What on Earth is PLC Programming?
Yes, we have the belief that PLC controls & automation is the future.
From our own past of over 18 years of a successful career & being able to provide a great life for my family to also seeing major industry shifts coming in the future.
Let’s talk about it!
If you’ve ever used anything that’s made for consumers, there’s a good chance that the items are made at a mass-production factory, and then shipped through distributors, and ultimately sent to a retail store (or your very own home) using an automated process.
In the past, these things were all done by us.
But since the dawn of the technological age, machines seem to have been at the brink of bringing most of these processes to light, and in turn, while it seems that manual labor jobs are being done less and less, automation and productivity still require some computing skills & are still done by us.
That’s where PLC programming comes in.
It allows machines to work to do things in an automatic process.
We’re going to explain what PLC programming is, because some people don’t even realize that they’re doing it.
And more importantly, because there are many systems in place in automation, that’s where Programmable Logic Controllers (a.k.a. PLCs) come in & take complex systems & make them simple with automation.
What Makes a Programmable Logic Controller Tick?
PLCs are a system of relays that became more popular when transistors started being used increasingly in the production industry. The controller is a centralized computer that is extremely reliable and can literally help a production system run non-stop with almost literally no downtime.
They used to be pretty easy to use, but as technology has changed and different machinery has been transformed to the digital world.
PLCs ended up evolving to include other computers and processes to be done – but someone still had to program it.
These programs needed to be optimized for productivity, and in turn, needed to eliminate extra steps to maximize efficiency of the workplace – and the equipment that manufactured the goods themselves.
This means that the Programmable Logic Controller is a piece of hardware – whether it be a computer, a CPU that has numerous circuits that run individual programs that work together. PLC controls are often in an electronic box so that it can protect the controller from the elements in the workplace that can harm it, but it’s also designed to protect the workers as well.
You can essentially consider a PLC as a well-oiled machine that controls the other machines in a manufacturing plant – as it helps to control all of the bells and whistles of the machinery it’s made for – such as conveyor belts, safety switches, motion sensors, and much more.
PLC Controllers used to be just a series of switches, but when information technology became more popular, things like internet connectivity for data security, collection, and monitoring became more popular to use.
The PLCs evolved to help aid in relieving the need for constant monitoring and maintenance, and they replaced the relay circuits, make things much easier in terms of operation, and drastically make the systems more reliable for the corporations that were putting them in place.
Jobs as a PLC Programmer
Manufacturers need to rely on these controllers, and since the technology that is used is constantly evolving, there are more experts that are required to keep up with the times as well as keep these systems in check.
They’re still computers, and require maintenance, just as your home computer would.
Therefore, PLC programming has been offered to more people who even have other job titles (such as maintenance technicians), but this is also why the career of a PLC programmer has grown into a popular practice, and these jobs became often higher paying jobs – because they help a company make more money by increasing production efficiency.
The average salary in the United States for a PLC Programmer is around $74,000 annually, but some of the top programmers in the country have improved and honed their skills to become masters at their profession – making upwards of anywhere up to $132,000 per year.
What’s even better about these kinds of jobs?
All you need is the proper training – you don’t even have to get a college degree to become a PLC programming.
This has brought numerous jobs to the job market, and have increased not only the pay that the workers make, but also helps to improve the actual work involved as well (making things a little less tedious once all the bugs are worked out).
Line Operators Use PLC Programming
In the past, a line operator would know how to manually control a piece of manufacturing machinery, which means they didn’t have to worry about every bit of software or hardware that made their machines run well. They may not know how to fix the machines they’re running because they lack the tools – often requiring the help of an electrician or maintenance technician.
These days though, they’re being educated more on what PLC programming actually involves, as well as how every piece of machinery operates, so they can do a better job and improve their production environment.
Because of this, many line operators are now receiving the education that they need to do basic PLC programming, and they’re getting more benefits, training for things that used to require electricians or maintenance techs, and of course – getting more pay.
You can literally land a line operator job these days straight out of high school, and while these positions are often in the lower-paying salary range, if you put forth the effort, you can work your way to the top.
Maintenance Mechanics Use PLC Programming As Well
This is one of the primary job functions that require the heaviest amount of PLC programming, outside the PLC programmers who specialize in only these fields. Mechanics are often there to help when a piece of machinery has a problem or breaks down, and they’re required to jump in and try to get things back up and running as smoothly as possible.
Maintenance mechanics are often given a plethora of tools so they can help work on machines with actual tools on the external components of the machines.
They often receive higher pay than line operators, because they are in higher demand and are literally always on their toes. They’re one of the last defenses other than the line operators when a machine breaks down – meaning that they work longer hours.
A maintenance technician can work any wage and even makeup to six figures per year, because the more educated and experienced they are, the more they’re going to get paid.
What About Electricians?
Electricians are often maintenance technicians as well, but they offer a completely unique skillset that they can bring to the table.
This means that they know the machines they’re working on both inside and also on the outside.
They must have special training that involves a combination of security, safety, and be able to work with the dangers of electricity in order to help keep the machines working in order. This means that they can work with electrical systems that make up the components of the PLC system – but they can even use PLC Programming themselves to troubleshoot issues with the driving components of a piece of equipment.
They normally make more than a mechanic, and even though they can do the mechanical repairs, they often aren’t put on those job assignments.
They are one of the most valuable assets to the company and can work up to 12-hour shifts just like the maintenance workers. If they have knowledge of PLC Programming, they will be able to improve the work environment, have more flexibility, and get paid more (as well as get more benefits).
