How a ‘virtual plant’ helps streamline Industrial Automation with PLC’s

One of the most overlooked aspects of industrial automation is that of efficient data collection and management. Integrating the operations, engineering and maintenance functions of a factory will not only increase productivity but also help with decision making and create more accurate projections.

The key to unlocking the full performance potential of your manufacturing/processing operations lies in your ability to gain a real-time understanding of what is actually happening on your plant floor. You must then be able to share that information with other important decision makers and take action that improves both your production performance as well as your bottom line.

Creating the ‘Virtual Plant’ for better control

The addition of digital capability to analog devices means that industrial control software can be linked to instrumentation readings via small text files. Data acquisition is also an essential way to gather unbiased information on production processes as each staff unit might have different perceptions (which may well each be valid).

Industrial Automation is as much about seeing an accurate big picture as it is about controlling processes. An industrial plant application then processes the collective information being generated throughout your production facilities into a “virtual plant” that can be accessed where, when and how you need it. This application (software) allows you to measure and monitor your performance across key criteria in real-time. These should include web-based reports, key performance indicators (KPIs) and notification services if you choose the right system

All of this can be facilitated by a ‘PLC’. A PLC or Programmable Logic Controller is automated computer interface used to control machinery and electromechanical processes. PLC’s range in simple applications such as a basic packaging plant all the way up to a complex high availability environment such as a an automotive paint shop. The types and costs of PLC’s vary but they all differ from normal computing systems in similar ways. PLC’s are designed with a higher immunity to electrical noise, better resistance to high temperatures and have multiple input and output points.

When sourcing a supplier be sure to ask for electrical drawings, full operator manuals and remote connection details. Some Industrial Automation specialists offer setup and training as part of their service. Having a good understanding of your factory automation system onsite can help reduce operations costs in the long run.