Automating a Soybean Processing Plant Using the NI LabVIEW Statechart Module

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"The LabVIEW Statechart Module was a natural choice for this project, was beneficial in every step of the development life cycle, and continues to benefit the developers and the customer."

- Patrick Allen, Enable Integration

The Challenge:
Developing a control system capable of automating a large soybean processing plant with multiple concurrent processes and providing a software architecture that is both scalable and maintainable.

The Solution:
Using LabVIEW and the LabVIEW Statechart Module to design and program multiple, concurrent processes to control the soybean processing operation.

Author(s):
Patrick Allen - Enable Integration

Soybean Processing Facility

Located in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, Agworks Inc. has a processing plant facility with a number of processes that they wished to automate.  At their facility, trucks full of unprocessed soybeans have their contents unloaded onto underground conveyors. These conveyors move the product to one of many large storage bins through a series of elevators and drop chutes. 

The product is then transferred from these outside storage bins into the plant for processing, cleaning, and sorting.  Not all of the product is handled in the same way, requiring the facility to select exactly which processes are required for specific products. 

Processed soybeans are then moved through more conveyors, elevators, and drop chutes into one of several inside storage bins.  From these bins, product can be sent to an automated bagger, or directed to outdoor spouts for filling truck containers. 

Control System for Automation

Enable Integration (a division of Enable Training and Consulting Inc.) is a National Instruments Silver Alliance Partner who specializes in LabVIEW and provides programming, consulting, and LabVIEW training services to clients in a variety of industries. They have worked with Agworks Inc. to create a LabVIEW-based control system to automate their soybean processing facility.

The Agworks LabVIEW application uses a single pane, multi-tabbed user interface to allow the operator easy access to the various control operations. From the user interface, the operator can tell the system which type of product to send from unloading trucks to storage bins. At the same time, another tab may be monitoring a multi-step processing operation in another part of the plant.

Other tabs on the user interface allow the operator to make adjustments, to delay timers and to operate functions manually, if they choose. An Operation Status tab displays a large graphic depicting the status of all proximity switches and valves in the entire plant. This provides the operator with an excellent overview of all operations. 

Concurrent Operations With the LabVIEW Statechart Module

Developing and integrating a state-based LabVIEW application with so many concurrent processes presented a unique challenge. Because much of the equipment is not directly viewable, developers had to rely on development tools to aid in the integration and debugging of the code. 

The LabVIEW Statechart Module was ideal for this application. During the design phase, the abstraction that the Statechart Module provided made it much easier to visualize how all the separate processes would work together. The self-documenting nature of the Statechart diagrams also saved valuable time during the initial phase of the project. 

As development progressed, extensive use of the Statechart Module helped to keep the LabVIEW code organized and readable.  When integration began, the utility for debugging the Statecharts was crucial.  With “Highlight Execution” enabled, our developer was able to monitor many concurrent processes very closely. We could tell exactly when a transition was triggered, and exactly which state it went into.  This saved a great deal of time during the debugging process.

As development progressed, extensive use of the Statechart Module helped to keep the LabVIEW code organized and readable.  When integration began, the utility for debugging the Statecharts was crucial.  With “Highlight Execution” enabled, our developer was able to monitor many concurrent processes very closely. We could tell exactly when a transition was triggered, and exactly which state it went into.  This saved a great deal of time during the debugging process.

Overall, the LabVIEW Statechart Module was a natural choice for this project and was beneficial in every step of the development lifecycle. It continues to benefit both the developers and the customer.

Author Information:
Patrick Allen
Enable Integration
300 Bronte St South, Unit 1
Milton L9T 1Y8
Canada
Tel: 905-864-1858
Patrick@enabletc.com

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