The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) makes industrial automation and the programming languages it uses a central topic for any automation engineer.

Programming concepts in industrial automation

With the integration of industrial control systems and the world of IT and web-based applications, we see more and more programming languages in the game. This gets even worse when we start talking about robots. Many manufacturers have their own languages, which just adds to the pile.

Function blocks
Courtesy of ISA

Let’s first talk about programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and their systems, which still make up the vast majority out there. PLCs use the IEC 61131-3 standard. This standard lists the following:

  • Ladder diagrams (LD)
  • Sequential function charts (SFC)
  • Function block diagrams (FBD)
  • Structured text (ST)
  • Instruction lists (IL)

You’ll find that function block diagrams and ladder diagrams, also called ladder logic, get used the most.

Besides these, MATLAB and LabVIEW get a lot of exercise in industrial automation. And if you want to build a human-machine interface (HMI), then you’ll want some Visual Basic (VB).

Programming languages in industrial automation

Stepping away from industrial automation and going more towards general automation and IoT/IIoT concepts, I’d say that adding Python, C#, C++, and Java will enhance your skill set nicely. In this day and age, you’ll often see young engineers creating simple automation projects with cheap microcontrollers such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi and its peripherals.

This video will show you a simple ladder logic example:

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