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PLC controls dancing sculpture at Yorkshire Dance Studio, Leeds

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A recent overhaul of the ten-year-old moving art display saw many of the original components refurbished or replaced. Not so for the tiny Mitsubishi PLC: the same controller that was installed and programmed in 1995 was running as smoothly and reliably as ever, and with plenty if life left in it.

People passing the Yorkshire Dance Studio in Leeds are in for a surprise as they stop to admire a sculpture of several dancers on the side of the building - because every 30 minutes the dancers suddenly come to life. Pivoting on their toes, gliding across the faccedil;ade and leaping into the air, the dancers perform a five-minute routine of grace and beauty, driven by a combination of electric rotary actuators and rodless pneumatic cylinders, and all under the control of a tiny Mitsubishi FX PLC.

Constructed in stainless steel, the sculpture is the work of renowned local artist Johnny White, famed for his kinetic, interactive works. Most impressively, the dancers have been performing their complex routine for well over ten years, with the FX2 PLC proving Mitsubishi's claims for its long-term reliability by providing a decade of trouble-free operation, and demonstrating exactly why the FX series has been the world's best selling PLC for the last 25 years.

Johnny White started out life in engineering, but had long yearned to combine his aptitude for machinery with his interest in figurative work. In the late 1980s, the lure of a big commission and the benefit of the enterprise allowance scheme allowed him embark on a new career as a freelance artist, and he quickly became established as a leading specialist creator of interactive, moving sculptures in various metals. So when, in 1995, the Yorkshire Dance Studio was looking to commission an innovative artistic installation to enhance the entrance to its building, White was the obvious choice.

In his design, White settled on rotary actuators to pirouette some of the dancers, with pneumatics performing all the linear movements of the sculpture, providing an elegant embodiment with little visible engineering. Sequencing the various operations, as well as controlling the compressor that supplies the required compressed air, is the job of the tiny FX PLC. More normally found in industrial automation to control plant and machinery, the FX combines its reputation for longevity with small size, low cost, high power and virtually infinite flexibility – factors which made it a first choice to control the dance sequence on White's kinetic sculpture.

A recent overhaul of the ten-year-old moving art display saw many of the original components refurbished or replaced. Not so for the tiny Mitsubishi PLC: the same controller that was installed, programmed and set running at the time of the original installation in 1995 was running as smoothly and reliably as ever – with the promise of more of the same for many years to come.

04 September 2006

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