When you observe the factory floor of a modern manufacturing facility, you may notice high-tech equipment such as LCD touchscreens attached to heavy-duty machines. These LCD monitors provide a graphical user interface to programmable logic controller (PLC) devices that manage factory equipment, from assembly line conveyor belts to massive hydraulic-powered generators.
If you work in a factory and want to improve your job opportunities or have an interest in a training for a computer-oriented manufacturing job, you should explore the path to becoming a PLC technician.
PLC Technician Basics
The first PLCs appeared on factory floors of manufacturers in 1969 and can now be found in facilities all over the world. PLC technicians install, operate, troubleshoot and repair heavy-duty controllers that control a variety of electrical and mechanical machines such as amusement park rides, silo feeding systems on farms and printing presses for newspaper production.
PLC technician duties include:
- Configuring and modifying PLC systems to meet factory needs
- Ordering parts
- Replacing defective PLC equipment
- Rebooting PLC programs after outages
- Conducting power tests using diagnostic equipment to make sure equipment meets industry and regulatory standards
- Maintaining maintenance and repair reports
- Programming PLC systems
What You Learn
A benefit of PLC training is that you do not need any previous technical experience to begin a program. You begin your coursework by learning about the different components of a typical PLC system and how they work together. This includes learning about:
- PLC central processing units
- How the devices communicate with factory machines
- Electrical diagrams
- Methods of programming PLCs
In addition to learning the basics of how to install and operate PLCs, you will also learn how to operate a wide range of PLC equipment from leading manufacturers. Advanced topics in a PLC training program include data transfer between controllers and robotics. You can also learn ladder logic, the programming language used to develop software for PLCs.
Training and Certification Options
You have several options when it comes to obtaining a PLC education. Facilities that offer PLC training include:
- Technical schools
- Community colleges and four-year colleges
- PLC manufacturers
- Major PLC suppliers
- Online courses
Programs provide you a certificate of completion after you successfully pass all of your classes. If you attend a PLC program at an accredited technical school or college, you may be able to earn an associate's degree as well.
If you already work in manufacturing facility you should ask you employer if they offer reimbursement for educational training. Some manufacturing facilities also provide on-site PLC training.
Upgrading Your Skills
If you want to increase your job opportunities as a PLC expert you can become an instructor or learn how to upgrade PLC machines with the latest safety features. Universities that offer PLC instructional labs in mechanical engineering programs can provide you with the education needed to apply for jobs as an instructor.
Many companies also hire PLC technicians to upgrade machines with safety features or to install specialized safety PLCs. Safety features on PLCs are necessary to prevent explosions, hazardous spills and other unsafe conditions when machines fail to operate properly. The safety upgrades help to protect workers and equipment by shutting down machines where there is a malfunction.
Job Settings and Outlook
Once you obtain your PLC training you can apply for jobs in a wide variety of industries from aerospace companies to agricultural equipment manufacturers. You can work as a full-time employee for a manufacturing firm like Flodyne Incorporated as a PLC technician, programmer or manager. In addition, you can specialize in certain types of PLC machines or work in sales for suppliers of PLC equipment.
The market for PLC technicians is healthy. The average salary of a PLC technician is $43,000 per year, with high earners taking home nearly $75,000 annually. Ladder logic programmers can make over $100 per hour.