Industrial Machine Automation Design - Steve is an expert in
machinery design and operation. The following is a
distillation from memory of the principles he taught during
years of work in manufacturing.
This is STILL IN PROGRESS and still needs
Machine Design and Automation
- Documentation & Drawings
- Safety Systems
- Emergency Stops The E-Stop system is the most
critical safety component of a machines control
can and will save lives, often as a last resort, so
its design and operation should be of the utmost
concern of the designer.
Overview The E-Stop system consists of two
E-Stop Chain This is the continuous
normally-closed circuit that connects all of E-Stop buttons
and other inputs together.
Red wire is often used so E-Stop circuits dont get
interconnected with other circuits in remote connection
Relays that control all output power When the
E-Stop system is activated, all controlling power on the
machine is normally disconnected, bringing all systems to
their power-off state.
Note that E-Stops do not normally cut control or
computer power to various systems, just to circuits that
cause motion or processing.
Input Power is also usually cut during E-Stop as a
safety measure in case someone is being electrocuted; since
the input power circuit is the most common on a machine.
Use Physical Mechanical Relays All E-Stop systems
must use physical mechanical relays to control power.
This means there can be no computer or controller in
the E-Stop control process (a PLC can be in the chain, see
below, but not replace the relays).
In addition, mechanical relays are preferred because
they have a lower failure rate than solid state relays (they
do not operate very often, so contact lifetime is not an
issue), plus solid state relays tend to fail in the ON
position, which is very undesirable in an E-Stop system.
Relay Selection Choose the heaviest control
relays available for the E-Stop chain.
These will normally be heavy duty control relays the
size of a human fist, not small ice cube relays.
Contact Stacking Many larger control relays allow
for contact stacking to increase the number of contacts.
For safety, only add contact up to the limit minus
one level of contacts, since this increases the ability of
the relay spring to open the contacts in an emergency and as
the relay ages. For
instance, many relays allow four levels of contacts, so in
that case, limit E-Stop relays to three levels and add
additional relays as necessary.
Single Button Loops & Monitoring
Historically, the E-Stop chain has been just that, a
continuous chain of buttons out on the machine.
This can be a troubleshooting headache on a large
machine, as its difficult to tell which button or circuit
is open. All
E-Stops (or button clusters if several are on remote
locations) should have two wires sent to them, building the
actual chain on a terminal strip in the main control
addition, each buttons terminal should lead to a PLC
input; this will show the machine operator which button is
pressed, saving a lot of troubleshooting time.
PLC Triggered E-Stops There may be cases when the
PLC should trigger an E-Stop, such as upon a fire or high
In this case, use a dry contact output in the E-Stop
chain and be sure it is normally picked up (i.e. do not drop
the contact upon E-Stop, otherwise the E-Stop chain can
never be closed for normal operation).
Delayed E-Stop Action There are some special
cases where losing control power immediately upon E-Stop is
undesirable and unsafe.
The most obvious example is with drive systems that
need time for maximum deceleration.
Time Delay Relay To implement a time-delay E-Stop
circuit, use a second E-Stop relay with pneumatic time
relay will stay closed for a few seconds after the main
E-Stop system drops out, but will eventually open to
disconnect all power in case of something like a drives
failure to stop as commanded.
Wire the coil of this time delay relay to the coil of
the main relays, not to the contacts of the main relays,
otherwise if the main relays fail to open, the time delay
would never open.
Drives The most common case of delayed E-Stop is
when a regenerative drive system can stop a motor faster
with power than without; this is very common in larger DC
drives (5-500HP). In
this case, program the PLC to command the drive for maximum
safe stopping with reverse power upon E-Stop.
Many systems will also activate brakes at the same
time. Time how
long it takes each motor to stop and set the delayed E-Stop
relay to 1-2 seconds beyond that.
This means that the delayed system will stay active
just long enough to stop everything safely, but then cut out
in case one of the drive components or PLC has failed.
The tradeoff here is that the PLC and drives will
normally work and can generally stop the machine much faster
under power than just coasting or with brakes.
