking out the production side of things. I have done work for coffee roasters before, and much of the automation involves the usual disciplines: temperature control, material handling, packaging, and conversion (in this case, grinding of the beans). A big difference with the Roastery is that the environment is meant for an audience and the typical factory atmosphere has been enhanced with a lot of visual and auditory packaging.

An example is this beautiful brass covering over some of the mechanisms and material handling parts of the system. From a distance the immediate impression is that it is some king of giant tank, perhaps a huge vat of coffee :-). In actuality it is just a good central eyepiece that probably just covers up some of the less visually appealing piping, motors and valves in the central part of the space.

As you can see here, many of the control, structural and material handling elements of the system have been designed to be visually appealing. Because the area is built for an audience, the conveyors have been placed in clear tubes and the SCADA control is placed in an area where visitors can see what’s going on rather than in a control room or at the control enclosure. Great pains have been taken to ensure that the operations are not loud or annoying also.

It is unlikely that in a typical factory moving machinery like this would be exposed where debris could fall into the product or someone could put their hands into the mechanism, but it does make for an excellent display. The production area is not physically accessible to the public and I’m sure this is not part of the actual supply chain.

The packaging area shown above illustrates just how clean and visually appealing a factory environment can be made to appear. If production was the main purpose of the facility there would be coffee dust all over the surfaces and people would be moving around frantically and making a lot of ruckus.

Instead there is the atmosphere of a coffee shop with people sitting around the tasting bar and shopping for coffee-related paraphernalia.

When I visited Central America in early 2012 I had the privilege of touring a coffee plantation in Boquete, Panama. I was able to taste raw coffee beans and some of the world’s best brewed coffees presented by experts in the field. I realized back then that some coffees are quite expensive and vary a lot in taste, based on how/where they are grown and roasted. While the standard Starbucks coffee is not particularly to my liking, I did see a wide variety of coffees for sale at the Roastery. I’d advise anyone who is in the area to go check it out, it is near downtown Seattle at 1124 Pike Street.

By the way, the red ones are ripe and ready to be processed.

When you take the skin off, the bean looks like this and tastes quite sweet. If you ever get a chance I highly recommend a tour of a plantation. They are usually in pretty cool parts of the world!

Posted in Manufacturing, Material Handling, Sales and Marketing Tagged with: , , ,

Automation Update December 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. While things are going pretty well for me right now, I’ve had a really rough past few months. I think the longest I’ve gone before without posting was a couple of weeks maybe, this time it’s been more than two months.

I’ve done a little more work on my “Factory”; as you can see in the above picture I’ve got the escapements mounted. They still need some fine tuning, but as you can see they are ready to drop little balls into the boxes on the index conveyor.

I’ve also done some work on the process side. There is a lot of signal conditioning required in order to get the tank levels and flow signal done, I haven’t tested the load cells or flow transmitter yet, but I hope to get more done over the next few weeks. I just returned from Boston and Raleigh doing some ControlLogix and Siemens S7 classes for Automation Training, I also did some SLC and Micro classes here at my place for Automation NTH. They did a nice writeup on some of the things we’ve been working on here. I didn’t have any training equipment for the RSLogix 500 platform, so I made the trainers below. They are Micro 1100s and worked well for the basics.

I hope to get a fresh start on my programs and projects with the new year. Sometimes it takes a bit of a break to get motivated. On the plus side of my problems, I did manage to lose 15 pounds!

Posted in Me, My Little Factory, Training Tagged with: , , ,

Loving Your Automation

This week’s post is not really on automation, or anything technical.

A couple of days ago I visited a local plant at the invitation of a consultant who is working with their management team to improve their processes. While this consultant is adept at efficiency, workflow and other Lean topics, he is not an expert at automation, so he came to me for some advice.

We discussed several possible simple projects to move material around, quite simple stuff really, but probably projects that this company couldn’t do in-house or even with the machine shop down the street. Anyway, when we were done they mentioned a couple of little sensor and control issues they had, and I said I’d like to take a look.

