June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.201.1 - 14.201.17
Integrated Virtual Learning System for Programmable Logic Controller (Virtual PLC): Current Progress and Future Directions
Programmable logic controllers (PLC) are used for many industrial process control applications, such as monitoring security, managing energy consumption, and controlling machines and automated production lines. The total PLC and software market was $7.2 billion in 2006 with steady growth expected over the next five years. Thus there is a continuing need for engineers with strong skills and knowledge in this area.
Practice is an important component of learning programming. Learning PLC programming is different from learning general purpose programming because equipment interfacing and control is involved. For example, manufacturing automation and robotics courses typically use sensors, robots, and machine vision systems—in addition to PLCs—in teaching about automated manufacturing systems. Often educational institutions lack the full range of resources needed to help students to become proficient with PLC programming. In addition, high faculty-student ratios and limitations in availability of equipment and lab time make it difficult for students to spend enough time with the equipment to become proficient.
This paper will describe activities and findings related to an ongoing NSF-funded project to design, develop, and evaluate Virtual PLC, a system that integrates multiple instructional technologies and techniques into a single Web-based learning system that is comprehensive in its treatment of PLC topics, motivational, and always available. Virtual PLC includes animations, interactive case studies, a ladder logic toolkit, and intelligent tutoring systems. In addition, we have recently developed several small-scale physical models of automated systems such as a sliding door, a temperature control, and a welding robot. These models will be used to help students to understand and debug ladder logic programs; and to introduce K-12 students to PLC programming concepts.
Automation has a profound effect on the way we do work. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimated that nearly $40 billion was invested in U.S. industrial automation in 1990. In addition, across the five major industry groups that employ more than 40 percent of all manufacturing employees, nearly three out of every four plants use advanced manufacturing technology1. There has been heavy investment in the European Union and Asia-Pacific region as well2. In addition, a U.S. Census Bureau report notes that the yearly exports in the flexible manufacturing category (equivalent to industrial automation) were $19.44B in 2006, a 10% jump from $17.61B in 20053. Moreover, monthly exports in the flexible manufacturing category were $4.06B in March 2008, a 0.5% jump from $4.04B in March 20074. This trend is likely to continue to increase as the manufacturing sector continues to transform to a high tech, less labor-intensive and value-added industry using advanced automated systems.
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