Jamie Smith – Automation Engineer https://www.theautomationengineer.com A drives, motors and automation resource. Tue, 26 Feb 2019 09:24:34 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.3 https://i0.wp.com/www.theautomationengineer.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CT-favicon.png?fit=16%2C16&ssl=1 Jamie Smith – Automation Engineer https://www.theautomationengineer.com 32 32 101235857 Five Lessons From Women In Engineering https://www.theautomationengineer.com/insight/five-lessons-women-engineers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-lessons-women-engineers https://www.theautomationengineer.com/insight/five-lessons-women-engineers/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2018 15:25:27 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1371 Female Engineers Engineering is a highly valued industry in the UK, contributing 26% of our GDP to our economy. It’s an industry which requires analytical and creative skills to solve problems, so having a diverse range people working in the field is essential for continued growth. Yet, it’s reported that the percentage of female engineers […]

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Female Engineers

Engineering is a highly valued industry in the UK, contributing 26% of our GDP to our economy. It’s an industry which requires analytical and creative skills to solve problems, so having a diverse range people working in the field is essential for continued growth. Yet, it’s reported that the percentage of female engineers in the UK was only in 11% of the workforce, worse still, that’s the lowest number of women in engineering within the whole of Europe.

At The Automation Engineer, we’re interested in understanding what influences female engineers to take up their profession. By understanding the reasons why we hope that we can encourage more women to get involved in such a varied and interested subject area. To do so, we enlisted the help of three female engineers working at the R&D centre at Control Techniques in Newtown.

Kate McDougall is Safety Project Manager at Control Techniques. After specialising in software she moved into safety systems and eventually that led her to automation where she works with “a wonderful team of committed engineers”.

Yingyi Kuang is an applied software engineer who works as an intermediary between drive hardware and software. After studying in China, Yingyi studied an MSc in Sheffield before moving Control Techniques.

Rachael Ferguson joined Control Techniques through the E3 academy. While studying she was able to trail working in two separate departments over the summer period, eventually settling in the software testing team.

 

What we learned

  1. Engineering is highly desirable for many

One of the key themes we discovered was the importance of status when studying to being an engineer. Yingyi Kuang informed us that in China engineers are valued as highly as doctors, which is no real surprise. In fact, it is so competitive that many chose to further their education in countries like the UK where businesses are crying out for employees. Mrs Kuang said at undergraduate level half of her cohorts were female engineers. When studying postgraduate at the University of Sheffield there were only a few women on her course, but all were Chinese.

  1. You can get your hands dirty (or not)

There are lots of different aspects of engineering, it’s not just about climbing under machinery to make repairs, although that’s one angle. In fact, many engineers they enjoy the luxury of grease-free hands throughout their career.

Every one of our female engineer interviewees said it was the unique mix of maths, design, technology and science that attracted them to a career in engineering. “Solving problems and coming up with real-world solutions”, as Rachel Ferguson put it. That is something which resonates with all our interviewees; while many jobs are detached from the reality, engineering is rooted in creating solutions. So it has a real feel-good factor about it.

  1. The magic of enthusiasm

Every one of our interviewees was inspired by someone close to them, be that their own family members who are engineers or a passionate teacher. Usually, deep-down feelings towards a vocation come from a formative age, the beginning stages of hands-on experience. But that’s not always the case. Kate McDougall was lucky to visit the University of Leeds for a ‘Women in Engineering’ day taster course. She said: “The Leeds course I attended was pivotal, until that point I just knew I liked maths and physics and I didn’t know what a career in engineering meant.”

  1. You don’t have to be in love with engineering to be an engineer (but it helps)

It’s not so surprising that engineering is a subject that grows on you, it is, after all, a multidisciplinary subject, and that means it’s a subject connected to lots of other subjects. But what all of our interviewees stated was that they loved the creative side of the subject mixed with the feeling of satisfaction knowing you’ve created a robust solution.

  1. It’s OK to not be sure

Closely connected to point four but probably the most profound of all our findings was how all our female engineers were unsure of where they wanted to go with their studies. It’s pretty hard to imagine that anyone could have a vision of what they want to be before they’ve really experienced all the options. And this is what we found also. Attending open days and really getting into the detail of what an engineering course is about is crucial. The reason why is simple: there are lots of opportunities in engineering and it is a wide subject area.