Other systems requiring power There may be other
systems that also require power during an E-Stop, either
temporarily or continuously. Examples include motorized valves that need power to close in
- Special Safety Systems - In addition to regular
E-Stop safety systems, some machines require
specialized safety management systems.
Most of these systems should be handled in
hardware or specialized controller modules that are
dedicated to that activity; in general, its bad
practice to manage key safety systems in user-written
Burner & Flame Management A common special
case is flame and burner management, where failure of the
controllers can have catastrophic and explosive
this case, there are many specialized burner controllers
that supervise the process and automatically act when there
is a failure or emergency situation.
In most cases, these specialized systems can be
controlled or commanded by regular PLCs, but will take
specialized action on their own when needed.
For example, burner controllers automatically manage
gas purge valves, flame detection delays, and safety cycling
Use dedicated safety controllers Some
manufacturers are also making specialized PLCs and other
controllers that are more flexible than dedicated systems,
but still contain highly reliable safety-related components.
Use special care when programming such units.
- Computer Systems & User Interfaces Most modern
machinery operates under the control of sophisticated
Todays control systems are often a combination
of dedicated controllers, PLCs, dedicated user
interfaces, message centers, PCs with touchscreens,
drive and multi-axis coordinated motion controllers, and
- PLC The basic Programmable Logic Controller is
the mainstay of machine control.
Simple to program and understand, yet flexible
and powerful, PLCs are involved in nearly every aspect
Basic Implementation PLCs generally control all
aspects of a machines operation, directly sensing and
controlling every switch, motor, and device.
PLC Location Most machines have only one PLC CPU,
typically located in the main control cabinet.
There are cases where multiple PLCs are utilized,
often where there are several semi-independent subsystems or
where autonomous operation is required.
Remote I/O On large machinery, remote I/O chasses
are often used to locate the power wiring as close a
possible to the devices being controlled.
This is especially useful for placing I/O in pits, on
gantries or on mobile subsystems
Power Circuit Checking As noted in the power
section, most machines will have several control power
important for the PLC to monitor those, so a breaker trip
can be detected and the machine shut down safely.
Such a trip can easily happen due to a short or
failure in the field (such as burned out solenoid) and if
not detected can lead to unsafe situations.
This is especially true as output power is usually
grouped by I/O chassis, though I/O purpose can be scattered
between chassis; this can lead to situations such as a pair
of connected drive motors on separate control power circuits
and if one loses power, damage can result.
To combat this, each control power circuit should be
routed to a PLC input and monitored.
High Voltage Power Monitoring The PLC should also
usually monitor high voltage circuits.
This is most easily accomplished with a phase
monitor, which can detect loss of power, missing phases, or
swapped phase conditions.
Missing phases (from bad contacts or a blown fuse)
are problematic for heating and motor circuits and swapped
phases will drive all motors backwards, a very unsafe
Software Basics Traditional PLCs are programmed
in ladder logic, the format used to represent relay logic
for nearly 100 years. Newer
languages are available, including flow-charts, state
machines, and even procedural languages such as C++ or
document focuses on ladder logic, as this is still the
dominant language in use today.
It is important to follow good programming practices,
as outlined here, as PLC systems can become incredibly
PLCs have replaced traditional control relays, the internal
logic complexity has escalated considerably.
When this is coupled with the constant changes
experienced by PLC programs, the system can quickly get out
of control unless good practices are followed.
Each object in a PLC program should carry a symbol
and each rung or rung block should carry a comment.
Contacts should never show up in ladder without a
symbol that names them; this is way too dangerous and
invites the use of the incorrect contact in critical logic
E-Stop Management The E-Stop system is critical
to the safety of the machine and its personnel.
Although the E-Stop system functions separately from
the PLC, the PLC is still the key controller of a machine
and usually needs to be involved.
E-Stop In The PLC must monitor the E-Stop system
to it can detect an E-Stop condition (which is also normally
present at startup, but not always, as the PLC can be
started with the E-Stop chain already picked up).
