Creating “social behavior” in a PLC

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Today, technology gives us a great opportunity to communicate to others quickly and no matter where we are, and that’s one of the most important accomplishments if we consider communications throughout our human history. This technology is completely open and accessible for everybody who would like to create new applications and solutions; all this thanks to the need for communicating between people.

But all those features are part of the human behavior; every person can communicate their thoughts, their feelings, what they see or what they believe with a single click. Could it be possible for a PLC to communicate its information socially? Let’s define social, if we say “social” we are involving in a group of entities able to share information with other entities of the same kind, with similar interest or sharing similar experiences; now, if “social” is share information in that way to others, is it possible that an electronic device such as a PLC could share relevant information with other devices, with or without a trigger, just for enhancing it’s own capabilities? or even the group capabilities?


meshLet’s imagine a simple PLC network, using Modbus over Ethernet (or other protocol of your preference), in which every controller could send information in a random broadcasting to a specific PLC message server, or could just listen to or gather this information from others as clients, random clients, random consumers of this information that could be relevant for those which are processing similar information, or just to know the “feelings” of their neighbor (like a gossip PLC), the consequences are unimaginable, we are not creating a neural PLC network, we are creating a neighborhood of “social” controllers that transmit and gather information randomly to enhance its common behavior or to create an automatic tuning of  its processes depending on their neighbors and depending on their own needs for information. A simple and useful application could be the management of traffic jams (that could be really useful, don’t you think?)

I assume that you are thinking that in Ladder, FBD, or ST languages it is impossible to develop that behavior, because a PLC is just a logic controller, and their programming languages are very limited for those functions, but we should take a look beyond IEC 61131-3 standard, did you know that some PLC’s have a high level language such as Java integrated in their servers? Did you know that you can program and link variables of PLC’s directly through a Java Applet for monitoring on a web page, and that it could be accessible for everyone around the globe?

Today we have the technology for developing a “neighborhood of social controllers”, collaborating with others to enhance its process, sharing information about common situations or conditions, empowering our process automation solutions, and the most important part, sharing information to make the most of our energy every day, all we need to do is imagine it.

Can you imagine other “social network” solutions for an automation system?

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  • Martin, in short, the answer is … No. First reason, notice going to your live PAC html page example (where it had to serve up 1 picture, it was god awful slow (Even on my faster than T1 connection). Second, the word “Random” and live machine control where damage to man or machine can occur is the opposite of “predictability” which we seek in machine control. (If you are just talking PC software, or social networking, “Random” can be a powerful thing, but not in systems that have physical repercussions.)

    In reply to your question at the end of article Martin “Can you imagine other “social network” solutions for an automation system?” Oh yea, infinite solutions, when you change your “social network” discussion/article from referring to machine “socializing” with each other, to being about “machines socializing with operators”.

    Then instead of focusing on AI (artificial intelligence) focus on real intelligence (human). I am thinking more of a logical , constant improvement, increased profitability perspective.

    Then the idea that came to my mind was the operator talks to the machine/system. There can be preprogrammed response for improved operator experience. Designed to encourage interaction and a social experience. But the root objective of the system can be to get feedback from operators (humans) that is routed directly to OEM (machine/system designer) in real time. PAC programmer can write code to monitor certain aspects and if certain alarm/condition exist, HMI ask user about it, tells maintenance about it. The feedback is recorded and sent to equipment designer so they can make improvements, address.

    Another even further evolution of this base social system, would be a social network system with the OEM being the hub. Operators of say a Mazak CNC would network via machine operator screen with other operators of the same type machine to get answers to problems, process improvement ideas, etc.

    Yes, there will be issues to be worked out like too much chatting with machine by operator, cussing, etc.. 🙂 But nothing that can’t be worked out by some creative programming. Because it is just using the PAC’s Web Browser interface and mimicking social networking that already exist, solutions already exist for most of the barriers to such an industrial social networking system.

    The benefits will be to machine owner, machine designer and operators. The truly human interface will serve as tool for constant improvement, minimized downtime in ways we can not imagine, until it is in place and being used.

    NOTE: Above I changed your reference to live html page being served up by controller from “PLC” to “PAC” so it would be technically correct . See for better understanding.

    Hope my feedback inspires some new ideas and direct.
    Don Fitchett
    President of BIN

  • Sharon Smith

    11 years ago

    There is a great discussion going on in relations to this blog on the Automation Engineers LinkedIn site.

  • Martin Gallardo

    11 years ago

    Hi Don

    Thanks for your comments!
    Well, you’re right, we can imagine a lot of different applications based on “social behavior”, but the main idea is try to start a great discussion about the potential future of our controllers. I think that all ideas are great, but this discussion here and in LinkedIn groups let us understan every possible vision about this great idea.

    I think that part of the innovation process is to show our ideas and start a discussion. As big technology providers, we are responsibles for leading the process to develop new technologies or new ways to enhance our everyday life

    Best regards!

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