Control Systems Engineers
This position is a very unique position because it isn’t like any of the other above positions. The control systems engineer understands the way that the machines work, but they also know every little process that makes up the entire theory of the control system, and operate with what’s called a project-oriented mindset.
These engineers don’t have a higher knowledge necessarily of the system as an electrician when it comes to fixing a PLC system, but they are often used for long-term projects, such as coming up with the system itself that will help to maximize production and reduce the time that it takes to make the final product.
If an electrician or mechanic can’t do the job, sometimes a control systems engineer will be brought in like a technical support technician to help solve problems with the system itself.
This means that they can even do some of the computer work necessary to find out where the problem is in the back-end of the production process, and are often meant to work on things like the programs that make up the PLC system itself.
These specially educated and trained individuals often get paid a salary that is higher than even an electrician, as they are often masters of their trade, and know the ins and outs of PLC programming in much more detail. They also aren’t often on the production floor as long as technicians, electricians, or even line operators.
Their job is essentially to troubleshoot the program and the system itself, and get it back to par so it can get back up and running again – some PLC programmers and control systems engineers even operate on a contract basis.
There Are Multiple PLC Programming Platforms
Depending on what type of machinery you’re going to work on, as well as different manufacturers that make the equipment itself, the PLC market is a very competitive dog eat dog industry. Some people think that others are better than another type of programmable logic controller.
But the truth is that the different platforms used for PLC depends on the project goals, as well as the location of where the manufacturing and production is taking place, and the needs of the equipment and product that’s being made as well.
All brands of PLC platforms have their pros and cons so that they’re more tailored for certain applications over others. Therefore, the platform that you use more frequently are going to be different depending on where you’re at in the world.
Different ecosystems prefer different types of PLC platforms.
· Allen Bradley Software
Allen Bradley is one of the most popular brands out there made by Rockwell Automation. Their programs, such as ControlLogix, MicroLogix, NanoLogix, and RSLogix 5000 are primarily used in companies in the western hemisphere and North America. Depending on what PLC platform you are getting, your cost for the programming software is going to vary. It’s one of the most premium brands that you can purchase though, which is why it’s so popular.
· Siemens Software
Siemens makes the popular SIMATIC software which is heavily used in Asia and Europe. While they’re reliable, they also offer different variations of their software and are often resorted to as an alternative to Allen Bradley. Many users though still prefer Allen Bradley software over SIMATIC because of the many advanced features that the Rockwell Automation software offers.
· Mitsubishi & Omron Software
Mitsubishi and Omron Software created the AC500 by ABBABB and they created software that help make the controllers interfaced between themselves and any other ABB software.
How to Choose the Right PLC Platform for Your Production Environment
This is something that needs to be considered with a great deal of thought. You need to know how the infrastructure of your production facility works, as well as the location, and what your long-term goals, budget, and the limitations of every PLC application that you can use to create your product.
1. Infrastructure Impacts
Most businesses have a generalized idea when it comes to their systems, and if your corporation has been around a while, there’s a good chance that your business has utilized PLCs, HMIs (a.k.a. Human Machine Interfaces), and SCADA systems.
If you already have these in place, then all you need to do is train the right people to do the different tasks at hands.
When you don’t have an infrastructure in place, you’re going to need to use these systems because, in order to beat your more experienced competitors who are ahead of the curve and up with the times, the system needs to be examined extremely carefully before you either change or put one in place.
2. Where You’re Located
Location does affect just what type of PLC control systems that you’re going to use.
The automation process needs to be something that every different channel of your operations will understand, therefore, if you’re operating in China, you’re not going to want to use Allen Bradley software when the rest of your channels is going to use AC500 or SIMATIC.
This helps to improve the productivity process and keep everyone on the same page, as well as making sure that everything is able to integrate together to avoid any conflicts.
It can also cause you to pay a premium price to find engineers that specialize in software that is used less often, and can cost your company more money in both the short and long-term.
3. Goals for the Long Term for Your Business
One thing that a lot of PLC programmers sometimes forget to think about is that their job is to provide support for the sake of the business they’re working for. That’s why it’s important to avoid a sales-oriented mindset if you’re a PLC programmer.
The thing to remember is that your clients are your customers, and without them, you wouldn’t have a job.
Therefore, this is why certain PLC systems are more designed and optimized for different types of machines, manufacturers, and more.
Some might be cheaper than others, but this can cause problems when the scale that a larger production facility needs is higher than what the PLC system can offer.
4. The Capabilities of the Platform
Every software has limitations, and that’s why your choices that you make for a business needs to weigh heavily on what the capabilities of the PLC software that you use can deliver. You want to point out that the more that a company pays for a higher-end software, the more impact that the software’s going to have on the business.
Therefore, it’s important to consider the price of the initial investment as compared to the returns that you’re going to need when it comes to using the higher tiered premium platforms.
So, Anyone Can Learn PLC Training?
The answer is yes!
No matter what PLC system you have in place, depending on how complex the PLC system is, you will have to train more or less depending on the needs of the software and the training that’s going to be needed.
In order to create your first program, you’re going to need to learn the basics of PLC programming, get the right trainer to help show you the ropes, and learn things like ladder logic, FBDs (function block diagrams), learn about how to use flow charts, and more.
You are better off getting an all-around training experience as compared to just one specific area of PLC programming training to help make you more diverse so you can be the best asset for a business.
This course is for anyone looking to learn, ladder logic, function block, structured text, and sequential function chart programming using RSlogix 5000 and Studio 5000 for Rockwell Automation.
This training platform that I made is like no other and the best quality on the internet so you get the very best and need to look no further. I have fully developed training that shows everything from free training to paid but most importantly, all areas of plc and HMI training.
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