Students attending college for electronics engineering may focus on a career involving a computer-based Programmable Logic Controller or PLC. A real-time digital computer system used for industrial automation of electromechanical processes may include control of machines on factory assembly lines. A degree in this field requires a final PLC project on industrial control and automation. With hundreds of project ideas available, students should choose one of interest and challenge.
Older automated systems used hundreds or more electromechanical relays, whereas now, a single PLC is an efficient replacement. Evolution of the PLC includes capabilities beyond relay control. They include sophisticated motion control, process control, distributive control and complex networking functions.
A PLC course is a junior/senior level course in a four-year institution. The course prepares students for challenging industrial careers. Education in this field focuses on identifying parts and the purpose of a PLC. Student who successfully complete requirements are able to write, debug and troubleshoot ladder logic programs. They can properly use instructions, math and data manipulation. A requirement for each student in the program is a final design project that involves a proposed problem and solution using programming of ladder logic. The final project is typically in technical report format and includes a professional class presentation.
Project Idea 1
Use the PLC program to simulate filling a tank with water. Program the system to start filling when the tank is half full and to stop filling when the tank is full. The problem to solve could be a malfunction with the level sensor, which is out of calibration or not working properly for some other reason.
Project Idea 2
Design a project to control the operation of a hybrid (gas-electric) boat. The program should run the on/off sequence for charging the boat’s battery packs. The PLC uses digital inputs to convert voltage values. Circuits for voltage and current contain thresholds that trigger the PLC to take action when voltage goes below 10V DC.
Project Idea 3
Design a PLC program that operates a conveyor for loading boxes onto trailers. The system can operate by forward and reverse push buttons and include sensors for automatic stopping to prevent collision. Extensions of this project could include controls for production, packaging and sorting for shipment.