Can PLCs Improve Your Golf Game?
Yes, and much more – when they transform a driving range into a fully automated entertainment experience.
Programmable logic controllers aren’t usually associated with fun and entertainment, but an entertainment company is using PLCs to transform the driving range experience into a game-playing entertainment outing. PLCs work in conjunction with RFID-equipped golf balls, touch screen displays and other electronics gear to provide a new style of golf outing.
Over the past few years, Dallas-based TopGolf has built up a chain of golfing entertainment centers that turn driving ranges into entertainment centers. Its multi-level golfing centers offer lounges, bars and restaurants along with the ability to play a unique and patented golf gaming experience called TopGolf.
Up to six players can compete in a real (not virtual) game that involves aiming at live targets that resemble giant dartboards. Each target is equipped with RFID technology that reads each RFID equipped golf ball and provides instant feedback on the yardage the ball was hit, and awards points based on distance and accuracy. Hitting golf balls is now turned into a competitive fun game.
The newest facility in Allen, Texas, takes the entertainment model even further. There are 94 stations, split over three stories. The new facility makes it quicker and simpler to play through a game. Automated ball dispensers controlled by PLCs provide balls directly to players using a high tech touch. They don’t even have to push buttons before teeing up the next ball.
“You just wave your club in front of the hopper and it kicks out a ball. Then you position it and aim at the target,” says Brian Billiet, Director of IT at TopGolf. “This is more of an entertainment experience than a golf experience.”
These Automatic Golf Ball Dispensers are located at each of the stations. That lets golfers play more games in less time, increasing their satisfaction levels while also boosting TopGolf’s revenues.
“Instead of waiting at a central hopper to get a bucket of balls, now we have a hopper at each bay that holds the balls,” Billiet says. “Customers don’t have to carry a bucket of balls back from a central distribution site, which saves them a lot of time.”
A PLC handles this critical step. When the customer waves a club in front of the dispenser, a sensor alerts the PLC. This PLC then starts a motor that pushes the ball out onto the station’s putting green.
Reliability is a key requirement for the ball distribution system. TopGolf’s first attempt at the individual dispensers didn’t provide that dependability, forcing golfers at times to wait while a maintenance staffer walked down to the station and reset the PLC.
That obviously didn’t help the company’s goal of making golf more fun and less intimidating than going to a real golf course. When they started looking into the problem, managers realized the problem was the communications link for the PLC.
“The system we had before used serial communications to link the overall controllers and the PLCs,” Billiet says. “Data packets were often lost, which caused the machine to shut down. It took time to open up the box and reset the system, which annoyed the customers who had to stand there and wait.”
To resolve this issue, TopGolf turned to Skledar Enterprises, a system integrator that has done a number of industrial installations. Compared to the complexity of setting up some manufacturing plants, the task of rolling out a ball wasn’t high on the difficulty scale. But achieving high reliability and good performance wasn’t so easy it could be analyzed and solved in an afternoon.
“This wasn’t a real complex installation. Communications was the most challenging aspect,” says Wolfgang Skledar, President of Skledar Enterprises.
Given that high reliability and good communications were the two key issues, the first thing Skledar did was to swap out the PLC technology. Engineers picked the Siemens S7-1200 PLC, which has built-in Ethernet connectivity.
Using TCP/IP technology instead of serial communications did far more than reduce the failure rates. Standardized technology makes it far easier to troubleshoot the system.
“We’ve got features like wire break detection,” Skledar says. “We also came up with some warning alerts when there are errors, pinpoint which sensor on a bay is bad, for example. Now the maintenance staff knows exactly what to do when they arrive. They can take the right replacements and tools and have things fixed in a minimal amount of time.”
“With the TCP/IP portal, you just connect an Ethernet cable and you’re done,” Skledar says. “We’ve developed a whole new wiring system, now there’s nothing to the wiring. Installation time went from around six months to about a week.”
The new system, which is being made a standard technology component throughout the company’s sites, also makes it easier for TopGolf to update its programs. That’s a big factor in the entertainment world, where offering more variations of a game can bring in more revenue and inspire more return visits.
“Now that we’re networked, we can update the kiosks using a laptop instead of going out to each bay to reprogram the system,” Billiet says. “This technology has made our lives a lot easier.”
While the PLC is a mainstay of the system, it’s far from the only high tech aspect of this golf game. Each golf ball has an embedded RFID chip. This chip helps the system measure the distance and accuracy each time the golfer tees off. This data appears on the golfing station’s computer monitor, which provides scores for each member of the party.
With a reliable PLC helping provide a uniquely special gaming experience, TopGolf is set to grow throughout the U.S. and beyond. For more information, visit http://topgolf.com/allen/.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>