Wire Point - This input should be wired to the COIL
of the primary E-Stop relay, NOT to a contact.
This allows the PLC to detect an E-stop even if the
E-Stop relay fails and the contacts do not change position.
Since the PLC will turn off all outputs upon E-Stop,
this is an extra measure of safety.
E-Stop Out The PLC should be able to initiate an
E-Stop if it detects various unsafe conditions.
This is done via a dry contact that obviously cannot
be dependent upon the E-Stop Input (or else you could never
pick up the E-Stop chain).
E-Stop Usage in Ladder The E-Stop In contact must
be in EVERY rung that has an output.
This will cause all outputs to be turned off upon
E-Stop detection, which is a backup in case of E-Stop relay
failure and also resets all logic to a known state.
Latch Logic In general, output-driving logic in
the PLC should be latching, in that a rung has a triggering
mechanism and then latches on during its run.
The E-Stop In contact is in the rung, too, and can
then easily open the rung to its deactivated state whenever
an E-Stop occurs. When
the E-Stop is reset, the run will still require action to
initiate an output; otherwise, certain rungs could
automatically activate when the E-Stop is reset, a very
System On/Off Many machines have the concept of
being On or Off. The
On state typically starts various required subsystems, such
as hydraulics and air, and enables the machine to function.
The On contact should be in every output rung, in
series with the E-Stop contact.
Structured Programming The best PLC programming
techniques involve using standardized and structured logic
and run format.
Standard Rungs Most control logic consists of an
input that triggers something to be on for a while, as long
as some conditions are satisfied.
To this end, a set of standard rungs have been
identified as necessary for virtually all functions.
Together these form a rung group, which may be
unidirectional (e.g. Door Open) or bi-directional (e.g. Door
Open & Close).
Control Word A word should be reserved in memory
for this operation or rung group.
A standard should be set so that bit 0 is for the
start rung, bit 1 for the Stop rung, etc.
Start Rung The Start Rung contains contacts that
initiate the action. This
may include push buttons, contacts from an automatic
sequence, or inputs from a remote user interface.
The rung terminates in an internal contact that will
be used to Start the main output run.
Stop Rung The Stop Rung contains contacts that
terminate an action. This
may include the same types of contacts as the start rung,
but limit switches are NOT included here, as they are
permission items. It
is key to understand that the Stop run is only temporarily
energized to stop a motion and is best thought of as
analogous to the Stop Button. Things like limit switches, which continuously inhibit
motion, do not belong in the stop rung.
Permission Rung The Permission Rung contains
contacts that must be true for this action to operate.
This usually includes requirements such as hydraulics
or air pressure, machine on and maybe the E-Stop contact.
Most importantly, this run contains contacts for
things like limit switches for moving units.
Many systems use limit switches to stop movement,
such as a door close operation; these switches belong here,
not in the stop circuit, as they are absolute stopping
conditions and must always inhibit the main rung (the Stop
Rung is only temporarily energized).
Message Rungs One of the most frustrating
situations is when an operator wants to do something, such
as start a machine, and it simply wont start.
This is usually due to a missing condition, such as
insufficient air pressure or a safety door not being closed,
but there is no way for the operator to know all of these
solution is to use message rungs which are based on the
permission contacts in the Permission Rung.
Structure The essential structure of a Message
rung is to use the start rung logic in series with each
permission contact to set a message bit.
So, if a door must be closed before a machine can
start, the Message rung would consist of the Start contact
(from the Start rung) and the door contact. If the start button is pushed (energizing the Start rung)
but the door isnt closed, the message bit is
will, in turn, trigger an operator interface message about
the door. Message
bits are usually reset automatically by a system-wide clean
up rung after 15 seconds or so.
Individual Alarm Rungs The Alarm Rungs are
specialized logic to detect fault conditions pertaining to
this operation. These
come in several flavors, such as special limit switches or
other warning devices, such as gas detectors.
Alarm Word Each operation should reserve an alarm
word memory for exclusive use by this operation.
