Previous chapters have explored design techniques to solve large problems using techniques such as state diagrams and SFCs. Large systems may contain hundreds of those types of problems. This section will attempt to lay a philosophical approach that will help you approach these designs. The most important concepts are clarity and simplicity.
30.4.1 Developing a Program Structure
Understanding the process will simplify the controller design. When the system is only partially understood, or vaguely defined the development process becomes iterative. Programs will be developed, and modified until they are acceptable. When information and events are clearly understood the program design will become obvious. Questions that can help clarify the system include;
When possible a large controls problems should be broken down into smaller problems. This often happens when parts of the system operate independent of each other. This may also happen when operations occur in a fixed sequence. If this is the case the controls problem can be divided into the two smaller (and simpler) portions. The questions to ask are;
After examining the system the controller should be broken into operations. This can be done with a tree structure as shown in Figure 30.1 Functional Diagram for Press Control. This breaks control into smaller tasks that need to be executed. This technique is only used to divide the programming tasks into smaller sections that are distinct.
Each block in the functional diagram can be written as a separate subroutine. A higher level executive program will call these subroutines as needed. The executive program can also be broken into smaller parts. This keeps the main program more compact, and reduces the overall execution time. And, because the subroutines only run when they should, the change of unexpected operation is reduced. This is the method promoted by methods such as SFCs and FBDs.
Each functional program should be given its’ own block of memory so that there are no conflicts with shared memory. System wide data or status information can be kept in common areas. Typical examples include a flag to indicate a certain product type, or a recipe oriented system.
Testing should be considered during software planning and writing. The best scenario is that the software is written in small pieces, and then each piece is tested. This is important in a large system. When a system is written as a single large piece of code, it becomes much more difficult to identify the source of errors.
The most disregarded statement involves documentation. All documentation should be written when the software is written. If the documentation can be written first, the software is usually more reliable and easier to write. Comments should be entered when ladder logic is entered. This often helps to clarify thoughts and expose careless errors. Documentation is essential on large projects where others are likely to maintain the system. Even if you maintain it, you are likely to forget what your original design intention was.
• Programmers sit at the keyboard and debug by trial and error. If a programmer is testing a program and an error occurs, there are two possible scenarios. First, the programmer knows what the problem is, and can fix it immediately. Second, the programmer only has a vague idea, and often makes no progress doing trial-and-error debugging. If trial-and-error programming is going on the program is not understood, and it should be fixed through replanning.
• Biting off more than you can chew. some projects are overly ambitious. Avoid adding wild extras, and just meet the needs of the project. Sometimes an unnecessary extra can take more time than the rest of the project.
30.4.2 Program Verification and Simulation
After a program has been written it is important to verify that it works as intended, before it is used in production. In a simple application this might involve running the program on the machine, and looking for improper operation. In a complex application this approach is not suitable. A good approach to software development involves the following steps in approximate order:
6. Error proofing - the system can be tested by trying expected and unexpected failures. When doing this testing, irrational things should also be considered. This might include unplugging sensors, jamming actuators, operator errors, etc.
Program testing can be done on machines, but this is not always possible or desireable. In these cases simulators allow the programs to be tested without the actual machine. The use of a simulator typically follows the basic steps below.
2. A basic model of the system is developed in terms of the inputs and outputs. This might include items such as when sensor changes are expected, what effects actuators should have, and expected operator inputs.