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Digital control is the use of digital or discrete technology to maintain conditions in operating systems as close as possible to desired values despite changes in the operating environment. Traditionally, control systems have utilized analog components, that is, controllers which generate time-continuous outputs (volts, pressure, and so forth) to manipulate process inputs and which operate on continuous signals from instrumentation measuring process variables (position, temperature, and so forth). In the 1970s, the use of discrete or logical control elements, such as fluidic components, and the use of programmable logic controllers to automate machining, manufacturing, and production facilities became widespread. In parallel with these developments has been the accelerating use of digital computers in industrial and commercial applications areas, both for logic-level control and for replacing analog control systems. The development of inexpensive mini- and microcomputers with arithmetic and logical capability orders of magnitude beyond that obtainable with analog and discrete digital control elements has resulted in the rapid substitution of conventional control systems by digital computer-based ones.
Discrete Control Devices
Discrete control devices are input/output devices or modules that recognizes only binary on/off signals. A discrete input, also referred to as a digital input, is either on or off. It can be connected to a PLC's discrete inputs. In the on condition, a discrete input is represented internal to the PLC as logic 1. In the off condition, a discrete input is represented as logic 0. A discrete output is an output that is either on or off. Solenoids, contactor coils, and lamps are examples of devices which can be connected to discrete outputs. Discrete outputs are also referred to as digital outputs.
Discrete Control Input Devices
A discrete/digital input typically consists of a power supply (voltage source), a switch and a voltage-sensing device (analog-to-digital converter). Depending on the switch’s open/closed status, the sensing device detects a voltage or no voltage condition, which in turn generates a logical 0 or 1, on or off, alarm or normal or similarly defined state. Circuit Diagrams The following circuit diagrams are examples of commonly used digital input configurations.
Input Devices and Sensors Switch
A switch is an electrical device used to enable or disable flow of electrical current in an electrical circuit. Switches may be actuated in a variety of ways, including movement of two
Process medium property sensing switches are also rated by parameters such as adjustment range. Single Throw (SPST) . and deadband or differential. or changing the properties of a semiconducting material by the application of voltage (electronic). Also specified are applicable ranges of ambient conditions over which the ratings are valid. Current carrying capacity (or current rating) is the maximum current that may continuously flow through the closed switch contacts without exceeding the maximum permissible temperature. Switches are typically rated in terms of voltage. and load characteristic (inductive or resistive). The range of a control switch is specified by upper and lower process values between which the switch has been designed to operate. accuracy or repeatability. current interrupting capacity. Switch Configurations Single Pole. The switch differential or dead band is the change in process value required to cause the state of the switch to change.conducting materials into direct contact (mechanical). The accuracy or repeatability of a control switch is a value typically measured in process units or percent of range that represents the expected maximum deviation from set point at which the switch will operate under test conditions. configuration. current carrying capacity. voltage type (AC or DC).
Single Pole. Single Throw (DPST) Double Pole. Double Throw (SPDT) Double Pole. Double Throw .
Hand switches come in numerous sizes. Selector and toggle switches are almost always maintained contact type.Types of Switches Hand Switches Hand switches are used as digital input devices and in hardwired electrical control circuits associated with digital outputs. Selector switches can have key operators to prevent tampering. Common switch types include rotary. . and proximity switches. Hand Switches Limit Switches A switch designed to cut off power automatically at or near the limit of travel of a moving object controlled by electrical means. Limit switches are most commonly used to provide position status feedback to the controller for valve and damper positions. and pushbuttons. A wide variety of configurations are available. toggle switches. Common types include industrial limit switches. shapes. Limit switches convert mechanical motion or proximity into a switching action. Pushbuttons may be momentary or maintained contact type. selector type switches. mercury. and configurations.
