After the Training – Maximizing your Investment
Greetings from not-so-sunny Jupiter, Florida. Despite the lack of sunshine, the weather is nice. I have spent the last several weeks teaching in my home state of Tennessee, and… brrr… Minnesota. I am down here for a couple of weeks working on an ongoing project I have mentioned before, upgrading a juice processing system.
The last two classes I taught brought home an issue I have considered before. The classes were both in the customer’s plants, but they couldn’t have been more different otherwise. The first class, in Minnesota, was at a facility that manufactures dairy process equipment. They are building a big system in Europe and needed some Siemens S7 training. I travelled there twice, once for a beginning class and once for an advanced one.
The students in this class were experienced in PLC programming, though their main platform was Allen-Bradley. As with many systems going to Europe, the customer preferred Siemens. As a template, they were actually using Pro Lite, a Siemens compatible software that sets up all of your processes for you. In addition to the Automation Training S7-315 PLCs with Profinet and Profibus I/O, they brought in their own S7-400 to network. The classes went very smoothly and because they would be immediately using the software after the class, I’m sure the lessons and manuals were very useful.
The other class was right in my home state, down in Manchester, Tennessee. This company makes floor liners for a lot of different automotive companies, and even from what I understand, some boats and even motorcycles. Again, the students were experienced, though more from an overall maintenance perspective than software. This class was one of several on the Allen-Bradley ControlLogix platform, in this case an advanced class.
Initially we spent some time reviewing some of the material from the beginning class. Despite the name “Advanced”, there is a lot of advanced material in the beginning class too. Things like use of multidimensional arrays and some of the stuff I usually cover on Sequencers.
We then covered some of the more advanced concepts like indirect addressing, PID and other special functions. There is a lot of hands-on work in the class and it takes a while for students who are not using the software every day to re-familiarize themselves with the software and shortcuts. I have also noticed that sometimes older guys are slower at typing; I am one of them. To improve my output while coding I use a LOT of shortcuts and Mnemonics.
The problem was (and I often mention this in the class), if you don’t touch the software for another six months after taking the class, you will forget a lot of the material. I have been asked before upon completion of the material “so what’s the next step?” Managers often want their maintenance guys to take the advanced class after taking the beginning one.
The problem is that the advanced class really covers just the advanced instruction set, which is really not what most people need. I can go years without seeing an SQO or SQL command (A-B) or program in SFC (Siemens); chances are a typical maintenance guy won’t see much of it either. So what is the best way to keep up on the material? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Set aside a time once a week, or once every two weeks, to have the guys go online with a machine and look at the program. Look at different areas and different routines and discuss what they are used for. Type in some new and clarifying comments, there can never be too many of those. The point is to stay familiar with the software.
2. If you can, get a demo or training PLC and set it up somewhere. Tie some pushbuttons and pilot lights into the I/O and ideally, even some pneumatics and sensors. This can serve as fluid power and electrical training also.
3. Start collecting a library of code and routines that can be used in PLC programming exercises. Things like a basic sequence or even a toggle circuit can be educational.
4. Collect some books and articles on programming for community use. There is a lot of good stuff on the internet, in forums or on websites like www.plctalk.net or www.plcdev.com. Another book is Cascading Logic by Gary Kirckof. I bought this book on a recommendation from Tony, and it does have some interesting material in it. The Automation Training manuals are also quite good.
5. Consider doing a project in-house. Even simple systems like conveyors and pushers can be challenging for people who don’t program every day.
Above all, practice. Simply taking a class for a few days is NOT going to make someone a programmer. It takes years of trial and error before a good working capability in PLC or HMI programming is developed. If you don’t use it, you lose it!