Understanding the PLC Program Scan

Understanding how the PLC will scan and update your program is critical in programming and troubleshooting your system. Typically a PLC will solve your logic from left to right, top to bottom. The status of the memory from the previous rung, are available for the next rung to use. We will look at a few examples to determine how the PLC will solve logic to illustrate the above program scanning. 

PLC Program Scan 005-min
Here are a couple of previous posts about the PLC scan and how inputs and outputs work in the PLC. This is great as a refresher before we continue our discussion.

We will be using the Do-more Designer software which comes with a simulator. This fully functional program is offered free of charge at automation direct.

Understanding the PLC Program Scan – Example 1

The following example looks at the input conditions when scanning your PLC program logic. Let’s look at the following rungs of logic.
PLC Program Scan 010-min
If normally open contact X0 turns on then output Y0 and Y1 will also turn on.
PLC Program Scan 020-min
Now let’s put another rung in between the other two. We will have normally open contact X1 now have an output to X0. (Yes, we can control what our input contacts are doing within the PLC.)
PLC Program Scan 030-min
When we turn on X0 what will happen?
PLC Program Scan 040-min
Notice that only output Y0 will turn on. This is because X1 is not on, so the second line of code changes the state of X0 to off. Note that the X0 is not highlighted because we have turned this memory bit off in the program. It will not look at the physical connection to the PLC until the end of the scan.

Remember that the PLC will solve the logic from left to right, top to bottom. The status of the memory from the previous rung, are available for the next rung to use.

Turning on X1 will then turn on Y1. This is independent of what X0 physically is connected and doing.
PLC Program Scan 050-min

Understanding the PLC Program Scan – Example 2

Our next example will look at outputs. Physical outputs on the PLC will not be turned on until the end of the scan. NOTE: PLCs will sometimes have an instruction called I/O refresh which will immediately write and read the physical I/O during the scan.
The following ladder rungs all control output Y2. We control the output in three different ways. Bit instruction, MOVEBIT, and SET/RESET are used on the same output bit.
PLC Program Scan 100-min
Turning X2 on/off with X3, X4, X5 off will turn Y2 on and off.
PLC Program Scan 110-min
As soon as X3 is turned on with X4, X5 off then the status of Y2 is dependant on C0 bit. This is because of the MOVEBIT instruction.
PLC Program Scan 120-min
X2 is now irrelevant since X3 is on.
The PLC will solve the logic from left to right, top to bottom. The status of the memory from the previous rung, are available for the next rung to use.
Now when X4 is turned when X5 is off then Y2 is set.
PLC Program Scan 130-min
X2 and X3 become irrelevant to the control of Y2 when X4 is on.
X5 when on will reset Y2. All of the previous rungs will not control because the last condition during the program scan will reset Y2, so it will be off.
PLC Program Scan 140-min
The last rung affecting the output will always control the memory bit. When troubleshooting the program logic and conditions are being met with the output not being energized it could mean that you have the above condition. Moving the rung to the end of the program logic is one way to ensure that no other conditions are affecting the operation of the output. This is one of the most common errors when programming a PLC.

Understanding the PLC Program Scan – Start Stop Jog Circuit

Our last example will involve a start, stop and jog circuit. Here is a previous post on the subject.
Here is our code:
Ladder Logic Programming Sample Code

The PLC will solve the logic from left to right, top to bottom. The status of the memory from the previous rung is available for the next rung to use. Using this understanding will help in the program and troubleshooting your PLC program logic.

Watch on YouTube: Understanding the PLC Program Scan

If you have any questions or need further information please contact me.
Thank you,

The above works with a synchronous PLC scan. Controllers like Allen Bradley CompactLogix using the RSLogix 5000 software use asynchronous I/O scan. This means that the updating of I/O will happen whenever it can.
Ladder Logic Programming Sample Code
This means that the above circuit in an asynchronous I/O scan can have one output on and the other off if the input state changed with the input scan and the program was reading the second line. This could cause undesirable results.
In an asynchronous I/O scan, you typically will only use the actual I/O reference once in your program. Most programmers of these systems will transfer the I/O to internal memory first. They will then use the internal memory in the program code. This will now act like a synchronous, predictable scan above.

If you’re like most of my readers, you’re committed to learning about technology. Numbering systems used in PLCs are not difficult to learn and understand. We will walk through the numbering systems used in PLCs. This includes Bits, Decimal, Hexadecimal, ASCII, and Floating Point.

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2 thoughts on “Understanding the PLC Program Scan”

  1. I have a friend who’s dating a plc programmer. I met him and asked him about his job, but I had no idea what he was talking about, so I decided to do some research. I appreciate the information in this article, especially about how the last rung that affects the output will control the memory bit.


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