Industrial-limit Switch Mercury Limit Switches Proximity Switches Temperature Switches Temperature switches (also called thermostats. aqua stats or freeze stats depending on application) are commonly to provide a digital input when a process medium temperature rises or falls to a set temperature. Switches with a number of different operating principles are .
bourdon tube. Some of the common types include bimetallic.manufactured. or piston to open or close a set of contacts. allowing the switch element to be remote from the sensing bulb. When the temperature changes. Bimetallic temperature switches use a bonded "bimetal" strip consisting of two dissimilar metals with different thermal coefficients of expansion. If any point along the tube falls below the saturation . Fluid system based temperature switches can be connected to a remote fluid containing bulb by a capillary tube. completing the circuit. diaphragm. This fluid is confined within a long capillary tube. The tube is installed in a serpentine fashion over the area of the air stream to being monitored. Various configurations such as coiled elements are used to increase the thermal movement to cause two contacts to come together or separate. freeze stat and electronic. Some configurations use the bimetallic principle to change the orientation of a bulb containing liquid mercury so that the mercury flows into contact with two electrodes. fluid thermal expansion. the metals expand or contract at different rates causing the strip to bend. Freeze stats use a fluid that is a saturated vapor at the switch set point temperature. Remote Bulb Thermostat The freeze stat is commonly used to prevent water or steam coils in air handling units from freezing. Fluid thermal expansion temperature switches use the principle of thermal expansion of a fluid to cause displacement of a bellows.
space or process humidity alarms. These sensing . Mechanical humidistats are rapidly being replaced by electronic humidistats that use thin film capacitance or bulk polymer resistance analog humidity sensing technologies combined with electronic switching circuitry to produce a switching action at an adjustable set point. Freeze stat Humidity Switches Humidity switches. Common applications are high limit safety interlocks for humidifiers. nylon or other plastic material that changes dimension with changes in relative humidity. Electronic temperature switches use the same sensing technologies used for analog temperature sensing to electronically operate a set of output contacts. Mechanical humidistats use a hygroscopic material such as animal hair. and simple on-off humidity control.temperature. are used in discrete control systems to provide a digital input when a process or space humidity level rises or falls to a set level. The dimensional change is amplified via a mechanical link to causing a switch to operate. the vapor begins to condense causing a rapid change in pressure in the system and actuating the switch mechanism. or humidistats.
technologies are described in the Humidity Measurement portion of the Analog Input Device Section. Numerous technologies are available. The magnitude of the force varies with (the square of) the velocity of the fluid. Common configurations include paddles or sails. and burner safety interlocks. Mechanical flow switches operate on the principle that the kinetic energy of a flowing fluid creates a force on an object suspended in the flow stream. . Humidity Switch Flow Switches Flow switches are used to provide a digital input to DDC controls systems when a fluid flow rate has risen above or fallen below the set value. Common applications include safety air and water flow interlocks for electric heaters and humidifiers. Various configurations are used to transfer this force into operation of a switch. chiller safety interlocks. but the most common types used are mechanical and differential pressure types. pistons or discs.
. vessel or sump has reached a predetermined height. Differential Pressure Air Flow Switch Level Switches Level switches are used to provide a digital input when the fluid level in a tank. and magnetostrictive-based devices in combination with solid-state electronics to provide a switching action based on level. More commonly used technologies include devices that employ the use of a float (integral. These differences in pressure can be accurately predicted for a given situation and related to the fluid flow rate.Differential pressure type flow switches operate on the principle that a difference in pressure is always associated with fluid flow. storm water and sewage sump level monitoring and control and thermal storage tank level monitoring. submersible). Common applications include cooling tower sump level control and monitoring. Numerous mechanical and analog technologies are currently available. ultrasonic. or the principle that the total pressure of a flowing fluid is always greater than the static pressure. For more information see the Flow Measurement portion of the Analog Input Section. rod and float. steam condensate tank level. Some analog technologies include capacitance. or differential pressure mechanism. conductivity probe.
filters and pumps.Integral float type level switches typically combine an metal or plastic float attached to the arm of a submersible rotary switch mechanism. When the float has position has inverted sufficiently. the internal switch changes position. the float hangs down and the switch is in its normally open or closed position. When the fluid level rises. or a float that encloses a magnet which slides on a hollow rod enclosing one or more reed switches. . and to provide flow and level status indication by virtue of the predicable relationships between pressure and these values. the float rises above the cord attachment point. Pressure switches may be mechanical or electronic. changing the float orientation. Submersible float switches utilize an encapsulated integral float type switch or mercury switch suspended on a fluid tight cord in the vessel being monitored. When the level is below the cord attachment. Level Switch Pressure Switches Pressure switches are used to provide status indication for fans.
