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TLC

for your
PLCs

Maintaining
machines should
include safety training
for their “brains”
BY DON FITCHETT

40 Industrial Engineer
The standard operations of compile a more accurate list if they are personnel weren’t trained properly to
companies involve managing risk, trained properly. calibrate one fail-safe device. Second, a
whether that risk comes from safety The most significant financial aspect proximity switch that kept giving opera-
or financial factors. Despite this fact, of PLC risk management is downtime, tors problems was bypassed. Third, a lack
most companies do little or nothing to which can total many hours and cost many of preventive maintenance meant dust
manage the safety and financial risks dollars. Companies are saving thousands accumulated on the photo eyes so they
related to their controller automation. to millions of dollars by focusing on inven- could not see the operator. Just like you
This is quite surprising for manufac- tory of PLC automation, training, creating regularly clean your eyeglasses so you can
turing and production companies that relevant policies and procedures, and see, the photoelectric sensors, or “photo
depend primarily on equipment and including these in the company’s safety eyes” in PLC vernacular, must be kept
process automation. Those involved in program. clean to ensure optimal performance.
industrial management, plant safety, Proper training also reduces injuries and In other cases, modifications to PLC
maintenance and installation of auto- saves lives. As with other manufacturing programs were made without complete
mation equipment should give serious and production processes, a lack of train- understanding of the whole program,
consideration to the risks involved ing is the No. 1 cause of safety incidents breaking arms, crushing limbs and caus-
with their PLCs. This article focuses involving PLC automation. A lack of insti- ing blindness. Many accidents that can
on automation control, but the follow- tuting or enforcing policies and procedures be traced to a lack of PLC training are not
ing approach should be applied to all is a close second. Within these categories, reported as such because PLC programs
aspects of manufacturing and produc- safety problems usually are caused because are complex and expertise is lacking.
tion automation. employees don’t understand how the PLC
First, do not assume that all responsible program works, although “forcing” inputs Inventory time
management personnel even know what a or outputs has the greatest risk poten- If the company does not have an up-to-
PLC or PAC is. PLC stands for program- tial. A “force” is a function in the PLC date list of all PLC model types, part
mable logic controller, and a PAC is a that allows a user to, for example, force a availability, program copies and other
process automation controller. These two motor “on,” bypassing all safety interlocks details, it must perform a PLC audit. Open
very different devices control hardware programmed into the PLC. every electrical panel and write down the
inside just about every machine in every Online programming also is danger- PLC brand, model and other pertinent
industry worldwide. While their use in ous. Online programming changes the information recommended below. Analyze
manufacturing machines and processes program in the PLC processor, while the audit information and risk and then act
is commonly known, PLCs and PACs also offline programming changes a copy of the on that analysis. Using the PLC audit form
control most of the world’s infrastruc- program on your computer. Technically, in Figure 1 can help. If a company makes its
ture. SCADA (supervisory control and your workers could switch the processor own inventory sheet, it might collect some
data acquisition) software is designed to program mode and do changes online, of the following:
to interface operators and management decreasing the risk somewhat. But expe-
with the PLC or PAC. So SCADA indi- rience has shown that most employees • Machine or area name: Warehouse
rectly warrants the same risk management who make changes online do so while the conveyor, pump station 3, strapper 2,
attention described below. process is running, which is a very risky line 7, traffic signal west main, etc.
Most industrial companies do not give proposition. • PLC program name: 1789GAA1, P3,
their people or management the instruc- Ignoring these safety issues can cause Strap2, 5872443, WestMainTL, etc.
tions and training demanded by the risk network security problems in some manu- • Network node address: No two
that comes from their PLC (PAC/SCADA) facturing and production processes. It addresses will be the same. Examples
automation. But a little PLC that you also can be fatal – literally. In one plant would include 2, 3, 17, 21 or a unique IP
never knew existed can shut down your an employee was killed when an auto- address.
machine, your line, your entire facility, city mated material transport car ran him over, • Network name: It’s common that this
power, water and more. smashing his head between the automated is the same as the program name, but
So a company’s first step should be an car and the conveyor eyebeam. A combina- it’s helpful if the name describes the
inventory of all automation control equip- tion of several events had disabled three machine or area being controlled.
ment and software. Your personnel will fail-safes to cause that fatal injury. First, • PLC brand, such as Allen Bradley,

