Conversation with: Mike T., Electrical Engineer
Topic: Industrial Controls Architecture
In the current manufacturing environment, it has become increasingly possible through Industrial IoT (internet of things) and Industry 4.0 to add sensors and communication protocols that tap into important product and process data from machines. For businesses that want to remain competitive, it has also become increasingly important to gather and interpret this data. Industrial control systems components can help ensure the machines in an environment work safely and accurately while giving you the data you need to make better, more informed business decisions.
We spoke with Mike, one of our expert Electrical Engineers, about how Wes-Tech designs custom industrial control systems architecture for each of our clients to give them a competitive advantage.
“At Wes-Tech, it’s always our goal to meet customer needs in a cost-effective way, and to reduce risk (such as by ensuring the equipment is safe and meets government regulations). Each engagement is custom, even if two clients have the same machines. We design a unique control plan (architecture) to fit each customer’s specs. We don’t do cookie cutter. Instead, we work to always meet a high standard, with everything designed per customer requirements.”
At a high level, the industrial controls system architecture is built around four main parts:
- The connected machines that can sense information about themselves, the process, and the products
- An infrastructure that enables the machines to store and communicate the information
- Software that can help analyze the raw data to generate useful reporting
- Human interfaces to allow people to access the reporting
The first step in planning how these components will work together is to get the customer’s requirements. This includes which machines / robots/ equipment will be needed, and where they will fit; what they will do; the ways the new equipment will interact with machines already in the shop and with the products being produced; how the equipment will be powered up and controlled; the places where human intervention will be used; and so on.
The team starts with the brains of the equipment – the PLC (programmable logic controller). The choice of which PLC to use is based on factors such as specs of the equipment, what PLC is already in use in other equipment in the environment, and client needs in terms of complexity (i.e. how many signals and controls are needed). Next, we consider the power needs, such as whether the build involves motor drives, pneumatics, or other powered parts. We also look at what equipment already in the shop needs to interface with the new equipment we’ll be installing, how humans will interface with the equipment (such as through a touch screen), and how to ensure safety (such as through relays, safety circuits, controls, and sensors as part of the guarding).
Once the architecture is planned, the Electrical Engineering team creates schematics so the electricians can ensure the equipment is installed according to the plan. That’s when the Controls Engineers take over to program the PLC and robots, and complete testing to ensure everything is up and running.
“Although the Wes-Tech industrial controls architecture process requires more effort from our team, we prefer to do it this way because it’s our job to get the customer exactly what they want while minimizing additional costs. I appreciate working for Wes-Tech because I know we’ll always put customer needs first.”
You can always count on Wes-Tech to implement the latest Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 communication protocols to collect, report, and store your process and product data so you have the information you need to make better decisions and more effectively run your business.
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