Industrial Indicator Makes the Move from PLC to FPGA

Industrial controls are fun to use in a build because they’re just so — well, industrial. They’re chunky and built to take a beating, both from the operating environment and the users. They’re often power guzzlers, though, so knowing how to convert an industrial indicator for microcontroller use might be a handy skill to have.

Having decided that an Allen-Bradley cluster indicator worked with the aesthetic of his project, a Halloween prop of some sort, [Glen] set about dissecting the controls. Industrial indicators usually make that a simple task so that they can be configured for different voltages in the field, and it turned out that the easiest approach to replacing the power-hungry incandescent bulbs with LEDs was to build a tiny PCB to fit inside the four-color lens.

The uniquely shaped board ended up being too small for even series resistors for the LEDs, so a separate driver board was also fabbed. The driver board is set up to allow a single 5-volt supply and logic levels of 3.3-volt or 5-volt, making the indicator compatible with just about anything. The finished product lends a suitably sinister look to the prop.

If you’re not familiar with the programmable logic controllers such an indicator would be used with in the field, then maybe you should try running Pong on a PLC for a little background.

8 thoughts on “Industrial Indicator Makes the Move from PLC to FPGA

  1. The reason it was difficult converting those push to test lights was because they have a transformer in them. They have a transformer in them to be less susceptible to line spikes from starting motors. Still not sure why you need an FPGA because a PLC should be easier I would think.

  2. Industrial controllers (PLC/PAC) have come a long way in the last 20 years, however by they are still 10 years or so behind the PC world. This is by design, they are meant to be very robust and reliable. An implementation can often have a 15+ year life doing the task they are implemented for and they are supported by the hardware manufacturer for this long and longer. I have personally dealt with systems installed in the mid 80’s that are still functioning. When I come across PC’s used for machine controls that are in this range, finding replacement parts is difficult if not impossible, and the code is not easily redeployed on a new PC. A good example of how behind the hardware manufacturers are is that they just finally starting to give some usable capability for internet connection; or that we are ecstatic that we have 2GB of Memory finally in smaller controllers.

    These controllers are meant for sensing and controlling the real world, not just user input, calculations and display. Often the equipment they are controlling is worth 100’s of thousands or millions of dollars, and minutes of downtime can cost 1000’s of dollars in lost productivity. The world’s are starting to merge however, there will always be a difference in what the requirements are for industrial automation, vs. tinker toys and the PC world.

    Just my comments on why industrial components and controllers are so different from similar consumer and commercial devices.

  3. “Industrial Indicator Makes the Move from PLC to FPGA”

    I find this title at-best misleading, at-worst click-bait. PLC and FPGA are not at the root of what’s going on here at all. IMHO only.

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