The automation and material handling industry continues to grow rapidly as warehouse and e-fulfilment facilities automate to keep up with the growing demand for storage and distribution. Automated systems such as conveyors and sorters have become essential for the fast and accurate movement of stock around large facilities.
As much as the equipment itself has become essential, it is the supporting control systems which companies rely on to optimise operational performance and make key decisions rapidly. Control systems also bring higher accuracy, increased capacity, enhanced visibility and reporting.
As material handling and automation specialists, AMH Material Handling has 30 years of experience in integrating control systems alongside automation installations. This knowledge and understanding means the team can advise which type of control system is most suitable for each unique facility.
There are several types of control systems available depending on your equipment and requirements:
• Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) – A Programmable Logic Controller or Programmable Controller is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedised and adapted for the control of manufacturing processes such as assembly lines or robotic devices.
The PLC receives information from connected input devices and sensors. It then processes the received data and triggers the required outputs as per its pre-programmed parameters. Based on its inputs and outputs, a PLC can easily monitor and record real-time data such as operating temperature, productivity, machine failure alarms, automatic start and stop processes and much more. PLCs are robust and flexible manufacturing and logistics process control solutions which are adaptable to most applications.
PLC systems are ideal for any activity which requires high reliability, ease of programming and process fault diagnosis. The PLC controllers can automate a specific process, machine function or even an entire production line.
• Warehouse Control System (WCS) – A WCS is a software application used for the management and direction of ‘real-time’ activities within warehouses and distribution centres. It acts as a traffic regulator for warehousing activities, with the mission of running material handling automation systems and in some instances, the activities of workers. A good WCS system provides a broad, yet consistent interface for material handling systems such as conveyors, carousels, palletisers and sorters.
In most facilities, the WCS will enable the exchange of the necessary information with the host WMS to manage automated material handling functions and determine the most efficient routing of products. In addition to this, a WCS is essential for activities such as assigning parcels and cartons to divert locations.
The WCS offers real-time monitoring, controlling and diagnostics of automated systems based on data collected from system-level controllers and sensors. This collectively leads to a smooth end-to-end workflow between both warehouse personnel and materials handling equipment.
For those who operate a highly-automated facility, warehouse control systems are very important to ensure the site runs smoothly and orders are tracked as they move automatically through the facility.
• Warehouse Management System (WMS) – A WMS is a software application designed to helps control and manage the day-to-day operations in a warehouse or distribution centre. WMS software guides goods-in processes, optimises picking and the dispatch of orders, and advises on inventory replenishment. These systems help management with daily planning, organising, staffing and directing within a warehouse.
A WMS knows the inventory flow of the company as a whole, but it needs a WCS to provide information on where items, cartons and pallets are as they move along automated systems within a distribution centre or warehouse.
There are several different types of screens available to use with control systems depending on installation layout and requirements.
• Human Machine Interface (HMI) – HMI is a user interface or dashboard which connects to machines or systems to allow operators to monitor and track processes and performance. They come in a variety of forms such as a built-in screen, computer monitors or tablets. Typically in materials handling and logistics, HMIs are used for visual data display, tracking production times and trends, machine status, system layout and alarms for any issues.
• Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) – SCADA and HMI are often referred to in the same context, however, they offer different functionality. HMIs are focused on visually conveying information whereas SCADA systems have a greater capacity for data collection and control system operation. They also provide a greater level of user interaction and information compared to an HMI.
• Warehouse Control System (WCS) Client Application – Subject to connectivity and security, WCS applications are accessible by a web browser. This provides flexibility as it allows users to access the system from other buildings.
If a project features automation, there will likely be a requirement for some level of controls. This might be PLC, WCS or WMS or a mixture of all three. It is very common for the three levels to be provided by different businesses. AMH Material Handling works closely with suppliers to integrate controls systems flawlessly when delivering automation projects.
It is best to incorporate control systems at the early stages of system design to aid both innovation and validity. Commonality across the controls area can ensure strong integration and also simplify support. The most cost-effective and seamless scenario is for AMH to provide all levels of control, although the requirements of the customer are always prioritised.
If you would like to discuss how AMH Material Handling can implement and design a bespoke automation system complete with controls systems to enhance and improve your processes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the team on 0121 550 4343.