The Effect of Programmable Logic Controllers on Industry Ryan A. Kovacic Rowan Cabarrus Community College

THE EFFECT OF PROGRAMMABLE LOGIC CONTROLLERS The Effect of Programmable Logic Controllers on Industry In the world today, the programmable logic controller (PLC) is used in every large manufacturing business. This was not always the case however. The PLC had to be designed and sold to be used in the expanding manufacturing world. When it became available though, it completely changed the face of industry. The PLC made adjustments and improvements to manufacturing equipment easier and less time consuming, made troubleshooting equipment a much simpler task, and made maintenance and efficiency of the manufacturing floor easier and simpler. Dick Morley is often associated with the invention of the PLC although he prefers to refer to himself as the “father” rather than the inventor of the PLC (Dunn, 2008). Quitting his job and starting his own business in the 1960s, Morley pitched an idea for a device that was much easier, more reliable and more durable than the systems used to run factories at the time


and it wasn’t long before the idea took off. The PLC itself is not a computer, but rather a device that can read signals from the factory telling it what is happening and, based on programmable information, can send signals back saying what to do about it. This concept made the expensive to repair relay based control systems obsolete. Now according to Jim Pinto the PLC is, “arguably the most widely used product in the industrial automation business” (2006). How though, did this new invention completely change how the manufacturing industry ran? Probably the biggest advantage of using a PLC was that adjusting machines was no longer a complex task. With the programmable nature of the PLC, one could adjust setting anywhere in the factory by putting a command into the PLC. The benefits of this are obvious in a fast paced, manufacturing world. Not just simple adjustments but also large scale improvements could be made using the PLC. Even if the scale of a project outgrew the

THE EFFECT OF PROGRAMMABLE LOGIC CONTROLLERS programming and the PLC itself, it could be swapped out with relative ease for a newer, better model (Dunn, 2008). Another aspect of the PLC is the fact that it is universal. One PLC could be programmed to run an automotive factory while the same PLC could be reprogrammed to operate a textile factory. This concept was unheard of at the time but made its implementation fairly simple even though it was new technology. Another major function of the PLC is troubleshooting. Rather than having to find the problem within a maze of factory equipment, the PLC can tell the user what is wrong and can possibly fix it without having to find the faulty machine. This is an invaluable asset in a factory when every second a machine isn’t running means more money being wasted. Replacement of


the system itself is also much easier than in relay based systems. Components of the PLC can be swapped due to its plug-in type components (NASA, 1992). The efficiency of manufacturing floors drastically increased with the advent of PLCs. Because of their durable design, PLCs could be placed in optimum locations without the worry of excessive dirt, heat or vibration damaging the system. Reaching the PLC to fix a problem was a simple task that did not require one to open a heavy duty lock box just to access the electronic equipment. PLCs are also smaller than older system—sometimes even half the size—so they did not hinder the movement of employees around the factory or the equipment itself. The makeup of the PLC allows it to take in information from the factory, compare it to the information programmed into it by the user, determine whether or not action needs to be taken, and then, if necessary, transmit signals out to run the manufacturing equipment at optimum efficiency (NASA, 1992). All this takes place continually while massive amounts of information are being considered. It is clear how this assists in keeping the floor running smooth and efficient. The PLC made big changes to the manufacturing world. It allowed manufacturers to

THE EFFECT OF PROGRAMMABLE LOGIC CONTROLLERS more easily adjust and upgrade their equipment, made troubleshooting that equipment a simple and manageable task, and overall made the manufacturing floor a more efficient environment. Without the PLC, manufacturing would be a different industry. Repairs would be more costly, innovation would be difficult and ultimately less products would be available to the public. Amazingly, the PLC stands against hardly any competition; a testament to how invaluable the PLC is.


THE EFFECT OF PROGRAMMABLE LOGIC CONTROLLERS References Dunn, A. (2008, September 12). The father of invention: Dick Morley looks back on the 40th anniversary of the plc.Manufacturing Automation. NASA, (1992). Programmable logic controllers. Retrieved from website: Pinto, Jim. (Feb 8, 2006). History of the PLC. Intec. Retreived from

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