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A PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) device is a small computer used in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. They provide data and control access to industrial automated processes.
Think about the brain controlling a finger on a light switch. The brain is the PLC, the finger is the equipment at a facility, and the act of turning on and off a switch is the control of inputs and outputs in industrial process.
PLCs can bring many benefits to your company, however, their many downsides are making network managers migrate to more efficient control solutions.
Let's take a look at these PLCs downsides and a cost-efficient alternative to this device.
The first thing you need to take into consideration when evaluating your decision to replace your PLCs is what kind of pain points that are currently bringing to you. The common issues network operators face are:
PLC systems are highly customizable. This won't be a disadvantage if you (or someone in your staff) have a high level of programming skills, but if you don't know (or don't have the time) how to program this can be a real deal-breaker.
PLCs are mostly suited only to manufacturing environments. This is can be a problem if your network is growing and now you see yourself having to monitor equipment at multiple distant sites.
If you need telecom equipment that you need to monitor and control, you know that their environment is often harsh. PLCs are simply are not designed to give you high reliability to endure extreme conditions.
Of course, there are no guarantees that your particular network will be better off without PLCs.
However, if your PLCs are at the end of their operational life and if you identify yourself with these main issues, maybe it's time to migrate to a more rugged device.
If you think that is time to invest in a more rugged solution for your SCADA system, then it's time for you to take a deeper look at Remote Telemetry/Terminal Units (RTUs).
RTUs are devices designed to be deployed at remote sites to monitor and report events occurring there. They are often used as a cost-effective alternative to PLCs, as they provide the same level of information and automation at remote facilities.
Some of the advantages of implementing RTUs include:
When compared to an PLC, an RTU is more "heavy-duty". They have more monitoring and control capacity than PLCs. So, RTUs are superior to PLCs when it comes to monitor and control many different devices.
They come programmed by the manufacturer, so how well you can program is not a problem here. If you have new employees, training them will be easier and faster. Keep in mind, though, that if you need a custom design to attend specific needs, simply look for a vertical-integrated company that can develop a custom-fit solution for your requirements.
Also, RTUs can control multiple processes, even without the direct intervention of a master station. Some of these processes include the specialization in networking, communications, and transportation processes.
RTUs are more suited to use in wider geographical areas due its wireless communication capabilities.
When choosing the right RTU for your network, it's important to take into consideration your current needs and future goals. When you buy a device that not only supports your present requirements but can expand to accommodate future goals, your investment goes a long way.
Other than this important aspect, there are five essential features to look for when shopping for an RTU:
Many common site problems - from power outages to high-temperature alarms - can be solved by quickly turning on a device such as a generator or an air conditioner. Control relays allow you to remotely operate the equipment at your remote sites, which helps you eliminate expensive truck rolls.
Detailed alarm notifications
Make sure your RTU device is able to give you detailed, informative information about your site situation. If your RTU includes diagnostic information in each alarm, that's even better. This way, you will be able to make informed decisions in a timely manner in case of an emergency.
It's safe to say that all your network tech and operators know how to use a web browser. Having an RTU that features a web browser makes sure that all your tech and operators can access your remote monitoring system from any computer, at any location.
Redundant backup communication
Backup serial ports or even internal modems are a great alternative to keep your monitoring system online even during a LAN failure.
Redundant backup power inputs
Having dual power inputs and battery backup keeps monitoring online even during power failures. Having both redundant backup communication and redundant backup power inputs allows you to visibility over your network no matter what.
You might need to replace PLCs due to age. You also might decide that an RTU with built-in functions is a way to handle the retirement wave that's sweeping through many different industries. As new employees join the company, they'll have a much easier time with an RTU that doesn't require traditional programming. You can have a smaller, less-trained team and still manage your large and growing network.
The goal here is to protect yourself with increasing levels of automation. You and a core team of experts should design the system that's incredibly easy for your newer users to understand and manage.
Don't go blindly forward when you're thinking about replacing PLCs. Talk to experts (and find more than one). Look for a company that can do some of the customizations you would have otherwise programmed yourself - and also include tech support and a user manual to really make sure you have a system your future teams can handle for 10 years or more.
Start your vendor search by contacting us today.