Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Automation Systems Are the Center of Manufacturing

When you hear or see the words "automation systems" you can think of a lot of different types of systems. You could visualize home automation systems, application automation systems, or any other of a bunch of systems. The type of automation systems about which we are thinking is the one that keeps your manufacturing running the way that it should. Just like any of those other systems that you might have thought of when you saw the title of this article, this automation system has a computer that sits in the middle of several other devices. This central computer is usually called a controller, probably because it controls all the other parts of the system that are connected to it. This controller has everything going for it in the way of power and speed. It is always built on a very rugged foundation so that it can handle the rugged environment in which it may be required to operate. It can operate in extreme temperatures without interruption.

The controller can be configured using the end-user requirements as a guide. The processor, which is the heart of the controller, has a clock rate that is extremely fast. All this means is the speed at which instructions are read and executed by the processor are blindingly fast. The faster the clock rate of the processor that is in the controller the more instructions the controller can send and receive from automation devices at a very high rate of speed. The processor has an operating system running in it at all times. The processor and the operating system support one or more programming languages, with which programs are written to control and give instruction to the automation. The processor is where the programs are executed that are used to instruct the other automation devices of the system. Programs that the processor can execute will be able to perform math calculations and conditional and Boolean logic. The controller will create an event log that acts as a chronological historical record of all occurrences that happen while the controller is running. This is invaluable when troubleshooting system problems.

Maintaining control of the automation environment is the main function of the controller. It will send and receive information from the system to determine how it should make decisions about controlling the system. The controller has the optional ability to have multiple local control and remote control points for communicating with automation devices. There are usually several counters, math variables, logic variables, and timers to assist in the direction of automation devices while they do the work.

All the automation devices that work in the manufacturing environment to make products are connected to the controller by wireless or high-speed cabling. You can see why the processor has to be fast, if it is to give instructions to devices in advance of when they are required to accomplish automation tasks. One of the devices to which thee controller is connected is a monitor or display. This device will be able to display measured values, error codes from the system, calculated values, the statuses from other devices that are connected to the system, and system configuration settings.

Usually all the devices that are connected to the controller via a serial or TCP connection. Sometimes this main computer not only acts as a controller for automation, but it also has the role of the server for an intranet system in the business. This means the computer will be running automation-controlling software while also running ERP software, accounting applications and other business applications. This can make it easy for the business management software to be made aware of the production rates, inventory levels due to manufacturing, and accounting information that is necessary to run the business. The controller is also asked to monitor data from analog sources like temperatures and tank pressures. The system has the ability to interface with outside systems for data exchange. The ease of transmission of data in and out of the company system and to and from outside sources come from the standardization of protocols that have been established. Data is readily exchanged with resource planning software, equipment effectiveness software, and supply chain management software.

The system that requires a controller for keeping its processing optimized in manufacturing is much more than a personal computer. It is the middle of a very powerful system that has the ability to control the most important part of a manufacturing operation. The automation it controls is what is required to keep the business viable.

John Mitchell is President of Provision, Inc, an online publisher of information about the application of automation in business. Mitchell has years of experience in the management of manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation. The company website, http://www.provinc.net, assists companies in the evaluation of the benefits and capabilities of production automation. Thoughts on how to select the most effective automation for your business are presented. Insights into the use of vision systems, RFID and other topics in automation are covered. Requests for quotations and questions about automation can be submitted to the consulting engineers of leading automation companies.
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