Posts Tagged ‘controls engineer’

Industrial Control Basics – Motor Overload Relay In Action

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

    Last week we explored the topic of thermal expansion, and we learned how the bimetal contacts in a motor overload relay distort when heated.  We also discussed how the overload relay comes into play to prevent overheating in electric motor circuits.  Now let’s see what happens when an overload situation occurs.

motor overload relay

Figure 1


     Figure 1 shows a motor becoming overloaded, as it draws in abnormally high amounts of electric current.  Since this current also flows through the electric heater in the overload relay, the heater starts producing more heat than it would if the motor were running normally.  This abnormally high heat is directed towards the bimetal switch contacts, causing them to curl up tightly until they no longer touch each other and open up.  They will only close again when the overload condition is cleared up and the heater cools back down to normal operating temperature.

     Let’s now take a look at Figure 2 to see how the motor overload relay fits into our example of a conveyor belt motor control circuit.  Once again, the path of electric current flow is denoted by red lines.

motor overload relay

Figure 2


     The circuit in Figure 2 represents what happens after Button 1 is depressed.  That is, the electric relay has become latched and current flows between hot and neutral sides through one of the N.O. contacts along the path of the green indicator bulb, the motor overload relay heater, and the conveyor belt motor.  The current also flows through the other N.O. contact, the Emergency Stop button, Button 2, the electric relay’s wire coil, and the motor overload relay bimetal contacts.  The motor becomes overloaded, causing the overload relay heater to produce abnormally high heat.  This heat is directed towards the bimetal contacts, also causing them to heat up.

industrial control

Figure 3


     In Figure 3 the bimetal contacts have heated to the point that they have curled away from each other until they no longer touch.  With the bimetal contacts open, electric current is unable to flow through to the electric relay’s wire coil.  This in turn ends the magnetic attraction which formerly held the relay armatures against the N.O. contacts.  The spring in the electric relay has pulled the armatures up, causing the N.O. contacts to open, simultaneously closing the N.C. contact. 

     These actions have resulted in a loss of current to the green indicator bulb and electric motor.  The red indicator bulb is now activated, and the conveyor motor is caused to automatically shut down to prevent damage and possible fire due to overheating.  This means that even if the conveyor operator were to immediately press Button 1 in an attempt to restart the line, he would be prevented from doing so.  Under these conditions the electric relay is prevented from latching, and the motor remains shut down because the bimetal contacts have been separated, preventing current from flowing through to the wire coil. 

     The bimetal contacts will remain open until they once again cool to normal operating temperature.  Once cooled, they will once again close, and the motor can be restarted.  If the cause of the motor overload is not diagnosed and its ability to recur eliminated, the automatic shutdown process will repeat this cycle. 

     Next time we’ll see how the overload relay is represented in a ladder diagram.  We’ll also see how switches can be added to the circuit to allow maintenance staff to safely work.



Industrial Control Basics – Latching Circuit

Sunday, January 29th, 2012
     When I think of latches the first thing that comes to mind is my Uncle Jake’s outhouse and how I got stuck in it as a kid.  Its door was outfitted with a rusty old latch that had a nasty habit of locking up when someone entered, and it would take a tricky set of raps and bangs to loosen.  One day it was being particularly unresponsive to my repeated attempts to open it, and the scene became like something out of a horror movie.  There was a lot of screaming.

     When latches operate well, they’re indispensable.  Let’s take our example circuit from last time a bit further by adding more components and wires.  We’ll see how a latch can be applied to take the place of pressure exerted by an index finger.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1


     Our relay now contains an additional pivoting steel armature connected by a mechanical link to the original steel armature and spring.  The relay still has one N.C. contact, but it now has two N.O. contacts.  When the relay is in its normal state the spring holds both armatures away from the N.O. contacts so that no electric current will flow through them.  One armature touches the N.C. contact, and this is the point at which current will flow between hot and neutral sides, lighting the red bulb.  The parts of the circuit diagram with electric current flowing through them are denoted by red lines.

     Figure 1 reveals that there are now two pushbuttons instead of one.  Now let’s go to Figure 2 to see what happens when someone presses on Button 1.