This allows various alarm rungs to set contacts
(bits) in that word, such that if the word is non-zero,
there is an alarm present.
Latching Most alarms will latch their contacts
on, so the alarm indication will be durable until reset by
TTO Timers One common alarm mechanism for moving
systems is a Time-To-Operate timer.
This is a timer that turns on for the duration of an
operation and is designed to alarm if the operation takes
too long. For
instance, a door might typically close in 10 seconds, so the
timer would be set for 12 seconds; if the door is broken, or
the close limit switch fails, or the tracks are dirty, this
alarm will trip and shut down the door before major damage
Alarm Word Scan Rung This rung simply detects if
there is an alarm for this operation by checking to see if
the alarm word is non-zero.
If it is, an alarm is present and the Alarm bit is
set in the control word.
Main Output Rung The Main Rung is the actual
logic that drives the output that makes something happen.
The purpose of all the preceding rungs is to make
this rung as simple and standardized as possible.
The format is outlined below and follows classic
simple ladder logic structure, as used for 100 years.
Stop Contact The normally closed stop contact
from the Stop Rung is first.
Latch with parallel Start Contact The rung latch
contact is next, usually the output coil itself (or a latch
bit in the control word).
In parallel with this latch is the Start Contact from
the Start Rung. The
latch contact is in the mainline rung because it is always
present only once, while there can be several start contacts
that can potentially be used to start the rung.
Alarm Contact The Alarm contact, from the Alarm
Scan rung is next, such that any alarm terminates the
Permission Contact The Permission contact from
the Permission Rung is always the last contact before the
ensures that any parallel contacts or other rung complexity
do not accidentally bypass the critical permission contact.
State Machines In some cases, a state machine is
more applicable to an operation than simple start/stop
latching ladder logic.
This is common with motor drive systems that can be
in one of several states and require special steps to change
Alarms The general alarm system consists of a
dedicated memory block, that can be scanned for any latched
bits, indicating an alarm.
Each rung block monitors its own alarm word, but
there is also a master block scanner that looks for any
alarms and shows an indicator to the operator.
Alarm Display When an alarm is set, this message
or bit is usually transmitted to the operator interface as a
message. It can
be a message number or some type of table lookup, depending
on the display system.
Always use a text message, such as Door Close Time
To Operate Alarm (#432) message. An alarm number should also be included, as this makes it
easier to communicate the alarm to others or to look it up
in a Solutions Guide.
Solution Guide It is often good practice to
develop a solutions guide that assists the operator in
dealing with the alarm.
If alarms are indexed and displayed by number, their
solutions can be easily accessed, either in computerized or
Reset The operator should normally be able to
reset all alarms, usually by triggering a rung that just
zeros out the alarm block.
Special Alarms In some cases, the operator
interface may only allow an operator to acknowledge certain
alarms, requiring a password to reset other, more critical
Alarm Logs In some cases, it is useful to retain
alarm histories or logs.
This is most easily done in the operator interface
system, though its possible to build a ring buffer or
stack in the PLC to retain this information.
Messages Since a machine that wont start is a
very frustrating situation, good machine design includes a
messaging system to tell the operator why something wont
messaging system operates just like the Alarm system, using
internal PLC bits to generate messages on the Operator
Text Messaging Boxes
Lighted Push Buttons
Push Buttons vs. Touch Screens Safety-related
Match with Arrays & Block Files
- Operator Interfaces (UI or MMI) Most modern
machines use a computerized operator interface that is
connected to the PLC.
Operator interfaces generally fall into one of four
Traditional Push Buttons & Lights The oldest
of interfaces, this consists of simple buttons and lights,
often combined into lighted pushbuttons.
These are fairly limited in user interaction, but are
wholly adequate for many operations.
In particular, the use of light signals in the
buttons can convey a good deal of information; for instance,
blinking slowly can mean operating, while a fast blink is an
addition, push buttons and lights are often used in
combination with other computerized displays for a full (and
safe) operator interface.