If you’re reading this article and thinking about your next steps in education, we highly recommend any women studying maths or science to visit some open days and get hands-on experience. For those already studying in their first year at University but still unsure of their future career options, we recommend visiting the E3 academy website.

If you’ve not heard of it, E3 Academy supports the development of young people through work placements and scholarships. At Control Techniques around 20% of applicants are female engineering students which far exceeds the national average.

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IGBT: Automation’s Unsung Hero? https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/igbt-automations-unsung-hero/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=igbt-automations-unsung-hero https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/igbt-automations-unsung-hero/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2017 12:46:19 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1218 Here at The Automation Engineer we find that one essential component in automation comes up so often in conversation that we were surprised that we hadn’t wrote anything about it yet; the humble IGBT. Firstly, let’s define what we mean by an IGBT. It’s an acronym for insulated-gate bipolar transistor. Put simply, it’s an electronic switch. What […]

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Here at The Automation Engineer we find that one essential component in automation comes up so often in conversation that we were surprised that we hadn’t wrote anything about it yet; the humble IGBT.

Firstly, let’s define what we mean by an IGBT. It’s an acronym for insulated-gate bipolar transistor. Put simply, it’s an electronic switch. What makes the IGBT so special is that is highly efficient and fast. These are ideal features for electronically controlling speed. You’ll find IGBTs in variable-frequency drives (VFDs), electric cars, trains, variable speed refrigerators and air-conditioners.

You could say the IGBT is the critical element of future technology. But it’s taken many years to get to this point in our journey.

It all began in 1831.

Before the IGBT

Not yet the Victorian Era. And the first industrial revolution is beginning to take its grip.

At that time the very foundation of power electronics had yet to be laid. It starts with Michael Faraday. His work on the properties of induction lead to the breakthrough development of the power transformer in that year. Around this time scientists Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison also made significant contributions.

It wasn’t until 1902, the beginning of the Edwardian era, when Peter Cooper Hewitt invented the mercury arc rectifier. At this point it was possible to convert alternating current power to direct current. It was used throughout industry. This technology triggered inventors and scientists to look for new means of power electronics, largely driven by the demands of radio and television.

Transistor

The first transistor

Big change came with the successful testing of the bipolar point-contact transistor, by Brittain, Bardeen and Shockley at the Bell Telephone Laboratory. This is was the first type of solid-state electronic transistor capable of amplifying or switching electronic signals. It heralded the coming of a new era in power electronics.

Back then technology created limitations. To create the transistor required two metal contacts within 0.002 inches of each other. Wires back then were too thick. It was Brattain’s genius idea to attach a strip of gold foil over a triangle. He then sliced through the tip with a razorblade to create a hairline cut. The triangle was then suspended on a spring over a crystal of germanium (known for having high resistance). It was set so that the contacts lightly touched. The germanium crystal itself sat on a metal plate attached to a voltage source. This produced a small current through one contact, and a larger current through the other. In essence, amplifying the signal.

This works because germanium is a semiconductor. It can either let lots of current through or none at all. The germanium in the experiment had lots of electrons. As the electric signal travelled through into the gold foil it injected holes (these holes are like the opposite of electrons). The end result is a layer of germanium with too few electrons.

To explain this further, there’s a few terms to consider. When a semiconductor has too many electrons it’s known as N-Type. When there are too few, it’s a P-type. The place in-between is known as a P-N junction. This P-N junction is where current flows from one side up to the other.

An improvement for power electronics

The original design was unreliable and noisy. So in 1948 William Shockley developed the bipolar junction transistor or BJT to resolve the issues. The concept was a transistor that resembled a sandwich, with one type of semiconductor surrounding a second type. This new method was the result of careful testing which proved that electricity can travel through a semiconductor, not just around it. To do so though required a middle that was both very thin and pure.

To produce this sandwiched crystal Shockley worked alongside Gordon Teal. Teal believed there was a better way to create the sandwiched crystal, suggesting it should be grown not cut. His method used a tiny crystal and dipped it into melted germanium, pulling the larger crystal out as it solidified. Even though his peers were not interested, Teal continued his research. Later Shockley admitted he was wrong: grown crystals lasted 100 times longer than the cut ones.

