• Through a user interface such as a pendant, controls direct product movement and positioning.

  • Controls interface with and manage hardware through a communications network to ensure that equipment operates properly and safely.

Consisting of hardware, sensors and software, material handling control systems direct and report on the status of hydraulic- and electrical-powered industrial equipment and products/inventory. Controls interface with and manage hardware through a communications network to ensure that equipment operates properly and safely. They also direct product movement and positioning for subsequent operations. Further, through a user interface, controls provide information to identify products and their locations, as well as equipment status monitoring and diagnostics. Typical devices include controllers remote or wireless controls, pendant stations, festoons, drives, motors, conductor bars, anti-collision equipment, brakes and resistors.

A control system is comprised of hardware, software and communications network, including:

  • Sensors are used to detect the presence, condition or size of items in a material handling system. Types include:

    • Photoelectric sensors (also called optical devices, photo eyes or electronic eyes), which use a beam of light that, when interrupted, signals the presence of an object.
    • Limit switches, which employ an arm triggered by contact with a moving object.
    • Proximity sensors, which detect the presence of an object without touching it. These no-touch package detection methods include magnetic induction or ultrasonic systems.
    • Smart sensors, which feature diagnostic and programmability functions.
  • Intelligent peripherals are hardware components that collect and process information about the industrial equipment or products, and communicate the results to the control system or to an operator. This type of equipment includes automatic identification devices such as barcodes, barcode readers and barcode scanners, radio frequency identification (RFID), radio frequency data capture (RFDC) units, voice recognition computers and headsets, and cubing and weighing tools, such as scales.

  • Controllers are used to control the flow of materials and products through automated handling equipment. When a controller receives a certain dataset or signal, it reacts accordingly: sending an item in a specific direction, or triggering a predefined process. Equipment includes motor controllers, programmable logic controllers (PLC), and industrial computers.

  • Protective devices and protective guarding — such as perimeter guarding, interlock switches and emergency stops—are triggered by controls programmed to detect the presence of an operator who is too close to functioning equipment or an unsafe condition.

  • Software for control reads inputs, tests conditions and sets outputs. It uses timers, counters, arithmetic functions and data transfer/communications functions to control the hardware components and industrial equipment.

  • Communication is delivered to the hardware components in the control system through wiring and wireless (radio frequency devices. Large, complex systems utilize device networks (also called industrial networks or fieldbus networks), a low-cost digital communications system that links industrial equipment to the controllers.

Controls connect equipment and systems that support processing and picking throughout a facility:

  • Assembly: Indicating that a part has arrived for assembly processes
  • Conveyance: Sending an item down the conveyor to its appropriate destination
  • Order picking: Indicating the number of items to be picked, or releasing a product for picking from an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS)
  • Production: Moving in-process parts through a production line
  • Replenishment: Triggering a command for the release of products from storage to forward picking
  • Safety: Stopping an operating piece of equipment should personnel be too close or an unsafe condition develop
  • Sortation: Triggering diversion or shuffling of material flow to correctly organize or orient the items for upcoming processes
  • Transport: Directing the movement of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) throughout a facility

Controls provide a variety of benefits:

  • Equipment control – Because the control system interfaces with and manages motors and sensors to trigger actions (such as turning equipment on and off and monitoring safety barriers), it ensures correct operation of equipment while keeping personnel safe.
  • Product control – The equipment knows to move and position product because of the direction of the controls. Product control actions include reorienting an item, routing it through multiple machinery or processes, controlling its speed or shuffling its sequence to prepare for an upcoming production or handling step.
  • Equipment information – By providing status monitoring and diagnostics capabilities, controls inform personnel of system faults and errors. They also identify a problem with a device prior to failure for more timely maintenance and increased uptime.
  • Product information – Application dependent information (such as product identification, location, destination, size and weight) is provided by the control system to operators and other computer systems throughout a facility. This aids in internal inventory and process tracking.

Controls are used in every industry, including:

  • Automotive
  • Beverage
  • Chemical
  • Consumer goods
  • Electronics
  • Food
  • Manufacturing
  • Paper
  • Plastics
  • Retail
  • Warehousing and distribution

Read more about how Controls are used in different industries and applications.