The Basics of PLC: The Brains Behind the Machines

Worker pointing at a data machine

Many people take machines for granted, but without them, we would never get to where we are going. For example, when stepping onto an escalator or waiting for the traffic light to change colors, have you ever wondered how these things work? Is there a person behind a computer watching a street intersection and flipping switches to change the color of the traffic light?

We enjoy the conveniences of modern living because of the many technological advancements, such as PLC programming. We owe it to the creators of innovative systems and devices, such as Syscon Automation Group, LLC.

What is PLC?

PLC stands for Programmable Logic Controller. Essentially, it is a computer, but not in the familiar sense you have in mind. It has no display, keyboard or mouse—but it is a computer that uses integrated circuits to perform control functions of industrial electromechanical systems in manufacturing facilities, factory assembly lines, amusement rides, etc. If you have seen a manufacturing process, say, of a canning factory, the automated process is controlled by PLC. So, when that traffic light changes, it’s because of PLCs.

PLCs today are at the core of numerous manufacturing processes and machine automation. Industries that benefit from PLC include:

  • various manufacturing sectors (battery, extruder factories, automotive industry, etc.)
  • printing (multi-stage screen washing)
  • food industry (filling machines)
  • hospitality and tourism
  • agriculture
  • textile industry (large-scale washing machine control system)
  • film industry
  • plastics industry (extruder machine, injection-molding system)
  • foundry (ladle control from casting to shot-blast machine)

PLCs can take control of the processes up to the tracking and control of state-of-the-art warehousing system—they are practically in all areas of manufacturing.

Advantages of the PLC

The main advantage of PLC is flexibility. It only takes one PLC to run a number of machines. Before PLC was developed, automation of manufacturing processes was done using wired relay-type panels. In order to change program sequence, panels and devices needed to be completely rewired. With PLCs, any programming mistake is easily corrected; therefore, minimizing downtime.

Components of the PLC

Computer cables in different colorsOne major characteristic of the PLC system is its extreme durability—it has to be if it is to survive the harsh condition of the factory floor or thousands mile from the earth in space exploration. Visit any manufacturing plant in any part of the world and you are likely to see an area designated for the PLCs. Whether your operation is big or small, PLCs components remain the same.

Careers in PLC Programming

In one of the episodes of the TV show How It’s Made, it showed how one factory can pack 45,000 frozen pancakes per hour. What wasn’t shown, though, was the PLC behind it—the control system that regulates temperature, timing, speed, etc. If these machines lose their sequence, they would require someone to fix the programming, and this is where the opportunity for you comes in.

If you are so inclined, a career in PLC programming may be lucrative for you. A freshly minted PLC programmer can earn up to $59,000. However, the exciting part is getting more training in other programs and disciplines related to PLC programming, and in a matter of 24 months, you could be making close to $80,000.

Industry practitioners recommend keeping abreast of the changes and developments in the PLC trade. Hardware and software changes are taking place on a daily basis. One such advancement is the ability to interface controllers with mobile apps for remote monitoring.

The demand for PLCs on the rise in many industries. It’s interesting to know how these things work, but it’s even better if you can make them work and earn a decent income in the process.