Once on-board Shockley asked for impurities to be added to the melt to change the number of electrons (type N and P). By adding gallium they could turn the N-type germanium into a P-type, and back again by adding antimony. They improved the design by pulling the crystal even slower still and by stirring the melt. This new transistor type couldn’t handle the extremely rapid signal fluctuation, but they worked better in every other way.

By 1952 R.N Hall introduced the first power diode which had a larger PN junction than its predecessors. It was capable of handling 200V and had a current rating of 35A. Unfortunately by increasing the PN junction meant that power diodes were inappropriate for high voltage applications above 1MHz.

A new element emerges

In 1956 technology changed once again, this time with the introduction of the Silicon Controlled Rectifier (SCR) by General Electric. This marked the transition from germanium to silicon as the key semiconductor material. The lower number of free electrons and higher operating temperature all contributed toward the change. In addition there’s an abundance of material (35% of the Earth’s surface is Silicon).

MOSFET paves the way for future power electronics

Technology leapt ahead again in the 1960s with MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor) which made it possible to control the load current with almost no input current. The metal-oxide aspect of the name is now a misnomer as the gate material is often silicon based. MOSFET made it possible for the development of digital circuits, often you’ll find thousands or millions within one single memory chip or microprocessor. They can be made as a p-type or n-type semiconductor, and work as complimentary pairs of MOS transistors, known as CMOS.

Throughout the 1970s the US and Japan were the powerhouse of the FETs and the semiconductor industry. In 1969 the Japanese Electrotechnical Laboratory invented the V-groove MOSFET, and in 1976 power MOSFET became commercially available.

IGBT modules

The meteoric rise of the IGBT

Then in 1982, a cheap, robust and fast device was developed with the capability to turn off and on rapidly, called the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT). It had taken a number of years to develop this specific technology, but it started with a researcher called Yamagami who filed his first patent in 1968. His proposal involved a MOS controlling a positive-negative-positive-negative (PNPN) semiconductor without using any of the output voltage.

Later, the two largest electronics companies of the era developed the IGBT to its potential. To this day both Baliga of GE, and Becke and Wheatley of RCA contest the other as the originator. The reality is both had their patents approved which accelerated the process.

IGBT in action

One of the most common uses for the IGBT is within the inverter stage of a variable speed drive. To understand what the IGBT does within the drive, we need to understand what the IGBT does in general. Imagine it as a gate. When voltage is below a certain level, the gate won’t open. But when the voltage is above a set amount, it allows the current to move. It can perform this action within nanoseconds.

Inside the AC drive, acting as a switch, the IGBT controls the amount of voltage going to the motor using Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM). This then allows the user to control the speed of that motor. There are usually six IGBTs in a drive which work together to replicate a waveform. The longer the cycle, the slower the speed.

In summary

Today it is clear that without the development of IGBTs our world would be very different indeed. From the early pioneers like Faraday, Tesla and Edison, to innovators like Hewett, Shockley and Teal, and the modern power electronics of today, each one paved the way for future technology. It’s this technology that will make our world habitable for future generations.

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Automated Agriculture: Robots And The Future Of Farming https://www.theautomationengineer.com/markets-sectors/automated-agriculture-robots-future-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=automated-agriculture-robots-future-farming https://www.theautomationengineer.com/markets-sectors/automated-agriculture-robots-future-farming/#comments Mon, 17 Jul 2017 12:20:58 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1140 Automated Agriculture Good news everybody. Automated agriculture is on the up. It may be not a moment too soon. That’s because we have a growing problem, one which is both transformational and yet unavoidable. Agriculture is under threat and food security is a growing concern. Aspiration, an aging population and more mouths to feed are […]

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Automated Agriculture

Good news everybody. Automated agriculture is on the up. It may be not a moment too soon.

That’s because we have a growing problem, one which is both transformational and yet unavoidable. Agriculture is under threat and food security is a growing concern. Aspiration, an aging population and more mouths to feed are some of the main causes for worry. Here in the UK the issue is deepened by the weak pound and the migrant shortfall caused by Brexit. Fortunately automated agriculture is moving forward at a breakneck pace with Cambridge analysts IDTechEx tipping it to become a $12bn industry by 2027.

What is automated agriculture?

Automated agriculture relates to any piece of equipment designed to remove manual intervention in the farming industry. Examples include harvesting robots, driverless tractors and sprayers, and more advanced technology such as sprayer drones. Artificial intelligence (AI) also plays a part, with agricultural robots using complex algorithms to ‘seek and destroy’ weeds, manage ecosystems or calculate the expected yield.

