Does an Arduino Make Sense for this Project?

I have a process to control which maybe could be done through an Arduio. The process involves opening/closing two slide gates, to control the flow of sand falling through them. The gate will have sensors for feedback, and linear actuators which require some PWM. The environment is an aluminum foundry, which is hot, dusty, lots of vibrations, ect. Just a pretty brutal industrial environment.

One requirement for the project is for a user to be able to manually select the positions of the gates and the amount of time they are open. Then, the system should save/record what they did, so the user can look up what they did for that product without having to experiment again. This would require an HMI for the user, possibly an LED screen with menu's to navigate, or a touchscreen.

So far my main questions are as follows:

  1. Can an Arduino work in a finished industrial product, or is it only for prototypes? We will only need one controller for ourselves, definitely not going to produce/sell more

  2. Can an Arduino work in a harsh industrial environment (with proper protection), and if so, what are some strategies to protect it?

  3. Are there some HMI/UI "packages" that work well together with an Arduino? Such as an LED screen which has some nice libraries to operate it? Or possibly a screen with menu's and function keys?

Hello there!

This sounds like an interesting project, and I have done each of those parts separately, so I believe an Arduino can accomplish this goal.

That being said, an Arduino may be good for testing code and such, but making your own PCB may be a better solution after the Arduino.

Thank you for your response, that is good news. Do you have any suggestions for a specific UI/display product?

How would the process of putting it onto a PCB look after it works on the Arduino? If I used Arduino libraries, wouldn’t the code need to be modified heavily to run on a different microcontroller on a PCB?

An Arduino board (such as an Uno) is really only suitable for prototyping - the pin connectors would not be reliable for a permanent application in a harsh environment. There are clone versions of Arduinos that have screw or solder connectors.

Regardless of whether you build a system based on an Arduino / Atmel Microprocessot or some other brand it seems to me you will need to think very carefully how to make it reliable in the harsh environment you describe. It would probably be more sensible to buy a commercial product that is commonly used in your industry.

As well as protection against the harsh environment you also need to consider the question of on-going maintenance and support. Who will fix the thing if you are not there?

When you take all that into account it is very much easier to justify the price of a commercial product that is tried and tested and for which qualified maintenance personnel are just a phone-call away.

...R

Robin2:
An Arduino board (such as an Uno) is really only suitable for prototyping - the pin connectors would not be reliable for a permanent application in a harsh environment. There are clone versions of Arduinos that have screw or solder connectors.

Regardless of whether you build a system based on an Arduino / Atmel Microprocessot or some other brand it seems to me you will need to think very carefully how to make it reliable in the harsh environment you describe. It would probably be more sensible to buy a commercial product that is commonly used in your industry.

As well as protection against the harsh environment you also need to consider the question of on-going maintenance and support. Who will fix the thing if you are not there?

When you take all that into account it is very much easier to justify the price of a commercial product that is tried and tested and for which qualified maintenance personnel are just a phone-call away.

...R

Hi Robin,

Yes it definitely seems like something already designed for harsh industry would work well like a PLC. But in school I took an image processing course instead of the PLC course... regretting it now. I was exploring the Arduino route because I would already know how to program it.

Say I did go with the Arduino prototype idea. Do you suggest then taking that prototype and putting into a microprocessor on a PCB, instead of using the Arduino itself? How involved is the process of taking a program that works on an Arduino and then putting it on another microprocessor? Do you have to adapt the code in any way and re-test things?

It's a zillion times easier to use the Arduino as a sub-board in your design. Either solder it to your board or use header pins.

Programming a raw AVR chip for the first time requires a few extra steps and ISP headers in your design.

Miles_Adamson:
Say I did go with the Arduino prototype idea. Do you suggest then taking that prototype and putting into a microprocessor on a PCB, instead of using the Arduino itself? How involved is the process of taking a program that works on an Arduino and then putting it on another microprocessor? Do you have to adapt the code in any way and re-test things?

That should be straightforward - what @MorganS has said is one option. If you use an Uno for prototyping and then use an Atmega 328 in the permanent design the code should not need changing - though it will need testing.

However, to go back to my concerns, it is not so much that the Atmega microprocessor will present a problem (millions of them are in use) but rather all the peripherals that go with it to make up a complete project.

Have you discussed your project with senior management - the guys who will be cursing when it breaks down? You need to get buy-in from those guys before you start. And YOU need to make sure that they really do understand all of the implications of your concept. Making a flashy PowerPoint presentation that gets all the guys jumping for joy without really understanding anything is not the way to get real buy-in.

Unfortunately there is a good reason why folk like Siemens charge a lot of money for their control products. For all I know they have $3 Atmel microprocessors inside them, but what you are paying for is the confidence that the thing will work and that you can find expert technicians and spare parts when things go wrong.

…R

Robin2:
Have you discussed your project with senior management - the guys who will be cursing when it breaks down?

My job has next to zero guidance and my boss hasn't actually done some of the things this project requires before. It's a bit of an expository mission.. which makes your replies very valuable, so thank you. I think you're right about the breakdowns and have found some PLC's which look like a better idea

Have a look at industrino; but I think I’d go for a commercial PLC - given the price of all the other bits .

Be careful of any safety requirements or possible hazards.

Miles_Adamson:
my boss hasn't actually done some of the things this project requires before.

That can be a very difficult situation to manage (yes, you can manage your boss) because you may be faced with one of two extreme reactions. Unqualified and uninformed approval is almost as bad as an uninformed flat refusal.

If your business is going to depend on your solution - i.e. it will cost money to create it, it should save money and it will give rise to considerable costs if the business relies on it and it then fails (most things fail some time) - then your boss (or his boss) needs to understand all the risks and opportunities properly.

If you think you are getting approval from someone who does not understand what he is approving I suggest that you make sure to get the approval in writing based on a project proposal that you have prepared. (CYA).

...R

Miles_Adamson:
But in school I took an image processing course instead of the PLC course... regretting it now.

How is being out of school stopping you from learning new things?
I'm sure there are lots of tutorials on PLC and other things out there - start studying and extend your knowledge!