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NEWSLETTER FOR MAINTENANCE COMMUNITY


c ircle
Word for the day: PLC

It is quite impossible for most of us to start our day without glancing at the newspaper for headlines, at least.
Newspaper publishers collect information almost till 12 mid-night before starting the printing, which is usually
completed within 3 to 4 hours on high speed printing presses. Such a high speed printing press has to be controlled
precisely by sophisticated computers. A typical printing press, for example will have to handle 500 inputs and 650
outputs apart from controlling many motors, auxiliary equipments. The specialized computer which perform this and
such many tasks is called a Programmable Logic Controller – PLC for short – and has become an integral part of
many sophisticated and high-speed machines. Even though a typical computer can also perform this task, there are
certain features that are unique to PLCs. Let us understand the differences and similarities between them before
proceeding further.

Similarities:
Both have CPU – Central Processing Unit – which controls and operates all the connected devices and programs.

Both have memory (for details refer previously published article) for storing programs and other information.

Both can communicate with other devices, if necessary (thru RS 232, LAN, Ethernet Modem and other methods)

Differences
Computers are capable of performing complex calculations. PLCs are specially customized to perform as Input-Output
handling device at high speeds.

Computers are designed to operate in controlled environmental conditions. PLCs are designed to be rugged and work
in industrial conditions.

One computer can perform many different types of programs (we can call it software) with the same CPU. PLCs are
specific to a manufacturer and are not universal & interchangeable (Siemens, ABB, and Allen-Bradley for example)

Computers have limited ability to monitor input and outputs. PLCs are customized to handle large number of input
and outputs from various industrial sensors.

Very importantly, computers are “desktop” type (laptops are also to be considered) where as PLCs are usually “rack”
mounted type located inside a conventional industrial panel.

Apart from these, there are large differences in the software which run on computers and PLCs. This article does not
permit us to discuss them in detail. It will be elaborated in future articles.

Let us take a look at the standard components which make up PLC. Refer to figure 1. There are certain common
components present in any PLC systems which are explained below.

1. POWER SUPPLY MODULE: This is the most fundamental unit present in a PLC system. The PLC system
is designed to operate on very low voltages varying from +5 to ±15 V DC or (and) AC with various current
ratings. This unit will convert the input voltage – usually 115V 60Hz or 230V 50Hz Ac – to various low
voltages suitable for other components of the system.

2. CPU: This can be called “master” of the PLC system controlling all the modules. It contains memory for
storing the program, battery for back-up and all other components necessary for satisfactory operation of a
PLC system. Apart from this it also has special ports for communication with programming terminals. Many
CPUs can be connected in series or parallel depending on the application. Usually there are three LEDs
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present on the CPU indicating different statuses. RUN (Green) LED indicating healthy condition of the CPU.
ERROR (Red) LED indicating some hardware or software or program fault. PROG (Amber) LED indicating
that CPU is under programming mode. Some PLCs will also have a key switch for locking PLC from
unauthorized operations or for specific functions.

3. DIGITAL INPUT MODULE: Any input that has either ON or OFF state like push buttons, switches, limit
switches, photo eyes fall under digital input category. As a standard practice all such inputs are taken into one

EACH MODULE IS
POWER SUPPLY (SLOT 1, AC

ANALOG OUTPUT MODULE


DIGITAL OUTPUT MODULE
EITHER PRESSED OR

ANALOG INPUT MODULE


`DIGITAL INPUT MODULE
TO DC CONVERTER) SCREWED IN TO SIT IN
ITS DESIGNATED

SPECIAL MODULE
LOCATION
CPU (SLOT 2)

(SLOT 3)

(SLOT 3)

(SLOT 5)

(SLOT 6)
(SLOT4)
PLC RACK

LATEST METHODS OF
COMMUNICATION LIKE USB,
MODEM, NETWORK AND
MOBILE ARE ALSO
AVAILABLE IN TODAY’S Figure 1
ADVANCED PLCs (WILL BE
DISCUSSED IN LATER
ARTICLES)
PROGRAMMING TERMINAL- A LAPTOP
OR A PC OR SPECIAL HANDHELD UNIT

type of module. The inputs can be given in various forms like 24V DC, 230V AC, Sinking, Sourcing or
special types.

4. DIGITAL OUTPUT MODULE: The outputs which energize discrete devices like lamps, relays, contactors
come under digital output category and are grouped together. The output can also be 24V DC, 230V AC,
Sinking, Sourcing or special types.

5. ANALOG INPUT MODULE: Any devices which give a variation of values (0 to 100%) like
potentiometers, thermocouples, LVDTs are considered as “analog” devices. Each value defines a specific
position or condition and hence should be monitored continuously. They play a vital role in giving vital
signals from many critical componenets or processes.

6. ANALOG OUTPUT MODULE: Any devices which need proportional signals for its working will be given
“analog” or variable signals from this module. Proportional Valves, Servo Drives, Voltage regulators for
example are driven by analog signals.

7. SPECIAL MODULE: Apart from the generic modules mentioned above, there could be special inputs or
outputs that a system requires. Manufacturers of PLC systems provide such modules for specific applications.
High speed counters, Laser detection system, Infrared signals, thickness gauge and many more fall under this
category.

8. MOUNTING RACK: Each module mentioned above has to be mounted in a special enclosure. This will
enable CPU to communicate with all modules and exchange information. The rack will be specific to
manufacturer but usually will be easy to replace when need arises. The rack also will have special
communication lines – commonly called as “bus” – which will run along its entire length. It also gives
structural stability for the components fitted inside.
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If we take an automobile for comparison purpose (oversimplified), we can understand the following points. The rider
and vehicle together makes a PLC system.

a) The rider can be considered as CPU who will have total control of the vehicle
b) Ignition key, Indicator Switch, Horn Switch can be considered as DIGITAL INPUT components
c) Indicator lights, spark plug, horn can be considered as DIGITAL OUTPUT components. Spark plug can be
further considered as a high speed digital output device.
d) The accelerator cable can be considered as PROPORTIONAL (ANALOG) INPUT component
e) Carburetor, brake pads can be considered as PROPORTIONAL (ANALOG) OUTPUT components since
they respond to the user’s (CPU’s) need.
f) Digital fuel indicator gauge, digital speed indication can be considered as special devices falling under
SPECIAL MODULE category.

Every component of a PLC system has many functions which can be studied in detail. Once a user understands the
internal details of a PLC system, he or she will start appreciating the technology apart from making maximum use of
the available features.

Soon, we will be starting a series of articles both on e-mail and internet which will discuss PLC systems in detail.
Users are requested to contribute their knowledge, experience to make this series a success. As we all know,
knowledge shared is knowledge multiplied.

If you like to improvise this article or contribute or comment please mail us at: feedback@maintenancecircle.com
This document contains information for reference only. We assume no responsibility for its implication.