Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
A manufacturing system is a typical industrial ap-
plication requiring sequential control, also known
as logic control. Programmable Logic Controllers,
or just PLCs, are a class of industrial computers
particularly well adapted to sequential control
(Bolton, 2009). Hence, manufacturing plants and
most industrial systems are controlled by PLCs.
PLC programming is expected to be a major
skill for any industrial engineer. However, not
rarely, engineering schools hear complaints from
industry that their recent graduates are unprepared
to program PLCs to perform small to medium
complexity control tasks, even those very common
in manufacturing and industrial environments.
Traditionally, teachers argue that engineering
schools do not have conditions to recreate indus-
trial plants in their labs: training applications based
on industrial plants are extremely costly, require
considerable room and regular maintenance and
are risky for the inexperienced trainees who are
trying to making them work; therefore, academic
training in PLC programming cannot cover much
more than introductory problems and just on the
basis of the classical “lights and switches boxes
wired to a PLC” approach. While, at a certain
extent, this may be an honest answer, it does
not mean that nothing can be done to solve this
important problem. In fact, synthetic plants and
serious games provide the perfect solution.
Wiring somehow a PLC to a computer and
then programming the first so it can control a
simulated industrial plant running on the sec-
ond, is the genesis of serious games for PLC
programming education and training. This idea
is definitely not new, and some variations are
possible. For instance, the PLC may be a soft-
ware component - an industrial softPLC or just a
simulation program - running on the same or on
another computer and exchanging data with the
virtual plant via a logic interface. Another pos-
sibility is to include a “switch” in the simulation
program allowing the synthetic environment to
be controlled in “Manual” or “PLC” mode. In
the first case, and by using the keyboard or the
computer mouse, the trainee can send control
commands to the synthetic plant, trying to control
it manually. This “man in the loop” approach lets
trainees conduct their own experiences in order
to get a complete understanding of the plant
and then specify the required control algorithm;
hence, “manual control” serves mainly for logic
control education and training. On the other hand,
“PLC control” mode is a “hardware in the loop”
approach, as the behaviour of the synthetic plant
strictly depends on the program running on the
PLC; hence, it serves mainly PLC programming
education and training.
A brief survey on synthetic systems for logic
control training suffices to conclude that software
developers do not share a common perception of
what is worth to emulate and how. For instance,
in the classical “Automation Studio” (AS) (Famic
Technologies Inc., 2010), mostly oriented to circuit
analysis, emulation means basically animation
of schematic diagrams - Figure 1. Using this
software, students can sketch control solutions
Figure 1. Plant simulation in Automation Studio
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