When production requirements changed so did the control system. This becomes very expensive when the change is frequent. Since relays are mechanical devices they also have a limited lifetime which required strict adhesion to maintenance schedules. Troubleshooting was also quite tedious when so many relays are involved. Now picture a machine control panel that included many, possibly hundreds or thousands, of individual relays. The size could be mind boggling. How about the complicated initial wiring of so many individual devices! These relays would be individually wired together in a manner that would yield the desired outcome.

These “new controllers” also had to be easily programmed by maintenance and plant engineers. The lifetime had to be long and programming changes easily performed. They also had to survive the harsh industrial environment. That’s a lot to ask! The answers were to use a programming technique most people were already familiar with and replace mechanical parts with solid-state ones.

In the mid70’s the dominant PLC technologies were sequencer state-machines and the bit-slice based CPU. The AMD 2901 and 2903 were quite popular in Modicon and A-B PLCs. Conventional microprocessors lacked the power to quickly solve PLC logic in all but the smallest PLCs. As conventional microprocessors evolved, larger and larger PLCs were being based upon them. However, even today some are still based upon the 2903.(ref A-B’s PLC-3) Modicon has yet to build a faster PLC than their 984A/B/X which was based upon the 2901.

Communications abilities began to appear in approximately 1973. The first such system was Modicon’s Modbus. The PLC could now talk to other PLCs and they could be far away from the actual machine they were controlling. They could also now be used to send and receive varying voltages to allow them to enter the analog world. Unfortunately, the lack of standardization coupled with continually changing technology has made PLC communications a nightmare of incompatible protocols and physical networks. Still, it was a great decade for the PLC!