A Programmable Logic Controller, PLC, or Programmable Controller is a digital computer used for automation of industrial processes, such as control of machinery on factory assembly lines. Unlike general-purpose computers, the PLC is designed for multiple inputs and output arrangements, extended temperature ranges, immunity to
electrical noise, and resistance to vibration and impact. Programs to control machine operation are typically stored in battery-backed or non-volatile memory. A PLC is an example of a real-time system since output results must be produced in response to input conditions within a bounded time, otherwise, unintended operation will result.
PLC and Programmable Logic Controller have registered trademarks of the Allen-Bradley Company.
SCADA is Widely used in industry for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition of industrial processes, SCADA systems are now also penetrating the experimental physics laboratories for the controls of ancillary systems such as cooling, ventilation, power distribution, etc. More recently they were also applied for the controls of smaller size particle detectors such as the L3 moon detector and the NA48 experiment, to name just two examples at CERN.
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Photograph showing several input and output modules of a single Allen-Bradley PLC.
With each module having sixteen “points” of either input or output, this PLC has the ability to monitor and control dozens of devices. Fit into a control cabinet, a PLC takes up little room, especially considering the equivalent space that would be needed by electromechanical relays to perform the same functions:
The main difference from other computers is that PLC is armored for severe condition (dust, moisture, heat, cold, etc) and has the facility for extensive input/output (I/O) arrangements. These connect the PLC to sensors and actuators. PLCs read limit switches, analog process variables (such as temperature and pressure), and the positions of complex positioning systems. Some even use machine vision. On the actuator side, PLCs operate electric motors, pneumatic or hydraulic cylinders, magnetic relays or solenoids, or analog outputs. The input/output arrangements may be built into a simple PLC, or the PLC may have external I/O modules attached to a computer network that plugs into the PLC.
Many of the earliest PLCs expressed all decision making logic in simple ladder logic which appeared similar to electrical schematic diagrams. The electricians were quite able to trace out circuit problems with schematic diagrams using ladder logic. This program notation was chosen to reduce training demands for the existing technicians. Other early PLCs used a form of instruction list programming, based on a stack-based logic solver.