is adigitalcomputer used for automationof industrial processes, such as control of machineryon factoryassembly lines. Unlike general-purpose computers, the PLC is designedfor multiple inputs and output arrangements, extended temperature ranges,immunity to electrical noise, and resistance to vibration and impact. Programs tocontrol machine operation are typically stored in battery-backed or non-volatilememory. A PLC is an example of areal timesystem since output results must beproduced in response to input conditions within a bounded time, otherwiseunintended operation will result.
Control panel with PLC (grey elements in the center). The unit consists of separateelements, from left to right;power supply, controller,relayunits for in- and output
The main difference from other computers is that PLCs are armored for severecondition (dust, moisture, heat, cold, etc) and have the facility for extensiveinput/output(I/O) arrangements. These connect the PLC tosensorsandactuators.PLCs read limitswitches, analog process variables (such as temperature andpressure), and the positions of complex positioning systems. Some even usemachine vision. On the actuator side, PLCs operateelectric motors,pneumaticor hydrauliccylinders, magneticrelaysor solenoids, or analog outputs. Theinput/output arrangements may be built into a simple PLC, or the PLC may haveexternal I/O modules attached to a computer network that plugs into the PLC.PLCs were invented as replacements for automated systems that would usehundreds or thousands of relays,cam timers, anddrum sequencers. Often, a singlePLC can be programmed to replace thousands of relays. Programmable controllerswere initially adopted by the automotive manufacturing industry, where softwarerevision replaced the re-wiring of hard-wired control panels when production modelschanged.Many of the earliest PLCs expressed all decision making logic in simpleladder logicwhich appeared similar to electrical schematic diagrams. The electricians were quiteable to trace out circuit problems with schematic diagrams using ladder logic. Thisprogram notation was chosen to reduce training demands for the existing
technicians. Other early PLCs used a form of instruction listprogramming, based ona stack-based logic solver.The functionality of the PLC has evolved over the years to include sequential relaycontrol, motion control,process control,distributed control systemsandnetworking.The data handling, storage, processing power and communication capabilities of some modern PLCs are approximately equivalent todesktop computers. PLC-likeprogramming combined with remote I/O hardware, allow a general-purpose desktopcomputer to overlap some PLCs in certain applications.Under theIEC 61131-3standard, PLCs can be programmed using standards-basedprogramming languages. A graphical programming notation calledSequentialFunction Chartsis available on certain programmable controllers.[edit
PLC compared with other control systems
PLCs are well-adapted to a range of automationtasks. These are typically industrialprocesses in manufacturing where the cost of developing and maintaining theautomation system is high relative to the total cost of the automation, and wherechanges to the system would be expected during its operational life. PLCs containinput and output devices compatible with industrial pilot devices and controls; littleelectrical design is required, and the design problem centers on expressing thedesired sequence of operations inladder logic(or function chart) notation. PLCapplications are typically highly customized systems so the cost of a packaged PLCis low compared to the cost of a specific custom-built controller design. On the other hand, in the case of mass-produced goods, customized control systems areeconomic due to the lower cost of the components, which can be optimally choseninstead of a "generic" solution, and where the non-recurring engineering charges arespread over thousands of places.For high volume or very simple fixed automation tasks, different techniques areused. For example, a consumer dishwasher would be controlled by anelectromechanicalcam timer costing only a few dollars in production quantities.Amicrocontroller -based design would be appropriate where hundreds or thousandsof units will be produced and so the development cost (design of power supplies andinput/output hardware) can be spread over many sales, and where the end-user would not need to alter the control. Automotive applications are an example; millionsof units are built each year, and very few end-users alter the programming of these