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CHAPTER 1  Process control system

1.1 Conventional control panel
1.2 Control panel with a PLC controller
1.3 Systematic approach to designing a process control system


Generally speaking, process control system is made up of a group of electronic devices and equipment that provide stability, accuracy and eliminate harmful transition statuses in production processes. Operating system can have different form and implementation, from energy supply units to machines. As a result of fast progress in technology, many complex operational tasks have been solved by connecting programmable logic controllers and possibly a central computer. Beside connections with instruments like operating panels, motors, sensors, switches, valves and such, possibilities for communication among instruments are so great that they allow high level of exploitation and process coordination, as well as greater flexibility in realizing an process control system. Each component of an process control system plays an important role, regardless of its size. For example, without a sensor, PLC wouldn’t know what exactly goes on in the process. In automated system, PLC controller is usually the central part of an process control system. With execution of a program stored in program memory, PLC continuously monitors status of the system through signals from input devices. Based on the logic implemented in the program, PLC determines which actions need to be executed with output instruments. To run more complex processes it is possible to connect more PLC controllers to a central computer. A real system could look like the one pictured below:

1.1 Conventional control panel

At the outset of industrial revolution, especially during sixties and seventies, relays were used to operate automated machines, and these were interconnected using wires inside the control panel. In some cases a control panel covered an entire wall. To discover an error in the system much time was needed especially with more complex process control systems. On top of everything, a lifetime of relay contacts was limited, so some relays had to be replaced. If replacement was required, machine had to be stopped and production too. Also, it could happen that there was not enough room for necessary changes. control panel was used only for one particular process, and it wasn’t easy to adapt to the requirements of a new system. As far as maintenance, electricians had to be very skillful in finding errors. In short, conventional control panels proved to be very inflexible. Typical example of conventional control panel is given in the following picture.

In this photo you can notice a large number of electrical wires, time relays, timers and other elements of automation typical for that period. Pictured control panel is not one of the more “complicated” ones, so you can imagine what complex ones looked like.

Most frequently mentioned disadvantages of a classic control panel are:

- Too much work required in connecting wires
- Difficulty with changes or replacements
- Difficulty in finding errors; requiring skillful work force
- When a problem occurs, hold-up time is indefinite, usually long.

1.2 Control panel with a PLC controller

With invention of programmable controllers, much has changed in how an process control system is designed. Many advantages appeared. Typical example of control panel with a PLC controller is given in the following picture.

Advantages of control panel that is based on a PLC controller can be presented in few basic points:

1. Compared to a conventional process control system, number of wires needed for connections is reduced by 80%
2. Consumption is greatly reduced because a PLC consumes less than a bunch of relays
3. Diagnostic functions of a PLC controller allow for fast and easy error detection.
4. Change in operating sequence or application of a PLC controller to a different operating process can easily be accomplished by replacing a program through a console or using a PC software (not requiring changes in wiring, unless addition of some input or output device is required).
5. Needs fewer spare parts
6. It is much cheaper compared to a conventional system, especially in cases where a large number of I/O instruments are needed and when operational functions are complex.
7. Reliability of a PLC is greater than that of an electro-mechanical relay or a timer.

1.3  Systematic approach in designing an process control system

First, you need to select an instrument or a system that you wish to control. Automated system can be a machine or a process and can also be called an process control system. Function of an process control system is constantly watched by input devices (sensors) that give signals to a PLC controller. In response to this, PLC controller sends a signal to external output devices (operative instruments) that actually control how system functions in an assigned manner (for simplification it is recommended that you draw a block diagram of operations’ flow).

Secondly, you need to specify all input and output instruments that will be connected to a PLC controller. Input devices are various switches, sensors and such. Output devices can be solenoids, electromagnetic valves, motors, relays, magnetic starters as well as instruments for sound and light signalization.
Following an identification of all input and output instruments, corresponding designations are assigned to input and output lines of a PLC controller. Allotment of these designations is in fact an allocation of inputs and outputs on a PLC controller which correspond to inputs and outputs of a system being designed.

Third, make a ladder diagram for a program by following the sequence of operations that was determined in the first step.
Finally, program is entered into the PLC controller memory. When finished with programming, checkup is done for any existing errors in a program code (using functions for diagnostics) and, if possible, an entire operation is simulated. Before this system is started, you need to check once again whether all input and output instruments are connected to correct inputs or outputs. By bringing supply in, system starts working.


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