Did Someone Say Control? Deciding on a Control System Architecture

November 27, 2023 - Author: Kurtis Bell - Vice President of Operations, Andrew Harris - Senior Instrumentation and Controls Engineer, Michigan Team Lead

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Control system architecture

Careful Considerations to Make When Choosing Control Platforms

As Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) continue to advance, offering faster processing speeds and enhanced data capture capabilities, the once clear line between a Data Acquisition System (DAQ) and a PLC within a testing environment has considerably blurred. This evolution presents a challenge in the realm of control system architecture development, particularly in determining the optimal systems and equipment that are best controlled by a DAQ, a PLC, or a Building Automation System (BAS).

Each of these control system solutions comes with its own set of unique advantages, making the decision-making process quite intricate and contingent on various factors. It’s vital to acknowledge that this choice is often influenced by user preferences and their competence in system operation and maintenance. Additionally, it demands a thorough assessment of the testing environment’s objectives to make the most informed and efficient selection of control methodologies. The chosen control system architecture must align with any industry standards and regulations to fulfill safety and quality prerequisites, adding an additional layer of complexity to the decision-making process for your organization.

The complexity of a control system architecture demands careful consideration, especially concerning both present and prospective testing requirements. When your organization is confronted with the task of selecting from various control system options, there are two pivotal questions that should guide your decision:

  1. What level of experience do your organization’s test equipment operators have with any control platform?
  2. Who will ultimately be responsible for operating and maintaining the controls system?

The best outcome when developing a control system architecture is to combine the capabilities and advantages of all control platforms including DAQ, PLC, and/or BAS into a cohesive and all-encompassing system that provides:

  • User-friendly interface: Design an intuitive and user-friendly interface for operators and administrators, reducing the learning curve and improving overall usability for the Unit Under Test (UUT).
  • Scalability and expandability: The architecture should be designed in a way that allows for easy scalability and expandability to accommodate future growth and changes in system requirements.
  • Robust fault detection and recovery: Implement robust fault detection mechanisms and quick recovery procedures to minimize downtime and ensure continuous operation in the event of system failures or errors.
  • Cybersecurity measures: Implement strong cybersecurity measures to protect the control system from external threats and ensure the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive data.
  • Integration with third-party systems: Enable seamless integration with third-party systems and devices to enhance interoperability and functionality.
  • Data logging and real-time reporting: Incorporate real-time reporting and alerting features to promptly notify operators of critical events requiring attention along with remote monitoring and control capabilities that allow you to manage and troubleshoot the system from anywhere, thereby enhancing overall efficiency and responsiveness. Additionally, integrated data logging and analysis capabilities capture and assess performance data, facilitating well-informed decision-making and system optimization.

Asking the right questions at the start of a project helps ensure that the system we design will serve the client and meet their needs. We delve deep into the intricacies of their operations, striving to uncover the challenges, specific goals, and potential constraints they might encounter.