How Are Companies Using PLCs?

Results from using a PLC

Medium-sized organizations that are in a growth mode have enormous opportunities to capture market share. Finding maintenance solutions to help foster that growth in an efficient, affordable, and reasonably quick time frame can be a challenge. Many manufacturing firms in different industries use a programmable logic controller (PLC) as a central component of their computer maintenance systems to help do just that.

A PLC monitors a specified set of inputs on a piece of industrial equipment and then makes output-related decisions. PLCs are often used as a core part of a predictive maintenance program by collecting data from critical assets and triggering a work order or maintenance decision before major breakdowns occur. Here are some real-life applications of PLC-based maintenance solutions in different situations.

What Industries Use PLCs?

A wide variety of industries use PLC technology to maintain equipment, collect data, and control systems within their production lines. These include:

Oil Industry

Oil and gas companies can grow and expand by using well pad sites, which allow several wells to be drilled in one location. This increases production while reducing the amount of surface area disturbed.

Each well pad requires a control system, which often needs to be programmed and created uniquely at each site. A well pad may contain a single or up to half a dozen different oil wells, which all require sensors, pumps, and valves to operate efficiently. If maintenance or updates are required, and different programs are used at each well pad, this process can be cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive.

Some industrial oil and gas companies have developed a single, scalable solution that dynamically configures PLCs as well as associated human-machine interface (HMI) software when programs are run, based on the number of wells operating on a particular well pad.

This type of solution allows each well pad control system to correctly read inputs and share only outputs that are related to that particular well pad location. Maintenance technicians then have accurate information about existing wells, can eliminate the need for manually sorting out relevant information, and can troubleshoot problems more efficiently.

As the oil and gas company grows and adds wells to well pad locations, using PLC-based systems make expansion more efficient as well as streamlines operator training and education.

Glass Industry

PLCs are used in coordination with bus technology to help control both material ratios and processes. Since this industry utilizes sophisticated and complex processes, PLC technology is often used for data recording as well as quality control.

Paper Industry

As in many other industries, PLCs help control and maintain the equipment that produces and processes different paper products. These assets often operate at high speeds such as in offset newspaper printing or book production. 

Cement Industry

In order to produce a high quality cement, companies must mix the correct proportions of many raw materials in a kiln. Cement companies must use a distributed control system that includes PLC controls to manage coal kiln, ball milling, and shaft kiln.

Other Industries

PLC technologies are present in a wide variety of other industries as well including aerospace, food production, health care, plastics, and textile manufacturing.

HVAC Applications

Maintaining a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is often one of the major responsibilities of a facilities manager, regardless of industry. Climate control and indoor air quality are important in any office building, and more complex HVAC systems may be required for manufacturing or industrial organizations that need specific temperature or humidity levels for storage of raw materials, sensitive production lines, or finished products.

Sensors can play a major role in generating inputs to a PLC including temperature and humidity recordings. If a particular area falls out of a designated range, a PLC-based system can notify a maintenance manager or trigger a work order before spoilage or product damage occurs.

For large complexes, multiple furnaces, boilers, and air conditioning systems may be connected to handle all of a facility’s HVAC needs. A PLC-based system can pull multiple inputs from all disparate systems into one centralized computer for easier analysis and management.

Remote Management 

As many industries had to figure out ways to conduct business as usual during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, companies that conducted PLC upgrades had to find new remote ways of working with clients.

Two technologies allowed PLC systems to continue serving the needs of their manufacturing companies, even during a global pandemic:

  • Technology that allowed sharing of project files and syncing of updates
  • Video conferencing technology that allowed software consultants to take remote control of a facility’s computer system in order to upload and download necessary changes.

These upgrades have allowed maintenance managers to continue to direct their teams with the latest technology available. Mobile-first solutions have added to the ability to operate remotely and safely, efficiently collecting data from service sites and critical assets. In tandem, these solutions provide a platform to be able to share background information, history, and any updated output data from the monitoring devices themselves. 

Conclusion

PLC technology as well as related technologies that have evolved around HMI and maintenance systems are an excellent tool to help a wide variety of industries meet growing maintenance needs. Being able to respond to the issues and malfunctions of critical assets and systems by accurately understanding the input data collected can make a significant difference in how quickly a maintenance team can respond to a problem.

In the long run, PLC-based systems allow management to make smarter business decisions, have the information they need to run necessary analytics, and generate a transparent view into their production and manufacturing operations. All these factors are key to maintaining growth and generating long-term profits and success.