or they may be ribbons or strips with wires separated by a non-conductive . Vibration Switch Moisture Switches Moisture detecting switches are commonly used to detect moisture under raised floors. Float types are adapted to actuate at very low levels. Vibration switches are commonly applied on large cooling tower and air handling unit fans. Conductivity types may consist of point sensitive probes located very close to the bottom of a low point or sump where water will collect. reach unsafe levels.Mechanical Pressure Switches Vibration Switches Vibration switches are used to provide a signal when vibration levels in rotating machinery such as fans. Most moisture detecting switches are instruments of the float type or conductivity type. in piping and tank containment areas and in the drain pans of air handling units to alert system operators before damage or flooding occurs.
Common applications include fan and pump on/off status feedback. Current Switches . Current switches can detect broken fan belts if properly adjusted. The devices typically have one or more adjustable current set points. Moisture Switch Current Switches Current sensing relays are used to monitor the status of electrical devices.material. such that when any portion of the ribbon is exposed to liquid moisture. Current relays can also be used for phase monitoring. the electrical circuit is completed and the switch mechanism activates.
. Digital outputs may also be used to control analog devices using tri-state or pulse width modulation (PWM). An open collector transistor-type digital output operating a pilot relay. dampers. electric motors. Digital outputs (DO) are typically used to provide on/off control of valves. Circuit Diagrams The following circuit diagrams are examples of commonly used digital output configurations. contactors. starters and twoposition actuators.Discrete Control Output Devices A digital output typically consists of a switch (either mechanical as in a relay or electronic as in a transistor or triac) that either opens or closes the circuit between two terminals depending on the binary state of the output. lighting and external signaling devices. which in turn energizes the motor starter coil for a fan. The most common devices associated with digital outputs are relays. such as alarm bells and indicator lights.
or stop current flow. Types of Relays.e. additional terminals to either allow electrical current flow. lighting and heaters).A triac-type digital output operating a pilot relay that is used to energize a fan motor starter coil. integral horsepower motors) and significant resistance loads (i. Relays. Contactors and Starters . Contactors and starters are essentially relays designed for interrupting and applying power to larger loads (i.. Contactors and Starters A relay is a device where power applied to a coil or input terminal causes the path between pairs of separate..e.
Relays are typically used to switch AC and DC control signals with voltages from 0 to 600 volts and typically have contact ratings of less than 20 amps. with the largest dimension under 1/2 inch (12. miniature and sub-miniature rail mounted plug-in type relays are often used in shop or field-fabricated control panels because they are less costly and easy to mount and replace. and timing. latching.5 mm). Instantaneous Relays . Solid state relays use semi-conducting devices (such as transistors or triacs) that become electrically conductive between output terminals when a voltage is applied to the input. Modular. Contactors and starters can be considered common types of heavier duty relays with and without load protection. Electromechanical control relays use a magnetic coil and armature to cause contacts to open or close when current is applied to the coil. Control relays come in numerous sizes and shapes. Relays used on printed circuit boards for pilot duty can be made very small. Standard Instantaneous Control Relays Standard instantaneous control relays are electromechanical or solid state.The most common types of relays are standard instantaneous control.
Latching Relays Latching relays are a variation of the standard instantaneous control relay where the contacts change position when initially energized. Timing Relays Timing relays (also known as time delay relays) are a variation of the standard instantaneous control and latching relay where a fixed or adjustable time delay must occur following a change in the control signal before the switching action occurs. Numerous other configurations are available. Latching relays are also available with manual reset latches. Latching relays may have mechanical latches using a set and reset coil. off delay and on/off delay. Common time delay relay configurations include on delay. but do not revert to the normal state (when the input signal is removed) until a separate reset signal is applied. . or they may latch magnetically.