April 2012 41
tlc for your plcs

Siemens, Schneider, Mitsubishi, Direct-


Soft, Omron
checking it twice
Figure 1. This is an example of a recommended PLC checklist for your facility.
• PLC model number, such as PLC-5/25,
SLC-504, SIMATIC S5, MELSEC Machine name Example Example 2
FX1N, DL 405 (PAC-ControlLogix) PLC program name YC1234R2.rss YC5678.rss
• Is a spare available? Answers could be Network node address 6 2
yes, it’s on the shelf; no; or only available Network name Aircompressor1 Shipping3
for critical machines. PLC brand Allen Bradley Allen Bradley
• The date the program was backed up PLC model number SLC500 5/03 PLC 5/04
last: Companies should make program Spare available Yes NO
backups part of their semiannual Last backed up 8/15/04 9/15/03
preventive maintenance program. Descriptored copy NO Yes
• A descriptored copy of the PLC program EEPROM NO Yes
must be available. This describes all Last program change 7/1/03 6/4/00
the elements of a program (bits, rungs, EEPROM burned NO Yes
elements, etc.). See Figure 2. Without
a descriptored copy of the program,
troubleshooting and downtime are salvation
increased, and modifications are more
costly.
through description
Figure 2. A descriptored copy of the PLC program details each element, information that
• Does the PLC have an EEPROM
can decrease downtime and improve troubleshooting.
(electrically erasable programmable
read-only memory) or other method of
storing the backup program in a chip on
the PLC?
• The last date the program was changed:
Companies should log when outside
consultants or an OEM makes a
program change, too.
• Last date the EEPROM was updated
or burned: Every successful program
change should be saved to the EEPROM. priority PLC, the company will ask more The training regimen
• When the battery was changed last: See important questions like the following: Most of a company’s PLC automation-
manufacturer’s data for recommended related downtime is due to lack of proper
change frequency. • Does the company have the most PLC training.
• Other information: A company may common spare parts for the PLC? Company personnel who work with
need facility location when corporate • Is the original equipment manufacturer PLCs and their managers need training
headquarters is using this form, whether available 24/7? Or is it even in business that focuses on safety, reliability and best
the SCADA system is tied to each PLC anymore? practices of working with PLCs, which
or whether the type of automation is • Does the company have a backup copy goes beyond typical scholastic, textbook
PAC or PLC. of all PLC programs? or PLC vendor training. People in mainte-
• Does the company’s PLC program copy nance, electricians, maintenance managers
After a company collects the above have descriptions so personnel can work and industrial engineers who find these
information, it is imperative that person- reliably and efficiently with the PLC? PLC concepts new to their ears most
nel analyze it to develop an action plan • Does the company have the software likely need additional training. OEMs that
based on risk analysis. In the risk analy- needed to view the PLC program? provide this equipment to manufacturing
sis, bottlenecks and other factors help • Are the maintenance personnel trained and process industries also could use this
assess priorities. Starting with the highest on the PLC brands in inventory? additional training.

42 Industrial Engineer
Those who make decisions on equip-
ment purchases and production design
the no-alignment
can benefit as well. These maintenance breakdown
managers and industrial engineers not
only need to understand what to specify Industrial engineers and managers fighting downtime problems should add
for new purchases, they need to know alignment issues to their preventive maintenance programs, according to SKF.
what their employees who work with PLC Misaligned shafts and belts can damage seals and couplings, leading to lubri-
automation deal with. Employees actu- cation problems on rotating equipment. Correcting alignment is the only way to
ally working with PLC automation should prevent the failure of these seals in the future. And improperly aligned shafts or
receive refresher training every two years, belts face an increased load, which can cause a host of problems:
along with vendor specific training on new
equipment. Those who manage employ- • Increased friction, which can lead to excessive wear, excessive energy con-
ees who have access to the PLCs should sumption and the likelihood of equipment breaking down prematurely
have minimum PLC training. The manag- • Excessive wear on bearings and seals, resulting in premature failure
ers must know about the associated risk • Premature shaft and coupling failure
with “forces,” online programming and • Excessive seal lubricant leakage
other critical terminology. • Failure of coupling and foundation bolts
Vetting your instructors, whether • Increased vibration and noise
they are community college instructors
or consultants, is key. Ask your training According to the Swedish com-
provider about what safety topics, reli- pany, the two kinds of shaft mis-
ability and best practices will be covered in alignment are parallel, where the
the training. Make sure they have attended center lines of both shafts are par-
independent PLC safety and reliability allel to one another but are offset,
training courses within the last two years. and angular, where the shafts are at
Schedule sessions to accommodate the an angle to one other.
training, not to accommodate a predeter- Don’t rely on visual inspection.
mined timeframe. For instance, instead of Dial indicators are more accurate.
asking your provider for two days of PLC Even better are laser-guided tools
training, ask how long it will take to train that are quick, accurate and provide
your employees properly. Two days of train- real-time values so technicians can
ing may be just enough knowledge transfer measure and attain correct align-
for employees to be dangerous. Employees ment simultaneously. Make sure you
may walk away with the skill to access PLC account for “soft foot,” a condition
programming without knowing how to where one foot of a machine does
work with it safely and reliably. Improper not sit flat on the base plate. Shim
training can cause more downtime and plates generally can be used to bring
safety risk than no training. Without any machines back into alignment.
training, your workers couldn’t access and
change preprogramming, so they wouldn’t
have false confidence and the opportu- PLC, PAC, SCADA and VFDs (variable I recommend three days as the abso-
nity to take more risk. When it comes to frequency drive). Because of the risk to lute minimum for PLC basics and relevant
PLC and automation training, the old man and machine, the training provider’s safety training, although five days are
cliché “some training is better than none” ethical responsibility is to insist on the preferred. For a PAC or SCADA, five days
may not be true. proper amount of time to train employees. is the absolute minimum.
If your managers haven’t had PLC train- The company’s responsibility is to ask and A potential solution to scheduling
ing, they can’t judge whether five days consider the training provider’s recom- conflicts is a train the trainer approach.
is enough time to teach their employees mendation on time needed. While on-site, hands-on training for each

