Part Four: Tools matter. What can Australian natives teach us about modern PLCs?

You are reading Part 4 of the PLC series. In this series of blogs, we write about the PLC industry. Its challenges. And how to overcome them. Enjoy!

PLC programmers are used to working with tools from a bygone era.

Programming languages, approaches, and methods of programming; have gone through an evolution to attain development acceleration, testability, readability, and scalability of programs.

The right and powerful tools enable you to deliver a solution faster, better, and cheaper.

Now, this text is going to be a bit philosophical — so, please try to stay with us. Any concept can be expressed in any human language because we are human, but the technical side of language can also play a role in how a concept is expressed.

The native tribes of Australia knew only the numbers one and two. So, when a hunter from one of these tribes needed to describe how many kangaroos were seen hopping around the outback; he had to follow a cumbersome pattern. He said one for one kangaroo, two for two, one-two for three, two-two for four, one-two-two for five, two-two-two for six. Everything else was just a lot (something like our infinity), less than lots (our infinity - 1) or more than lots (our infinity + 1).

Simple tools are fine as long as they serve a purpose, even if they are limited. From a practical point of view, it was enough for Australian natives to have a two-digit counting tool. Numerically expressing the number of termites in a termite hill probably does not make much sense. When we say there are a lot of them, we all know what it means. The problem arises when our tools are no longer sufficient from a practical point of view.

This is what happened to the PLC programming tools. We have been placing increasing demands on control systems. We expect them to have similar outputs and capabilities like our smart devices and personal computers. If I were to use a metaphor, I would say that the PLC systems of today's IT world are akin to what the Australian aborigines’ two-digit system is to our current numerical system. Try to write the number twenty in the two-digit system, and one ends up with: ‘two-two-two-two-two-two-two-two-two-two’ versus our ‘20’. The outcome is the same, but one of the systems/tools is obviously much more inefficient.

And that was just a low number. Does anyone want to try it with a thousand? — is it even possible? of course it is, but is it practical? absolutely not!

Part one: Rise of the PLC systems
Part two: PLCs are challenged
Part three: Different ways. Different results.
Part four: Tools matter. What can Australian natives teach us about modern PLCs?
Part five: Will Industry 4.0 save us?
Part six: How to get out of this?
Part seven: Why Beckhoff?
Part eight: Unlimited programming

Tags: History of PLCs

Peter Kurhajec
CTO of Inxton

Peter Kurhajec

Hello! I'm the CTO of Inxton! More than a decade ago my pet project turned into a full-time job - INXTON. Now I'm on a mission to bring industrial automation and information technologies together.