Farming automation improves efficiency

In some instances the technology isn’t that far advanced. Take the example of Taylors Farms in the Salinas Valley, USA. It has made conscious efforts to manage the drop in agricultural workers. In its fields, robots wielding water knives cut lettuce heads and collect them up afterwards. Workers have the luxury of riding onboard, separating the good produce from the bad; a far cry from the backbreaking work of cutting the lettuce by hand.

Agriculture robots with AI exceed human capacity

Advances in data technology solutions mean that new ways of working are possible. Take the startup AgriData which is developing a way for machines to manage field productivity. This form of precision agriculture pinpoints produce then works out the plants’ yield. Farmers benefit from the knowledge of when to harvest their crops, helping to reduce wastage and maximize uptime. Computationally, humans are incapable of this level of analysis, which gives AI a competitive advantage.

An example of this type of technology can be found at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. It’s developing an autonomous tractor which is capable of producing a detailed spatial map of a field, making it possible to plant, tend and harvest without human intervention.

Small, light and autonomous farming robots

When people talk about farming, it often conjures up images of lumbering, powerful machines. But that might not be the case for future food production. The next wave of agricultural robots will have very different characteristics, and are likely to be small, slow, light and autonomous. It’s these kind of vehicles which are most likely to become commonplace on farms. It’s also possible that there will be lots, each with their own function.

Take Ibex Automation for example, which has been developing extreme mobility autonomous weed sprayers. The design is made for less favorable farmland, which in the future will be needed to be worked to achieve high yields.

Dr. Charles Fox, director at Ibex Automation, said: “There are jobs on farms that don’t create value at or above the minimum wage, such as spraying weeds on hill farms. The farmers are legally not allowed to pay anyone below this rate, so those jobs just don’t get done at all. We see thousands of acres of land covered in weeds which reduce the amount of food we can grow and increases the price of food for everyone.”

It is true, by automating sub-minimum wage jobs, we will be able to feed more people at a lower cost. Like any change in industry, some people will lose their jobs, but Dr. Fox suggests this isn’t a bad thing.

“It will create more interesting work for local people, who will move up the value chain into roles like managing fleets of robots and getting them to start farming currently new areas of previously uneconomic land” added Dr. Fox. “Other new jobs will work with the data coming off these robots, looking for new ways to manage ecosystems and optimise production, using deep human knowledge and skills. We will also become more sustainable as precision robots only use fertilisers and pesticides where they are absolutely necessary, such as placing single spots of chemical onto plant leaves or roots instead of blanket spraying whole fields with them.”

The idea is one which is both admirable and cost effective. In essence, the Ibex agricultural robots use AI to hunt for weeds, then dose a small amount of pesticide. This minimalist approach to weed management removes the stigma of pesticide use, increases productivity and profit margin. Having spent his graduate years walking across a six acre field zapping nettles and thistles with a fairly toxic chemical backpack, for sub-minimum wage (working for his family), Dr. Charles Fox is certainly a man who can see the merit in this approach.

The first wave of commercialized autonomous farming

It’s likely that before we realize the full potential of automated agriculture businesses will go for the high value crops like tree nuts, vineyards, and fresh produce. Among the first commercialized farming robots for tending these types of crops will be agricultural drones.

Drones are ideal for precision agriculture, using big data and aerial imagery to optimize efficiency. They are also already a developed technology, which means drones will lead the way as other technologies develop. It is expected that agricultural drones will capture 80% of the UAV market. They will provide vital support in the analysis of plant health and needs to ensure the highest yield. This allows the drone to provide the right amount of care, be that providing additional nutrients, pesticides or water.

As the cost of technology for farm management falls, we can expect to see mass adoption and the transformation of agriculture as we know it.

Judging by the situation in the UK farming industry, that day can’t come soon enough.

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A Brief History Of The Servomotor https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/brief-history-servomotor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brief-history-servomotor https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/brief-history-servomotor/#respond Mon, 10 Jul 2017 14:25:34 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1132 What is a servomotor? A servomotor is a rotary or linear actuator designed for precise positioning, velocity and acceleration. They’re ideal for many applications; from simple DC servomotors used in toys, to modern AC servo variants which are common in automation control, robotics and electric vehicles. The servomotor has gone through many developments to get […]

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What is a servomotor?

