Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are the brains behind many of the automated processes we see today. From manufacturing plants to power plants and even building management systems, PLCs are at the heart of it all.

Extending beyond traditional industrial environments, PLCs have also found their niche in mobile equipment and vehicles. In this arena, they’re responsible for efficiently managing complex systems such as hydraulic mechanisms in construction machinery or automation processes in agricultural equipment.

If you are working with mobile equipment, you may have a few fundamental questions when looking to purchase PLCs.

Does the type of PLC really matter? How do you choose the best PLC for your specific mobile equipment? What features and functionalities should you be looking for?

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Importance of Selecting the Right PLC for Your Mobile Equipment

Choosing the ideal PLC for your mobile equipment is a decision with far-reaching implications. Here’s why it matters so much:

Tackling Tough Environments

Mobile equipment is subjected to extreme environmental stressors — from temperature fluctuations to mechanical shocks and ingress of dust and moisture. The chosen PLC must be engineered to meet specific industry standards, like IP (Ingress Protection) ratings for dust and water resistance, and should be capable of operating reliably in these severe conditions.

  • IP (Ingress Protection) Ratings – The rating system, denoted by two digits, indicates the level of protection against solid objects (first digit) and liquids (second digit). For instance, an IP67 rating means a PLC is completely protected against dust (6) and can handle temporary immersion in water (7).

Prioritizing Safety and Dependability

Keeping your operators safe and your equipment running is non-negotiable. Opt for a PLC that aligns with stringent safety protocols like ISO 13849-1:2023 and offers robust fail-safes and diagnostic capabilities to prevent hazardous malfunctions or costly unplanned downtime.

  • ISO 13849-1:2023 – An updated standard that specifies the safety-related parts of control systems
  • Fail-Safes – Emergency stop, overload protection, real-time monitoring for voltage and current

Handling Complex Controls

Mobile machinery often involves intricate control systems for precise operations, such as variable frequency drives for motor control or PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) controllers for process regulation. The PLC should be capable of executing complex control algorithms while managing multiple control loops simultaneously.

  • Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) – Used for motor control, VFDs adjust motor speed and torque by varying motor input frequency and voltage.
  • PID Controllers – These are critical for process regulation, where precise control of temperature, pressure, or flow rate is needed.

Seamless System Integration

In the age of IoT and Industry 4.0, your PLC must integrate efficiently with various systems and communication protocols, including:

  • CAN (Controller Area Network) – Vital for vehicle and machinery communication, allowing for efficient communication between multiple microcontrollers and devices, even in the absence of a central host computer.
  • MODBUS – A widely used protocol for connecting industrial electronic devices, essential for ensuring interoperability between equipment from different manufacturers.
  • PROFIBUS – A standard for fieldbus communication in automation technology, enabling the exchange of data between controllers and devices like sensors and actuators.

These protocols enable your PLC to communicate effectively, monitor operations remotely, and utilise data analytics for predictive maintenance. This level of integration ensures that your PLC is not just a standalone controller but a connected, responsive component of a larger, smarter system.

Adapting and Scaling to Your Needs

As your mobile equipment evolves, so should your PLC system. The PLC should be modular and scalable. Look for PLCs that allow for the straightforward addition of I/O modules, communication cards, or function blocks.

Balancing Performance with Cost

Selecting a PLC that offers long-term operational efficiency can significantly reduce TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This includes factors like energy efficiency, minimization of maintenance intervals, and extended lifecycle of the equipment.

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20 Questions to Ask When Choosing PLCs for Mobile Equipment

When you’re in the process of choosing the ideal PLC for your mobile equipment, it’s important to pause and think through several key aspects. Here’s a list of 20 essential questions to guide this decision-making process:

  • Do you require special certifications or ratings for your PLC, such as IP ratings for water and dust resistance?
  • What impact would system failures or downtime have on your operations?
  • What specific tasks or processes do you need your PLC to manage?
  • Does your application demand handling complex algorithms or high-speed processing?
  • Does your PLC need to integrate with existing networks or communication protocols, like CAN bus or Ethernet?
  • Is remote access or control a crucial feature for your operations?
  • Will you need to add more input/output (I/O) modules or functionalities in the future?
  • How easily can your PLC be scaled up or modified for different applications?
  • Does the PLC provide adequate safety features, such as emergency stops and fault diagnostics?
  • Are there specific industry standards or regulations that your PLC must adhere to?
  • Does the vendor have a strong reputation for providing reliable PLC solutions in mobile equipment contexts?
  • What kind of technical support, warranty, and training does the vendor offer?
  • How many and what types of input and output ports does your application require?
  • Do you have specific needs for analog or digital I/Os, and what are their voltage and current ratings?
  • Will your PLC need to support special types of inputs or outputs, like temperature sensors or PWM outputs?
  • What are the space constraints for installing the PLC in your mobile equipment?
  • Is a specific mounting style, such as DIN rail or panel mount, required for your PLC?
  • What communication protocols must your PLC support, including CAN, Modbus, PROFIBUS, Ethernet?
  • Is compatibility with your existing network infrastructure a key concern?
  • Does the PLC offer a built-in user interface, or will you require an external interface for it?

IFM Solutions for Mobile Equipment

When it comes to choosing the right PLC for mobile equipment, the name IFM shines through. Their PLC offerings extend to an impressive array of mobile machines, encompassing bulldozers, concrete mixers, de-icers, fire trucks, refuse trucks, seeders, street sweepers, combines, cranes, excavators, harvesters, rock crushers, skid steer loaders, and telehandlers.

Their mobile control systems are protected against electromagnetic interference and can manage numerous inputs and outputs effectively for modern mobile vehicles with powerful control electronics.

Product Offerings
  • Hardened PLCs – IFM PLCs are engineered to withstand extreme conditions like high temperatures, dust, and intense vibrations, making them ideal for heavy-duty applications in construction, mining, and agriculture.
  • HMI Controllers – Their HMIs offer real-time data, control options, and system diagnostics, aiding operators in efficiently and safely monitoring and managing complex tasks.
  • IO Control Modules – Their ioControl modules manage inputs and outputs via CAN, simplifying wire harnesses and displaying critical system messages via an integrated two-color LED display.
  • ISOBUS Gateways – IFM’s ISOBUS gateway facilitates communication between implements and tractors. They come equipped with pre-installed ISOBUS object pools for seamless visualization, easy configuration through CODESYS, and rapid implementation without the burden of extra license fees.
  • Collision Sensors – Their 3D Mobile Camera System provides collision avoidance capabilities that can detect obstacles and halt vehicles when necessary. This is key for safety in environments where machinery and personnel are in close proximity.
  • Machine Data Sensors – Advanced sensors, including inductive proximity sensors, pressure transmitters, temperature transmitters, inclination sensors, and encoders, can link to IFM PLCs to collect vital data such as temperature, pressure, and load. This is important for predictive maintenance and performance optimization.

B&R Solutions for Mobile Automation

B&R also presents a compelling option for mobile PLC solutions – specifically those for agricultural applications. They acknowledge the significance of safety in mobile machinery and provide solutions compliant with the European Machinery Directive.

Product Offerings
  • Automation PC 3100 mobile –  B&R offers a high-performance PC designed for mobile machinery. It comes equipped with an Intel Core i processor and boasts IP69K protection.
  • Software – Automation Studio simplifies the configuration process for controllers, drives, communication equipment, and HMI devices. This streamlines integration efforts, ultimately reducing both time and maintenance costs.
  • Simulation Tools – Offer support for modelling and simulation through tools such as MATLAB/Simulink and MapleSim. These tools enable developers to work in their preferred programming languages, accelerating the development of mobile machinery.
  • Power Panel T50 Mobile – Crafted as a dedicated web browser terminal, the Power \Panel T50 Mobile delivers dependable operation for agricultural, construction, and municipal vehicles. Its projected capacitive touch screen maintains functionality even in rainy conditions or when users are wearing gloves.
  • ISOBUS Stack – B&R offers an ISOBUS stack tailored for agricultural equipment. This stack facilitates standardized communication between tractors and implements, promoting seamless data exchange among machines from various manufacturers.