Contactors do not include overload protection for the load they are serving. the power circuit must include thermal overload protection for the motor. . maximum continuous current and maximum single-phase and three-phase motor horsepower at voltage. Starters are specially adapted contactors that include overload protection designed to sense motor overloads and interrupt the power circuit to the motor before severe damage can occur. normally open. Contactors can include normally closed and normally open contacts. The most commonly used starters and contactors in the United States conform to the NEMA standards. NEMA/EEMAC standards for magnetic motor controllers designate two types of motor duty (non-plugging. double break configuration. Contactors and starters are rated according to national and international standards including NEMA/EEMAC (National Electrical Manufacturers Association/Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association of Canada) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). When contactors are applied to control motors. non-jogging duty and plug-stop. Contactors and starters are listed by recognized testing agencies such as UL (Underwriters Laboratory) and CSA (Canadian Standards Association). such as motors.Contactors and Starters Contactors are essentially large capacity relays specifically designed to control the flow of electrical power to electrical loads. plug-reverse or jogging duty) and a series of standard sizes with standard horsepower ratings for each size. Contactors are multi-pole devices typically arranged to interrupt all energized conductors serving an electrical load. Ratings typically include maximum voltage. heaters and lights. thus removing all voltage from the load. but are most often of the single throw.
solid state overload relays have been developed that sense the motor current in each phase. In recent years. severe overload or locked rotor conditions. If the motor overload is severe. The resistance heating element heats in proportion to the current flowing to the motor. the switch will take a longer time to open. These power conductors consist of a resistance heating element and fusible metal or bimetallic temperature switch wired in the starter coil control circuit. Solid state overload relays typically allow for the adjustment of motor full-load current values.The oldest and simplest motor overload protection scheme consists of a thermal overload for each power conductor. heat will build up quickly. or adjustable over a very narrow current setting range. asymmetrical current loading. creating a rise in temperature at the switch element that is proportional to the motor current and the time over which the current has been applied. and the switch will open in a few seconds or less. digitize it and apply digital logic to determine when an overload or unsafe operating condition exists. Thermal overloads are typically non-adjustable. Solid state overload relays can typically sense phase failure. If the overload current is just above the overload rating. They also allow for setting a variety of time-current trip characteristics to provide optimal protection for the motor they are protecting. Contactors and Actuators Two-Position Actuators .
where fluid pressure of the fluid being controlled actually provides the motive force for operating the valve. Two states. on/off control of pneumatic dampers and . Pilot-operated valves may be designed for slower opening and closing time to reduce this tendency. Solenoid actuators are most commonly applied to small valves for control of water and air flow in pipe and tubing. usually open or closed. Solenoid Actuators One of the simplest actuators is the solenoid. damper position and fuel flow are commonly controlled (depending upon application) to open/closed positions through the use of a two-position actuator. The solenoid is used to control the internal flow of the pilot fluid within the valve. The two most common types of two-position actuators are the solenoid type and rotary type. When the coil is energized. which consists of a coil wound around a fixed core and a movable core that is usually enclosed in a non-magnetic case. causing the operation of the valve. causing a rapid linear motion.Two-position control is commonly used in a wide variety of control schemes for HVAC applications. Solenoid valves are available in pilot-operated models. Fluid flow. the movable core is attracted to the fixed core. Non-pilot type solenoid valves open and close very quickly and may cause water hammer when used for controlling flow in liquid systems. Solenoid valves are also commonly applied to the on/off control of pneumatic control air supply (sometimes referred to as EP Relays). Types of Two-Position Actuators Two-position actuators are used to control the linear or rotary motion of a controlled device (such as a valve or damper) to one of two positions.
rack and pinion configurations. such that the position is reversed by the energy stored in the spring when the motor is de-energized.actuators is almost universally accomplished using the electrical signal to operate a solenoid valve that turns air supply to the pneumatic actuator on or off. or combined with a spring. . cams and various other mechanisms are used to convert the rotary actuator motion to linear motion when applied to devices (such as globe-type control valves) requiring linear motion for actuation. Linkages. Spring-return actuators are commonly applied where a device must be returned to a safe or normal position when the power supply or control signal fails. Rotary Actuators Rotary actuators typically are based on rotary electric motors combined with a gear train that may be reversible.
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