A servomotor is a rotary or linear actuator designed for precise positioning, velocity and acceleration. They’re ideal for many applications; from simple DC servomotors used in toys, to modern AC servo variants which are common in automation control, robotics and electric vehicles. The servomotor has gone through many developments to get to where it is now, each revision enabling other technologies, such as industrial automation, to thrive.

Where the servomotor began

The first servomotors were permanent magnet DC. They provided a straightforward method of torque control made up of a cage containing a fixed magnet and rotating windings within. Unfortunately, this design was not without its problems. To transfer electricity, spring loaded carbon ‘brushes’ press up against a commutator (which transfers power to the windings). As the brushes wear, debris is left behind. This eventually causes a build-up, ‘arcing’ the commutator strips which shorts the motor. As a result, DC brushed servomotors require monthly maintenance to prevent motor damage. To help reduce the cost and risk of running a brushed servomotor, engineers developed the brushless servo system.

Enter the brushless servo system

The first type of brushless servo system emulated the brush-type DC servo motor. They used three-phase permanent magnet motors and electronically ‘commutated’ the current from one pair of motor windings to another. To monitor velocity an encoder and brushless tachometer was added. This new brushless design meant motors would last longer between servicing.

Constraints drive further innovation

The original brushless design was limited to low power applications. This led to the development of the AC servomotor using a permanent magnet motor with sinusoidal back EMF (created by using skewed magnets and overlapping windings) also known as field-oriented or vector control.

AC servomotors are commonly used in today’s industrial applications. It’s ideal for higher powered systems or where operations require smooth torque. AC servo motors work by using a split ring commutator with the two sections wired to opposite poles of the motor. The alternating field causes the poles of the windings to change polarity, turning the motor.

Demand for efficiency in motor control

Servomotors can be up to 95% efficient at full power and have a low power density as there is no rotor current, meaning the motor can produce 100% torque instantly. It is for this reason that electric cars feature servo motors.

Although the focus has previously been placed on the servomotor itself, much of the improved performance comes from the encoder. This device creates an accurate snapshot of the rotor position. Different encoders have varying ‘resolutions’, a higher resolution means the motor will stop more accurately.

Servo motor used today has changed from the early generations. Now they are made with the latest magnet technology and connected to variable speed drives which give them performance that is hard to match.

A tale of two motors

There are two types of servo motor used in industry today: linear and rotary. Both have advantages. With a linear motor, you’ll benefit from:

  • Higher speeds
  • Higher accelerations
  • Direct drive
  • Practically no wear
  • High position accuracy

It might seem that linear motors have all the advantages, but there are many applications which only use a rotary servo motor. This is because linear motors heat up; a by-product of wasted energy. The heat generated causes thermal growth, which effects the load, bearings, grease and sensors. Over time this negatively impacts on the lifespan of components. In addition, thermal growth is likely to cause issues with binding and increased friction.

Rotary motors have the following benefits:

  • Continuous duty
  • Reversible
  • Speed is proportional to the applied voltage
  • Torque is proportional to the current
  • Very efficient

However, the reality is that rotary and linear motors are used for difficult application setups. For instance, rotary servo motors are used with woodturning mechanisms (lathes), industrial spinning, weaving machines, looms, and knitting machines. Linear servo motors are used with short-move pick and place and inspection equipment, longer moves and flying shear applications, roller coasters, people movers, and vehicle launching systems.

In conclusion

Servo motors can offer higher performance, faster speeds, and smaller sizes than induction motor systems. Additionally alongside variable frequency drives servomotors can use 30% less energy in positioning applications.

Conversely induction motor systems (lower cost, rugged, reliable, and well known) can offer an alternative to servo motor systems for certain applications. This, of course, is based on similar electronic controls being used (with the latest technology and approximately the same cost), leaving the cost of motors the differentiating issue.

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The Great Enabler: PLCs and the Industrial Internet of Things https://www.theautomationengineer.com/technical/enabler-industrial-internet-of-things/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=enabler-industrial-internet-of-things https://www.theautomationengineer.com/technical/enabler-industrial-internet-of-things/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 09:27:18 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1069 In an industrial world that’s becoming ever more complex, technology is an enabler. It allows us to collect and make sense of data in new ways, leading us to make better decisions about how we run our businesses. Take the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for example. In under a century we’ve seen industry transform […]

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In an industrial world that’s becoming ever more complex, technology is an enabler. It allows us to collect and make sense of data in new ways, leading us to make better decisions about how we run our businesses. Take the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for example.

