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Cognitive Support For Learning Plc Programming: Computer Based Case Studies

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Manufacturing Laboratory Experience

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.326.1 - 11.326.11



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Paper Authors


Sheng-Jen Hsieh Texas A&M University

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Sheng-Jen (“Tony”) Hsieh is an Associate Professor and member of the Graduate Faculty at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. He holds a joint appointment with the Department of Engineering Technology and the Department of Mechanical Engineering and is a Halliburton Faculty Fellow for 2005-2006. His research interests include intelligent manufacturing system design, virtual instrumentation, thermal profiling for process and product characterization, and simulation and modeling. He is also the Director of the Rockwell Automation Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility for education and research in the areas of automation, control, and production systems. Dr. Hsieh received his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX.

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Landon Gray Texas A&M University

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Landon Gray is a graduate student in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Cognitive Support for Learning PLC Programming: Computer-Based Case Studies Abstract

Students who wish to learn programmable logic controller (PLC) programming often face many obstacles. For example, many lack experience using automated systems and have difficulty visualizing programming situations. In addition, information needed for programming, such as input and output connections, is often not readily apparent. Finally, students may encounter cognitive overload because they need to be able to recall many different types of information at once, such as system component characteristics, system operation, PLC command syntax, and control program development. Instructors must use methodologies such as scaffolding and fading to provide cognitive support to students until programming tasks become more second nature.

To help students learn to write PLC programs to control automated manufacturing systems, a series of computer-based case studies are being developed. These case studies include animations of automated systems to help students to visualize how processes work and the sequence of events. They also illustrate steps in the programming process from identifying the sequence of events and input and outputs to developing code to implement each event. Although the idea of case studies itself is not new, the combination of case study methodologies and instructional technology to teach PLC programming is relatively novel. This paper will describe the case studies that have been developed so far, how they are being used, results from student evaluations of these case studies, and future directions.

1. Introduction

The programmable logic controller (PLC) has been described as one of the most ingenious devices ever invented to advance the field of manufacturing automation1. Thousands of PLCs have been used for such applications as monitoring security, managing energy consumption, and controlling machines and automatic production lines. As an essential part of manufacturing automation, PLCs are covered in many automation and control-related courses, such as Computer-Aided Manufacturing, Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, Industrial Control, and Manufacturing Automation and Robotics. Students from other disciplines are also exposed to PLC technology. Research by Frost & Sullivan indicates that the world market for programmable logic controller will continue to grow as units become smaller, more functional, and more able to work in tough environments2. The total PLC and software market was projected to reach $8.6 billion in 2000. This trend is likely to continue to increase as the world economy grows. There is a great need for engineers with strong skills and knowledge in this area.

A goal of engineering education is to prepare students for industry by exposing them to the types of tools and equipment they will need to use on the job. Lab experiences are an integral part of the student learning process, especially within science and engineering3,4. Edward5 has described the purposes of lab exercises as follows:

Cognitive learning, which is often elucidated as the integration of theory with practice.

Hsieh, S., & Gray, L. (2006, June), Cognitive Support For Learning Plc Programming: Computer Based Case Studies Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--304

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