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An Arduino-based Programmable Logic Control (PLC) Lab Activity for Undergraduate Engineering and Technology (ETM) Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical/Electronic ET Issues

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

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Paper Authors


Curtis Cohenour P.E. Ohio University

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Dr. Cohenour is an Assistant Professor in the Ohio University Engineering Technology and Management Department, in Athens, Ohio. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from West Virginia Institute of Technology in 1980, a Master of Science degree from Ohio University in 1988, and a Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering from Ohio University in 2009. He is a registered professional engineer in West Virginia, and Ohio.

Dr. Cohenour has worked in Industry as an electrical engineer and project manager. He joined Ohio University in 2002 as a research engineer working for the Ohio University Avionics Engineering Center. He has worked on projects covering a wide variety of avionics and navigation systems such as, the Instrument Landing System (ILS), Microwave Landing System (MLS), Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), LAAS, WAAS, and GPS.

His recent work has included research with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, aimed at understanding and correcting image geo-registration errors from a number of airborne platforms.

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A PLC lab activity is developed for use in an Undergraduate Engineering and Technology (ETM) electronics survey class. The existing class uses the Arduino to teach real-time programing and basic electronics. One of the department goals is to include Based Programmable Logic Control (PLC) training in a number of the existing courses including the electronics survey class. To incorporate a PLC programing experience using the Arduino, the freeware software package SoapBox Snap is used. The lab is developed and tested in the classroom. The success of lab activity is evaluated using pre and post surveys, assessments, and classroom observations.

The lab activity objectives are to a) introduce the student to PLC control and ladder logic, b) provide a hands on activity using the PLC, c) prepare the student for future classes in the ETM program, and ultimately employment in industry. PLCs are common in industry and used in other technology classes such as mechatronics, and robotics. Teaching the basics in the electronics course provides familiarity with the concept that potentially improves performance of the students in advanced courses.

The survey course already includes a lab activity using a magnetic starter, and a variable speed motor drive. The magnetic starter lab has two pushbuttons for start and stop, and a dual in-line package (DIP) relay. The relay is used to seal in the starter circuit. An Arduino Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) pin is connected to a transistor amplifier that drives the motor. The motor drive lab is completed first and the PLC lab is completed during the following week. By completing the motor drive lab first wiring is correct before starting the PLC lab. This allows the students to concentrate on the PLC lab.

SoapBox Snap is used to implement the PLC in the Arduino. SoapBox Snap consists of two components, an Arduino sketch, and a PLC programing environment that runs on a windows personal computer (PC). The sketch is uploaded to the Arduino with no changes. The sketch does not contain the PLC program. The program is developed on the PC, including both the ladder logic, and Input / Output (I/O) mapping, then uploaded to the Arduino. The PLC program is stored in the Arduino Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (EEPROM).

The lab activity consists of a PLC lecture followed by a pre-quiz/survey. At this point students know what a PLC is, but the question is do they have any understanding. The lab activity consists of two parts. First a magnetic motor starter is implemented. This is followed by a variable speed motor drive. At the conclusion of the lab the quiz/survey is repeated. The post-quiz/survey includes the muddiest question and a few additional questions regarding interest level. Results based on classroom observation, and the quiz/survey results are analyzed. The results are used to determine if the lab should remain as a permanent part of the electronics survey course. The lab provides the students with a hands on PLC experience. The experience gained is useful in the balance of the ETM curriculum. After graduation students can take the experience into their developing careers.

Cohenour, C. (2018, June), An Arduino-based Programmable Logic Control (PLC) Lab Activity for Undergraduate Engineering and Technology (ETM) Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29775

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