In a domestic or commercial situation there are many computer hardware and software devices and programmes available ‘off the shelf’ to cater for the majority of personal needs. However in an industrial environment a process may need a bespoke solution for which standard computer hardware or software solution may not be available.
We are all familiar with a standard computer and the software it uses to allow us to work on the computer. The computer will have what is called an operating system, which is essentially a software programme, which is installed onto the computer and allows us to install other programmes and use the computer for many different purposes. The most common operating software is made by Microsoft and is called Windows.
Microsoft also has a range of computer programmes which you might be familiar with. The Microsoft Office Suite which contains programmes such as Word and Excel being just two of these. Other companies such as Adobe and Google are hot on the heels of Microsoft in terms of the programmes they offer but the American giant still leads the way.
For applications which can’t use regular computer software bespoke software must be written. And in industry it is common to find bespoke hardware and software controlling many processes or applications. Take a bottling plant for example. The bottles need to be moved around the plant undergoing processes such as sterilisation, filling, labelling and packing. Each of these processes will require hardware and software specifically manufactured and written for each process.
Most mechanical and electrical process controlled systems will likely use things such as motors, pneumatic pistons, sensors, pressure switches and even human machine interfaces to enable operation of the device or machine, all which must be designed and built specifically for the machine to work.
Most process controlled applications use programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to control the function of the device, with software written specifically to control it. Manufacturers such as Siemens, Mitsubishi and Allen Bradley are at the forefront of PLC design and build in the UK, although many bespoke systems from smaller manufacturers are also available. PLCs usually consist of a processor which may be simultaneously connected to a wide range of devices including other PLCs to enable the functioning of the process.
So although many of us use the same type of hardware and software every day, it’s worth remembering that there is a huge range of different types of bespoke hardware and software used in factories across the UK.
Terry Grant wrote this article about bespoke hardware and software solutions for cacheuk.com.