April 2012 43
tlc for your plcs

individual is always best, you can build up • All future equipment purchases will When evaluating your company’s PLC
the knowledge base and training skills of include a request that new equipment safety program, seek recommendations
one employee who then conducts in-house contain PLC brands that match facility from your OEMs and outside experts.
training for the rest of your workers. It is and personnel training. And considering the risk, it’s a good idea
recommended that every manufacturing • All new equipment purchases must to get your employees trained by a second
and production process company have at include a vendor pre-purchase agree- source. Diversity in education greatly
least one person per shift properly trained ment that requires provision of a improves understanding and reduces risk
in PLC automation. descriptor copy of PLC programs in the to the company. When seeking additional
customer’s native language. PLC training for company personnel, the
Policies and procedures • All PLC 120-volt control voltage will company should ask for examples of what
Written policies and procedures for manag- have a line filter on it. best practices, safety and reliability will be
ing and working with PLC automation • Any action that has to do with “forces” covered in training.
are absolutely critical, but true corporate on the PLC’s input or output will be For example, Windows-based software
success comes from following and enforc- considered a safety issue, and company commonly allows several ways to perform
ing the measures. Organizations often safety protocol must be followed. the same task. One way may be the best-
write guidelines about what they believe • No “force” shall be installed longer than practice method, but the other two ways of
is important for the health of the entire 24 hours. performing the same task could damage
corporate body, yet they leave out the brain, • No “force” shall be installed or changed people and/or the machine. The instruc-
the PLCs. The following list is by no means unless the employee first has a clear tor should show the best way to perform
complete, but it can help your company understanding of the complete effect on the task and warn students not to use the
start adding to its policies and procedures: the PLC program and machine, along other two ways.
with a second opinion for confirmation Take a technician who adds or modifies
• Backup copies of the PLC programs will of this understanding. a rung of logic on your Windows-based
be made every six months regardless of • Online programming while equipment PLC software. A technician who does not
change status. know any better might choose to verify
• All PLC programs that have been the change by picking “verify all” instead
changed are to be documented in soft- of “verify rung.” The “verify all” function
ware, hard copy and in the computerized inadvertently could verify rungs that were
maintenance management software changed improperly or accidentally years
(CMMS) program. ago. If those bad rungs of logic, which have
• Additional backup copies of all programs sat dormant for years, go active, the conse-
are to be stored off site in case of flood or quences could be enormous.
fire. PLC training and understanding are
• The PLC inventory detail spreadsheet is connected directly to reducing unplanned
to be updated anytime there is a change downtime. The return on training
in hardware or new equipment is added. investment, coupled with proper PLC
• Only those who have had PLC safety and is active greatly increases the risk to man management, is many times greater than
reliability training will be allowed access and machine, so consider this only as a the cost of the training. d
to PLCs and relevant software. last resort.
• PLCs that have EEPROMs or other • All automation equipment should be Don Fitchett is president of Business Indus-
backup integrated circuit chips will be on its own isolated network that is not trial Network, an industrial training company.
updated (burned) after any change to the accessible by the office network or any After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he
current program running the process. other network that could give access to spent the last 30 years in the industry, starting
• The maintenance or engineering depart- nontrained personnel. out in maintenance for world-class companies
ment will be responsible for ensuring like Toyota and Dana Corp. Fitchett founded
that all outside equipment vendors and Safety concerns Business Industrial Network in 1995. He is
consultants comply with these company PLC automation safety should be a the author of The True Cost of Downtime,
policies. company’s first and primary concern. now in its second edition.

44 Industrial Engineer