PC-Driven Complex Interfaces, with Touch Screen
For complex machines, the most common modern interface is a
personal computer running an machine control display system.
These are dedicated systems that are designed to
allows operators to manage sophisticated machinery.
While the PLC actually controls the machine, the PC
provides significant functionality, such as complex
graphics, recipe and sequence storage, alarm and message
management, etc. Since the PC generally has permanent storage (a hard disk)
and output capability (printer), it allows for complex data
and historical tracking management, way beyond what typical
PLC systems are capable of.
Non-PC Display or Touch Screens Complex PC
systems are expensive and complex to purchase, program, and
many systems of moderate complexity, its often easier to
use specialized operator interface units that are designed
for this purpose. These
units are not as flexible as PCs, but are more reliable and
tend to be a better fit for personnel involved in machinery
design and support. Typical
units include good graphics display and management, alarm
tracking, printing, and touch screen interaction.
In addition, its common for these units to be used
in conjunction with PC-based systems to build complex
interfaces with multiple operator stations (a PC at the main
station, but these devices are remote or mobile locations).
Small Dedicated Display/Input Units When PCs or
dedicated touch screens are too costly or complex, small
interface units are often used.
These vary widely, but can consist of a numeric
keypad, a few function keys, and a single line text display.
While fairly limited, these units can still convey a
good deal of information and provide for operator input of
key values, such as times and temperatures.
Operator Interface to PLC Communications One of
the trickier problems in interface design is how to connect
the operator interface to the PLC.
Dedicated Devices These are the simplest, as they
often come from the same manufacturer as the PLC.
Most units simply connect to the remote I/O
communications subsystem and therefore look like regular I/O
pushbuttons and lights to the PLC.
They are programmed in the same manner as buttons and
lights, with the addition of being able to transfer numbers,
such as temperatures, often via a block or numeric transfer
Serial or Ethernet Link For smaller devices, or
ones not supported by a PLC manufacturer, serial or Ethernet
connections are common, though a variety of methods are used
at the actual bit transfer level.
PC-based Systems These systems have the most
complex interfaces and generally require dedicated memory
blocks in which to exchange information.
Sweep ONS Blocks The key challenge in connecting
the PLC to a PC-based system is how to handle button-type
inputs. This is
because of timing issues between the PLC and PC. This is not an issue with regular I/O, as the data is always
available at the start of a ladder scan, but PC input can
occur at any time and is difficult to synchronize.
The best solution is for the PC to set bits in a
dedicated memory block.
The PLC then copies that block to another
working block at the top of each scan and zeros out
the PC block. This
allows the PC-set bits to be available for a full PLC scan;
they get reset automatically on the next scan by the next
system makes PC inputs appear and operate exactly like push
buttons, such that they can be intermixed in standard logic
without any worries about timing.
- DCS Distributed Control System; time delays,
more data-oriented with PLCs doing real control.
- Drive Systems
- Power Systems
Single Cabinet Systems
Multi-Cabinet Systems Often fed from Power
Centers; be sure feeds and disconnects are well marked.
Mark cabinet as having multiple power sources (at
least for 120VAC, shouldnt have multiple 480VAC in one
Motor Grounding Run ground to each motor, do not
depend on conduit and especially Liquid-Tite.
Signal Grounding Single point direct to ground,
- Emergency Feeds
Use blinking light to indicated emergency available
E-Stop Interaction May operate under e-stop
Color Codes Yellow
- Filtered Computer Power - Sola
- Input Power Single Circuit
- Output Power Circuit per PLC Rack
- 24 VDC Use big rectifiers, separate from signal
- Drive Isolation Separate transformer for each DC
drive; chokes not adequate.
- Fusing Fuse for wire, not load, usually 15A.
- Motor Overloads Size properly, according to
chart; go 1 size larger if tripping
- Construction & Wiring
- Terminal Boxes Use often as test/repair points
- Cat-Tracks Use Terminal box on both ends, easy
- Wire Size
- Wire Color
- Signal Wire Size, shielding type, shield