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Picking A Cotton Press Automation Upgrade

A modern PLC automation platform will keep a classic industrial machine running for years to come.

Cotton production originated thousands of years ago, but modern machines, like the cotton gin and the cotton baler (or cotton baling press), have made its processing much more efficient over the past 200 years. These machines can be kept in service mechanically for decades, but eventually need to be upgraded with modern automation standards to ensure reliable operation.

David Adams, founder of Design Automated Controls (DAC) wrote an article for the Machine Design August 2023 titled Upgrading the Controls for a Machine Builder’s Cotton Press, where he described how his systems integration (SI) company helps clients keep capital equipment running for the long haul.

Planning for an Upgrade

One end user had a cotton press which had been in service for many years. A cotton press takes fibers which have been separated by a gin, and it condenses the cotton lint and fibers into 480-pound bales for shipment. This equipment used a legacy digital controller which had become difficult to support, so the end user engaged the equipment OEM to perform an upgrade.

In this case, the end user was already familiar with the AutomationDirect Productivity2000 micro-modular programmable logic controller (PLC) family from other successful projects, so they specified using this product line.

The OEM had worked with DAC many times for these types of projects, and DAC had used several other AutomationDirect products and platforms in the past, but the Productivity2000 platform was new to the SI.

Armed with a familiarity of AutomationDirect with regards to ease-of-use and quality, the SI designed a new cotton press control console and began the process of converting the existing legacy program to the new platform. Because the software platform proved to have a quick learning curve, the new code was written within just a few days, and then readied for commissioning.

Hitting a Snag

Some initial program testing revealed unfortunate problems. The initially supplied legacy program was outdated and had been worked on by numerous different contract programmers over the years, so it contained many idiosyncrasies and was not optimized for performance. Furthermore, the mechanical equipment had undergone some modifications which would require corresponding program modifications.

The SI took this in stride, and they consulted with a mechanic familiar with the cotton press details. As a result of this meeting, the SI discarded the initial programming (although it helped with their general operational understanding), and they created a new version from scratch to address the issues. The second time was the charm, and the machine was quickly up and running smoothly.

Updating the automation platform enabled the system to run more efficiently, with improved ease of use for operators. The upgrade included a modern HMI to deliver effective visualization. The Productivity2000 integrates well with AutomationDirect C-More HMIs, as well as similar products from other manufacturers.

With the updated cotton press machine successfully up and running smoothly, along with positive feedback from both the customer and SI, the machine builder decided to standardize their cotton press control platform on the Productivity controller for future investments.

The success of this project has already led to two more similar projects with additional end user companies.

Visit the website today to explore programmable controller platforms and other products which can be used to create new and retrofit automation for equipment of all types.

All figures courtesy of Design Automated Controls