A Communication Concept with 250 PLC Systems for Efficient Communication

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The airport of tomorrow

In the manufacturing industry, automation of production processes has already been a commonplace practice for a long time. Because of this, it is simply no longer possible to be competitive without modern lean production systems in place. 

MItsubishi PLC
Mitsubishi PLC

The cost pressures are also felt in other sectors. In these sectors, it is possible to maintain and improve market positions by maximizing the efficient use of resources to maintain and strengthen market positions.

Most of the time, it boils down to the simple formula: “Time is money,” – and automation of work processes is one of the most effective ways to save time and increase productivity.

A growing number of airports are implementing automation solutions to improve their operations.

International airports are a typical example of a modern sector under pressure to achieve high levels of throughput. It should be noted that in these wholly service-based enterprises, service automation solutions hold enormous potential for savings.

There is now a unique concept for comprehensive aircraft and passenger services at airports that has been developed by the Swedish company FMT Fabriksmontering in Trelleborg AB as a result of this recognition by the company. 

In addition to drastically reducing handling time compared to conventional solutions, the system further helps improve airport operations’ standards.

This system comprises various components, saving a considerable amount of the most valuable finite resource, time.

APIS guides the pilot to the correct parking position at the gate, automatically considering the aircraft type’s requirements. Each gate can accommodate up to 1,000 parking positions.

Newly designed OTW (“Over The Wing”) airbridges provide additional embarkation and disembarkation capacity by extending the aircraft’s wing and connecting to the rear door. Using both doors simultaneously, even when the plane is nosed-in at the gate, reduces passenger embarkation and disembarkation time by up to 50%.

Ground services without service vehicles

By cutting the time spent loading and unloading waste and supplies, this concept saves even more. There are underground service lifts below the parking apron. When the aircraft is in its parking position, the operator selects the aircraft’s service functions.

Several individual lifts provide the same functions, and the system automatically selects the one closest to the aircraft’s connections. Standard service vehicles that deliver fuel, oxygen, and water and pump out sanitary installations require driving and positioning time. Time savings are impressive: Refuelling has been cut in half, and sanitizing has been reduced by a sixth!

China leads the way

An “airport of the future” is under construction on a greenfield site in Zhuhai, China. There was a time less than a year ago when the site to the west of Hong Kong was still an impenetrable wilderness – but in less than a year, the first aircraft will be taking off and landing there for the first time.

The new airport in Zhuhai is a two-winged structure with 17 passenger airbridges, 17 parking systems, and 187 service lifts. The airport’s automation systems are by Beijer Electronics of Sweden.

MELSECNET controls communications

Each airbridge has its own MELSEC A1S controller system that communicates with a series of substations, such as lifts and trucks, through the MELSECNET/Mini I/O network.

Several remote input and output modules are also connected to the central A1S system, providing control over additional functions. Each substation has its MELSEC FX controller system.

Automated baggage handling

A fully automatic baggage handling system includes the following:

  • 80 check-in counters.
  • Four main conveyor belts.
  • A bunch of collection depots at the heart of the whole thing.

All the baggage is sorted, routed, and transported by the system to and from international and national flights.

The client wanted continuous maintenance of the entire installation.

We met this demand by dividing the system into two parts. Each part functions independently, so failures in one system don’t cause the whole thing to go down.

It’s coordinated by two hosts running Factory Link, plus six MELSEC A series PLCs connected using MELSECNET. Data is input to the PLC systems through individual stations, which handle all the baggage handling options. With graphics and status displays, and alarm printouts, the entire system is controlled by a single operator using a command-level terminal.

Over 250 PLC systems

More than 250 PLCs in this system talk to each other at the command level. This communication is needed for various functions – like transferring the parameters for the different aircraft types, performing effective error diagnostics, and keeping statistics. It’s easy to upgrade, and the PLCs come with MAC control units for optimum man-machine communication at the local level.


A well-planned, advanced automation solution will change airports of the future – intelligent automation concepts can help service and manufacturing companies save.

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