26 July 2016 Can your software engineer program your PLC?
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Abstract
The use of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) in the control of large physics experiments is ubiquitous1, 2, 3. The programming of these controllers is normally the domain of engineers with a background in electronics, this paper introduces PLC program development from the software engineer's perspective. PLC programs provide the link between control software running on PC architecture systems and physical hardware controlled and monitored by digital and analog signals. The higher-level software running on the PC is typically responsible for accepting operator input and from this deciding when and how hardware connected to the PLC is controlled. The PLC accepts demands from the PC, considers the current state of its connected hardware and if correct to do so (based upon interlocks or other constraints) adjusts its hardware output signals appropriately for the PC's demands. A published ICD (Interface Control Document) defines the PLC memory locations available to be written and read by the PC to control and monitor the hardware. Historically the method of programming PLCs has been ladder diagrams that closely resemble circuit diagrams, however, PLC manufacturers nowadays also provide, and promote, the use of higher-level programming languages4. Based on techniques used in the development of high-level PC software to control PLCs for multiple telescopes, this paper examines the development of PLC programs to operate the hardware of a medical cyclotron beamline controlled from a PC using the Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System (EPICS), which is also widely used in telescope control5, 6, 7. The PLC used is the new generation Siemens S7-1200 programmed using Siemens Pascal based Structured Control Language (SCL), which is their implementation of Structured Text (ST). The approach described is that from a software engineer's perspective, utilising Siemens Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal integrated development environment (IDE) to create modular PLC programs based upon reusable functions capable of being unit tested without the PLC connected to hardware. Emphasis has been placed on designing an interface between EPICS and SCL that enforces correct operation of hardware through stringent separation of PC accessible PLC memory and hardware I/O addresses used only by the PLC. The paper also introduces the method used to automate the creation, from the same source document, the PLC memory structure (tag) definitions (defining memory used to access hardware I/O and that accessed by the PC) and creation of the PC program data structures (EPICS database records) used to access the permitted PLC addresses. From direct experience this paper demonstrates the advantages of PLC program development being shared between electronic and software engineers, to enable use of the most appropriate processes from both the perspective of the hardware and the higher-level software used to control it.
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Alastair J. Borrowman, Philip Taylor, "Can your software engineer program your PLC?", Proc. SPIE 9913, Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy IV, 99131S (26 July 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2232590; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2232590
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