In under a century we’ve seen industry transform through the third industrial revolution. The latest progression, Industry 4.0, introduced the idea of the smart factory. Now we’re reaching the tipping point where technology is mature enough to make that vision happen on a global scale. Jamie Smith at Control Techniques looks at the lynchpin that’s making the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) a reality.

We’ve come a long way since Industry 2.0

If you go back long enough, times before PLCs were around, we had relay, timers, and electric loop controllers. Process control systems were highly distributed and hardwired into the factory. Monitoring these systems was time consuming and would often require technicians to walk around the factory all day long. As you can imagine, this made fault finding very difficult. Clearly a serious problem for high value businesses where downtime could cost millions of dollars. This spurred a growing demand for integrated control. As a result, engineers began looking for a reliable alternative to relay logic. Out of this emerged programmable logic controllers, or PLCs.

PLCs used to be so big that businesses would install PLCs in central control rooms due to their size and environmental requirements. They were remotely wired to field devices using huge amounts of cable. Even with all the additional expense, PLCs made a huge impact. Faults were easier to find, downtime reduced, throughput increased and safety improved. In the end, it came down to making a business more profitable, and the PLC achieved that.

Industrial Internet of Things

The tipping point for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Thanks to the development in technology, PLCs have steadily shrunk in size, cost and are capable of operating in harsher environments. This has presented new opportunities to increase the level of control. Now we can connect together all our machines, in multiple factories, in any part of the world. Those machines can run a master program fed from a smaller central controller to individual PLCs. For less complicated processes, a simple outboard PLC on a device removes the need for complex and costly electromechanical options.

More businesses will be able to benefit from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as the technology becomes more affordable. For instance, certain low cost AC drives now come with an onboard PLC at no extra cost. It must be very appealing for OEMs.

Some the major benefits of using a decentralised PLC

  1. Large PLCs can be expensive. One option is to remove the central controller and spread the work across smaller PLCs. The cost could be further reduced by using an AC drive with onboard PLC.
  1. When upgrading or making a change to a system, extra coding may be required. On a centralised control system this could mean shutting down a whole production line. The other option is to have a local controller that can be isolated, leaving the rest of the line to keep going.
  1. In some cases, processes run too fast for a central controller to respond immediately. By having a decentralised controller it’s possible to reduce lag, benefiting in more uptime.
  1. It’s easy to connect when the unit is local to the operator. This allows for capabilities such as trending analysis, alarming, batching or even, printing.
  1. It can be difficult to troubleshoot when using one large system, as opposed to working on smaller ones. Distributed control software is easier to maintain as there is less information to analyse.
  1. Field-based distributed controllers do not wholly rely upon the central controller. So in the event that the central controller goes into fault, the entire process won’t fail. This allows the user to continue running their process.
  1. A great benefit of having a distributed system is that it’s easier to partition. You can have enhanced safety using zoned interlocks or light guards.

Industrial Internet of Things

In defence of the centralised system

There’s a reason why many people still use centralised systems. To begin with, they are proven over many years as an effective way of managing factory wide communications. Changing a system would be expensive and counterproductive, why introduce needless downtime when something already works well?

For new equipment, decentralisation might add extra complexity which is not needed. So in industries where airborne particles or temperature can cause malfunction, a simple setup with a conditioned centralised PLC is the better option.

Most importantly, you need a master in your system. That means one PLC which sends the master communications to the rest of your system. Usually these are powerful processors which spur off messages to smaller follower PLCs. What’s great about this approach is that we keep control centralised, but gain from the autonomy of individual parts of the system.

The linchpin of change

Until recently size, communication and software standards all impacted on our choices. They forced our hand when building equipment. The possibilities of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about to be realised. Before long new businesses will start to appear, offering the same products but producing more intelligent products that increase uptime.