Figure 2


     Again, the parts of the circuit diagram with current flowing through them are denoted by red lines.  From this diagram you can see that when Button 1 is depressed, current flows through the wire coil, making it and its steel core magnetic.  This electromagnet in turn attracts both steel armatures in our relay, causing them to pivot and touch their respective N.O. contacts.  Electric current now flows between hot and neutral sides, lighting up the green bulb.  Current no longer flows through the N.C. contact and the red bulb, making it go dark.

     If you look closely at Figure 2, you’ll notice that current can flow to the wire coil along two paths, either that of Button 1 or Button 2.  It will also flow through both N.O. contact points, as well as the additional armature.

     So how is this scenario different from last week’s blog discussion?  That becomes evident in Figure 3, when Button 1 is no longer depressed.

Figure 3


     In Figure 3 Button 1 is not depressed, and electric current does not flow through it.  The red bulb remains dark, and the green bulb lit.  How can this state exist without the human intervention of a finger depressing the button?  Because although one path for current flow was broken by releasing Button 1, the other path through Button 2 remains intact, allowing current to continue to flow through the wire coil.

     This situation exists because Button 2’s path  is “latched.”  Latching results in the relay’s wire coil keeping itself energized by maintaining armature contact at the N.O. contact points, even after Button 1 is released.  When in the latched state, the magnetic attraction maintained by the wire coil and steel core won’t allow the armature to release from the N.O. contacts.  This keeps current flowing through the wire coil and on to the green bulb.  Under these conditions the relay will remain latched.  But, just like my Uncle’s outhouse door, the relay can be unlatched if you know the trick to it. 

     Relays may be latched or unlatched, and next week we’ll see how Button 2 comes into play to create an unlatched condition in which the green bulb is dark and the red bulb lit.  We’ll also see how it is all represented in a ladder diagram.


Industrial Control Basics – Electric Relay Ladder Diagram

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012
     My daughter will be studying for her driver’s license exam soon, and I can already hear the questions starting.  “What does that sign mean?  Why does this sign mean construction is ahead?”  Symbols are an important part of our everyday lives, and in order to pass her test she’s going to become familiar with dozens of them that line our highways.

     Just as a triangle on the highway is a symbol for “caution,” industrial control systems employ a variety of symbols in their diagrams.  The pictures are shorthand for words.  They simplify the message, just as hieroglyphics did for our early ancestors who had not yet mastered the ability to write.  Ladder diagrams and the abstract symbols used in them are unique to industrial control systems, and they result in faster, clearer interpretations of how the system operates.  

     Last week we analyzed an electric circuit to see what happens when we put a relay to use within a basic industrial control system, as found in Figure 1.

Figure 1

     Now let’s see how it looks in an even simpler form, the three-rung ladder diagram shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2

     In industrial control terminology the electric relays shown in ladder diagrams are often called “control relays,” denoted as CR.  Since a ladder diagram can typically include many different control relays, they are numbered to avoid confusion.  The relay shown in Figure 2 has been named “CR1.” 

     Our ladder diagram contains a number of symbols.  The symbol on the top rung which looks like two parallel vertical lines with a diagonal line bridging the gap between them represents the N.C. contact.  This symbol’s vertical lines represent an air gap in the N.C. contact, the diagonal line is the relay armature which performs the function of bridging/closing the air gap.  This rung of the ladder diagram represents the contact when the relay is in its normal state.  

     In the middle ladder rung the N.O. contact symbol looks like two parallel vertical lines separated by a gap.  There is no diagonal line running through it since the relay armature doesn’t touch the N.O. contact when this particular relay is in its normal state.  The wire coil and steel core of this relay are represented by a circle on the bottom ladder rung.  The contact and coil symbols on all three rungs are labeled “CR1” to make it clear that they are part of the same control relay.

     Other symbols within Figure 2 represent the red and green bulbs we have become familiar with from our initial illustration.  They are depicted as circles, R for red and G for green, with symbolic light rays around them.  The pushbutton, PB1, is represented as we have discussed in previous articles on ladder diagrams.

     Just as road sign symbols are faster than sentences for drivers speeding down a highway to interpret, ladder diagrams are faster than customary illustrations for busy workers to interpret. 

     Next time we’ll expand on our electric relay by introducing latching components into the control system that will allow for a greater degree of automation.