The first thing I noticed was that the sensors were quite old, as was much of the hardware on the control panel. When I opened the control panel I saw an image similar to that at the top of this post. There were wire nuts and loose wires everywhere, making the panel look like an afterthought. Upon discussing the history of some of this equipment I learned that a local integrator/controls type guy had been helping them for a long time, and he had put this equipment in years before. He was mostly retired now, and they were waiting for him to come in and advise them on how they could fix or replace the sensor. He didn’t seem to have much interest in coming in and helping them.

This brought back a lot of old memories from my past life as a controls integrator in East Tennessee. There are lots of older factories with equipment like this, and varying degrees of maintenance capability. There are also a lot of panels and wiring jobs just like this.

When I went outside to leave, I mentioned the state of the equipment to the consultant. I said that if they had a young maintenance guy that was new and just learning the plant, this would be a great opportunity to show some love to the equipment; rewire and document everything, label and organize the wiring. The response I got made me as sad as the face in the image above. He said “they won’t do that, they don’t see it as adding value”.

Unfortunately, I see this as a cultural problem. There doesn’t seem to be much pride taken in work any more in a lot of places. Nobody is even looking at the equipment unless it breaks down. Companies are out to squeeze every last dollar out of their processes, but aren’t taking care of their equipment or their people. There seems to be no motivation to love their jobs or their hardware as they would something that belonged to them.

I believe this attitude bleeds over into employee’s lives when they aren’t at work also. There are people who would do anything to have a job that gives them the opportunity to learn, practice and make money at the same time, but it seems that most people can’t wait to get out of work and kick back.

I love my job and the field I have chosen. I have passed through a lot of different phases of my career, from apprenticing to maintenance, to being a technician, then an engineer, to running a company with employees that depended on my decisions, and now finally to teaching others. I realize not everybody has the same opportunities and interest in what they are doing, but to me it is so important to take pride and responsibility for your job.

So show some love to your automation. It’s sad and waiting for some attention.

Posted in Business, Philosophies, Thoughts Tagged with: , ,

My New Trainers!

Well, its official. I have my first actual PLC trainers, in addition to the ones on the wall in My Little Factory. I think they’re awesome! They did take 8 weeks to build, but as more are made I think some the logistics things will get worked out. In addition to fabrication time, there is also the time it takes to check out the I/O and get the firmware set up.

Now they aren’t cheap, and I won’t be shipping them to any customer sites, but they do have some excellent features that you won’t find in a typical suitcase-style trainer.

First, notice that there are input, output and power banana-plug jacks on the sides. This allows hardware to be connected for training as I described in last week’s post.

On the other side there are two Ethernet ports, one for programming and one for remote I/O. There is an M12 connector to provide power to dedicated devices, as well as the power switch and power socket. One of the pushbuttons is also wired normally closed, which is helpful when explaining certain programming concepts.

Automation NTH built them and has made two more of their own that we can use with the four laptops I have loaded with software. These will be very handy with the advanced custom classes I am teaching. They and several other trainers will soon be appearing for sale on my business website.

I am also working on some much less expensive trainers for the MicroLogix 1100, shown below.

I’m evaluating this Micro 1100…

These will be in a plastic box and have more limited I/O, though it will have two analog inputs. The reason I chose this platform is that the software is free, yet in most ways it matches the SLC500 platform well enough for training. This will be my attempt at the least expensive A-B demo I can come up with.

For those who have been wondering about the status of My Little Factory, it’s still coming along, though slowly.

The pick and places are mounted, but there are several small widgets that need to be installed before I can run them, not to mention that they aren’t plumbed and the valve banks aren’t mounted yet. Its hard to break off enough time to get everything done. The ball escapements are also still languishing.

In my defense, I have been making a lot of PLC training videos for a customer and am getting better at it. This means that the online PLC classes are much closer along with my next PLC book, which includes lots of advanced stuff.

Anyway, I’m excited to get to use these new demos. Come take a class and check them out!

Posted in My Little Factory, PLCs, Trainers, Training Tagged with: , , , ,