I’m an area service engineer for food packaging machines instead of an automation specialist, however i can provide you with few hints.
For all automation systems to operate, you need to first have a clear and detailed mechanical plan effortlessly details finalized. If you accomplish that, you must specify the sort of motions involved, e.g.: linear or rotary. This lets you know the number and kinds of motors and actuators you need(servo, ac single phase, ac 3 phase, pneumatic actuator).
For each motors you may want relay contactors (for single speed discrete/on-off type motors like blower fans and liquid pumps), VFD for speed controllable ac 3-phase motors(much more conveyors, liquid tank level control pumps or rollers).Servo motors need Servo drivers to control their precise movement.
These are generally your output devices, you will need your input devices to be lay out. This can be level sensors, flow sensors, proximity switches and other devices if required. The reason i’m stating out this routine would be to enable you to define the specifications required for your control system hardware requirements. All PLC manufacturers layout their product line-up depending on system complexity.
Most PLC hardware comes as reconfigurable rack chassis. Basically you have the CPU which is the master brain which can be supplemented with I/O device that may be slotted in like cards. Additional complex systems which needs servo motor can have servo card in order to connect with servo driver, communication bus cards like CAN-BUS, PROFIBUS and DEVICENET and sensor cards for special sensors like RTD temperature sensors and level sensors.
So exercise you IO devices list, then have the necessary software and hardware needed. You will need additional hardware needed for for fancy touchscreen technology HMI, line automation and internet-based diagnostic and asset monitoring functions. That’s how a guy with mechanical background can approach complex automation problems.
The solutions could differ determined by different manufacturer offering particularly if you use beckhoff based systems. The best way to start may be to work with existing machines so that you can study the basics. Go have a few catalogs from reputable manufacturers to understand the market has to offer. It’s my job to suggest visitors to go through Omron catalogues. They also have a free of charge automation web based course that will coach you on the baby steps needed.
You need to be capable of design complete PLC systems: architecture design, hardware specfications and selection, logic narratives, logic programming, connection drawings. Everything. Perhaps you just need to some additional training for the more knowledge about every piece of it technology, concerning how to program or properly connect them, but it’s not rocket science, an excellent mechanical engineer should probably excel for this as any other engineer. The most crucial part of control system design is to understand the process you are likely to control as well as the goals you need to achieve.