How PLCs Are Applied In Various Industries

Thu, 06/03/2021 - 09:44

In the most basic terms, a programmable logic controller (PLC) is a computer that’s equipped with a microprocessor, but has no keyboard, mouse, or monitor. Though this description might make it seem like PLCs suffer from limited functionality, quite the opposite is true. In fact, PLCs are built to drive the most complicated manufacturing processes and withstand very harsh industrial environments. This article will examine how these sophisticated machines are used in different industries.

Engineer using tablet near oil refiner

Oil Industry 

Public opinion may be shifting away from fossil fuels in favor of more ecologically friendly alternative energy sources, but there is still a strong demand for the extraction of oil and natural gas. Unfortunately, many of the world’s remaining reserves are difficult to access, meaning that companies are pivoting away from the historically simple, vertically drilled, single well operations to multi-well operations made possible by directional or non-vertical drilling. While this process is more efficient (multi-well operations allow companies to drill more than one well at each site, meaning that operations can be centralized and less impact to the surrounding environment), it is also more complicated, so a more robust system is needed to control the site’s equipment. 

For accurate readings of inputs and outputs and to control the multitude of valves, pumps, and sensors that allow each well and well pad to operate safely is controlled by its own PLC. PLCs are often paired with a Human Machine Interface, or HMI, that allows users to monitor the health of the system, manually override controls, view system alarms, or get a glimpse of the system in operation in real time. 

PLCs allow resource gathering operations to scale up in size with relative ease, since additional PLCs can be added to the system as new well pads are added. PLCs and HMI systems also help maintenance crews quickly identify potential issues on site, resulting in less wasted time performing system diagnostics.    

Technician in control room

Glass Industry 

While PLCs can efficiently control actuators and valves and perform actions based on data gathered by sensors, these are not the only uses for PLCs in an industrial setting. In fact, the glass industry has widely used PLCs for many years to help manage the precise material ratios required by the production process. The manufacturing of glass is a surprisingly complicated endeavor and is largely made possible in part by the robust data gathering capabilities and advanced quality control afforded by PLC technology when paired with a Distributed Control System (DCS). At one point, glass manufacturers relied exclusively on their DCS for their operations, but the associated high cost of these systems propagated a need for a less costly alternative.  

In recent years, the equipment used in the manufacture of glass has become more sophisticated, further increasing the demand for PLC solutions that are based on a DCS, which in turn is driving the demand for technicians who have completed PLC programming courses

Site construct engineer at site steel and concrete structure background with virtual monitor screen system control

Cement Industry 

Much like the production of glass, the cement industry relies heavily on equipment and software capable of mixing various raw materials with consistency so that the quality of the finished product is at a consistently high level.  The role of the PLC in this industry varies, but in particular, PLCs control ball milling, coal kiln, and shaft kiln operations. 

Engineer examining machine part on a production line

Under Control

Admittedly, the above represents just a few of the industries that rely on PLCs in the manufacture of their products. PLCs can be found in most factories when automation is used including those that mass produce food, vehicles, textiles and more. If you’re interested in PLC Programming Courses or PLC Training Online, be sure to check out what George Brown College has to offer.

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