History of PLC
The Hydramatic Division of the General Motors Corporation specified the design criteria for the first programmable controller in 1968. Their primary goal was to eliminate the high costs associated with inflexible, relaycontrolled systems. The specifications required a solid-state system with computer flexibility able to:
survive in an industrial environment,
be easily programmed and maintained by plant engineers and technicians,
Such a control system would reduce machine downtime and provide expandability for the future. Some of the initial specifications included the following:
The new control system had to be price competitive with the use of relay systems.
The system had to be capable of sustaining an industrial environment.
The input and output interfaces had to be easily replaceable.
The controller had to be designed in modular form, so that subassemblies could be removed easily for replacement or repair.
The control system needed the capability to pass data collection to a central system.
The system had to be reusable.
The method used to program the controller had to be simple, so that it could be easily understood by plant personnel.
The First Programmable Controller
The product implementation to satisfy Hydramatic’s specifications was underway in 1968; and by 1969, the programmable controller had its first product offsprings. These early controllers met the original specifications and opened the door to the development of a new control technology.
Dave Emmett - Circa 1971
The first PLCs offered relay functionality, thus replacing the original hardwired relay logic, which used electrically operated devices to mechanically switch electrical circuits. They met the requirements of modularity, expandability, programmability, and ease of use in an industrial environment. These controllers were easily installed, used less space, and were reusable. The controller programming, although a little tedious, had a recognizable plant standard: the ladder diagram format.
In a short period, programmable controller use started to spread to other industries. By 1971, PLCs were being used to provide relay replacement as the first steps toward control automation in other industries, such as food and beverage, metals, manufacturing, and pulp and paper.
The Conceptual design of the PLC
The first programmable controllers were more or less just relay replacers. Their primary function was to perform the sequential operations that were previously implemented with relays. These operations included ON/OFF control of machines and processes that required repetitive operations, such as transfer lines and grinding and boring machines. However, these programmable controllers were a vast improvement over relays. They were easily installed, used considerably less space and energy, had diagnostic indicators that aided troubleshooting, and unlike relays, were reusable if a project was scrapped.
Programmable controllers can be considered newcomers when they are compared to their elder predecessors in traditional control equipment technology, such as old hardwired relay systems, analog instrumentation, and other types of early solid-state logic. Although PLC functions, such as speed of operation, types of interfaces, and data-processing capabilities, have improved throughout the years, their specifications still hold to the designers’ original intentions - they are simple to use and maintain.