The question is, are you ready for the next wave of innovation and the coming of age of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

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How To Become An Engineer In Automation https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/become-engineer-automation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=become-engineer-automation https://www.theautomationengineer.com/education/become-engineer-automation/#comments Thu, 06 Apr 2017 09:46:13 +0000 https://www.theautomationengineer.com/?p=1006 As the world becomes ever more dependent on machines to do our work, the need for experts grows. Already we read about autonomous vehicles driving on the roads. Automated technology is slowly becoming more common in our homes. But it’s industry where the big changes have already happened. Factories and distribution facilities are increasingly sophisticated […]

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As the world becomes ever more dependent on machines to do our work, the need for experts grows. Already we read about autonomous vehicles driving on the roads. Automated technology is slowly becoming more common in our homes. But it’s industry where the big changes have already happened.

Factories and distribution facilities are increasingly sophisticated control centers. They are exceeding human performance in speed and repeatability in low skilled repetitive roles. For this reason many countries are investing heavily in automation. To achieve this, they need specialist engineers.

What is an engineer in automation?

There are lots of different types of engineers who work in automation, generally they are working towards one or more of the following:

– Streamlining operations to increase productivity and meet set quality standards

– Reducing the production time or wastage

– Improving the safety of a system to prevent accidents

– Making a system more reliable, though the use of intelligent system design. For example, minimizing the number of moving parts

A diverse industry

As an engineer in automation you might not work directly on machine building. Many engineers work in different environments. This can include product development, system design or technical sales.

“At Control Techniques we have engineers situated across the globe. Their role is to advise and develop systems for individual customer needs,” said Roland Lee, global recruitment manager at Control Techniques. “They are highly skilled individuals, who develop a deep knowledge of product applications.”

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Dr Richard Gibson

Dr Richard Gibson at Control Techniques is one of those people. He’s a product development engineer, and project manager for next generation servo drives.

“I come from a technical design background. Part of my role as project manager is to discuss possible solutions with my team of engineers. We have both technology specialists and engineers who are involved in delivering a project”, said Richard. “They are extremely creative people, and have lots of ideas. I listen, then I help them to refine their ideas to meet the needs of our existing customers; they are our top priority.”

Richard is a power engineer. His main area of expertise are the power electronics to deliver the energy from the mains supply to the motor. But there are many other elements to consider when creating drives. These include: components, circuit design, mechanical structures, thermal design and motion control to name a few. They all need to be packaged, and at the right cost. It’s Richard’s job as project manager to consider everything.

Never stop learning

“You can’t just study to get this knowledge. It requires time to understand the problems, and learn from experience. Automation technology moves quickly, so it’s important to keep up with the changes,” said Richard.  “For example knowing what the best available technology is, and how to use it, so that we can deliver the best performance for our customers. But also to ensure our products are flexible for the market needs. It’s about continuous learning.”

“One way to keep up is to use trade magazines to get a good overview of available products. Another interesting option would be to visit trade conferences/exhibitions or read academic journals. You can set yourself fact finding missions. This will help you develop an understanding of a subject area. Speak with product suppliers, and have technical discussions with them to tease out ideas.”

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Get hands on experience early

“When I was younger, I got involved in the engineering education scheme at school. We went to a local company and spoke with their engineers. We got to solve a real life problem. This put the theory we’d learned at school into context. And it also reinforced how important maths would be.”

Educational requirements

Richard Gibson studied electrical engineering to MEng level at university. It’s the quickest way to achieve Chartered Engineer status, and takes four years full time. This is only one of many possible routes to be an automation engineer. There are many degrees which specialize in different disciplines. These include electrical, mechanical software and combinations of these such as mechatronics. There are also many routes through vocational courses and apprenticeships.

Surround yourself with experts

During Richard’s second year of his MEng degree, the university circulated an advert. Control Techniques (CT) were looking for summer workers. “At CT, you quickly get stuck into the job. Being onsite, you learn from experts. They had ways of working which you’d only see by watching someone at the top of their field. By working onsite, what you’ve learned at university suddenly becomes relevant.”

After a successful summer, Control Techniques sponsored Richard for the remaining two years of his degree. They offered him a full time contract after he graduated. Since then, the organization offers scholarship opportunities as part of the E3 academy.

The E3 Academy is a scholarship scheme which equips undergraduates with the skills and experiences they need to find employment. It provides eight weeks paid work placement throughout each year, with a provisional job offer upon completion of the degree. The E3 Academy is open for applications, until the end of April each year. You can find more information at: http://www.e3academy.org.

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