PC-based control helps KVAL door production machines

Application Update: KVAL Inc. used PC-based control, servo drives with one cable, and EtherCAT industrial Ethernet for communications to reduce the wired-to-running time of door assembly machinery from 2 to 4 days without testing for two people to less than 1 day with testing for one person. KVAL was able to program, test, and ship a 10-axis 990H CNC routing machine, with custom G-code routines, in 2 months; with prior design and technology it might have taken two or three times as long, the company said.


Figure 1: The KVAL 990-H, a 10-axis CNC routing machine, uses Beckhoff Automation AX5000 servo drives with standard Ethernet cables to get a high-performance EtherCAT motion system up and running without proprietary cables or connectors. The servo drivesPC-based controls, servo drives with one cable for communications and power, and EtherCAT industrial Ethernet for communications were used in a KVAL Inc. machinery redesign. Benefits of using new automation, in addition to a better operating machine, include reduced time for wiring to operation. Wiring for door assembly machines used to take two people 2 to 4 days without testing. Now it takes one person less than 1 day to wire a machine, including testing.

Legendary U.S. comedian and actor Milton Berle once said, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." Quite possibly with the same idiom in mind, Norwegian furniture maker AA Kvalheim founded KVAL Inc. in the mid-1940s to meet a growing need in his home state of Michigan for machinery that could provide leading-edge functionality in the blossoming architectural door industry. Nearly 70 years later, KVAL, based in Petaluma, Calif., provides machines for manufacturing high-quality doors, leveraging the latest automation technologies to create customer-specific solutions.

As a component of the company's continuous search for ways to provide a better, more cost-effective product to customers, KVAL began integrating PCs into machines in 1991. As the company's needs continued to grow, KVAL moved to a fully PC-based automation platform in 2010. Benefits include a lean and powerful machine control architecture.

Doors of all shapes, sizes

By design, KVAL Inc. serves a broad customer base by tailoring nearly every door-assembly machine to customer needs. David Schneider, KVAL software engineer, said, "We've never limited the imaginations of our customers, which is clearly evidenced by our 147 machine classes. We serve customers of all shapes and sizes. Whether the customer builds architectural doors, residential doors, interior/exterior doors, or something else, we can customize a high-performance machine ideally matched to their needs."

Focus on the door industry is seen as a competitive advantage, with specialized, experienced staff. Schneider continues: "Experience with machine customization enables us to provide excellent support to our customers, as we have typically heard their questions before and have the best possible answers at the ready."

After-sale support includes stocking every part in each machine, speeding turnaround when replacement components are needed. The company also works to provide a clear migration path with ample notice for parts that are no longer possible to acquire, which extends machinery lifecycles. 

Automation supports customization

Figure 2: A peek under the hood of the KVAL 990-H, 10-axis CNC routing machine shows the high-performance I/O system with integrated safety, simplified through the use of EtherCAT I/O terminals from Beckhoff. Courtesy: Beckhoff AutomationThe need to maintain highly reliable, yet customizable machinery prompted the KVAL engineering team to seek similarly flexible, customizable controls, which led to PC-based control. "In addition to the high level of customization that we must implement into our products, we also needed a system that could perform motion control, PLC, and adhere to open, standards-based programming, as well as offer easy troubleshooting and scalability, all in one platform," according to Schneider.

Using a universal programming software that works for computer numerical control (CNC), PC-based control, motion, and human-machine interface (HMI), and an industrial PC helped the company "make machines of all sizes and complexities while employing the same underlying control system that is highly adaptable to change."

According to Schneider, the previous systems had a traditional programmable logic controller (PLC) architecture with one software platform, a separate motion controller that had a different software platform, an HMI with yet another software environment, and then standard PC software on top of that. Each device and software platform had limited communication with the other solutions, so KVAL spent time dealing with the communications and not enough time on machine design.

Programming library

Figure 3: An expert from KVAL monitors machine functions. At the heart of the KVAL 990-H 10-axis CNC routing machine is a PC-based control system powered by a Beckhoff CX2020 Embedded PC. Courtesy: Beckhoff AutomationThe unified programming environment and run time for all systems offered the widest array of programming languages and code management options. Schneider said he could create a code module with the software tools and "repurpose that module on every machine we build after that. This is a large part of how we have accelerated our development by leveraging" the software to build a library of function blocks to drop in code specific to a feeder system, a hinge router, or a door lock router, and know that the underlying functionality to make it work has already been completed, he explained.

An open approach to fieldbuses and communication standards helped since many KVAL implementations consist of a series of machines for large plant environments, rather than one machine. Multi-machine systems require effective communication between machines. EtherCAT offers numerous options to connect with other protocols via gateways and couplers; software tools add flexibility, abstracting the application from the network/protocol layer.

Flexible design, PC-based control

The most-recent machines, the KVAL Commander 3 series, incorporate simplicity and cost-effective operation found in PC-based control and EtherCAT-enabled motion control. With a design that provides versatile door and jamb hinge routing functionality, an advanced CNC system, geometry to fit any hinge, and quick changeovers (less than 30 seconds, compared to 10 to 15 minutes), the machines provide a flexible manufacturing solution for shops of all sizes.

The KVAL Commander 1, an air-pneumatic machine, has one or two routing patterns and a 20-second cycle time. Hundreds of units were sold, but KVAL knew it could do better. Updated automation hardware and software allowed the company to produce a "vastly superior machine," according to Schneider. With the design, "we can rout any hinge radius, hinge depth, square corner chisel, piloted pre-drilled holes, beveled door edges, and more, with a negligibly longer cycle time than far more limited routines so the customer absolutely wins in terms of performance, quality, and time savings in the end."

Schneider continued: "The needs of door makers are spread across a seemingly endless range of volumes and complexities. The Commander 3 is a lower cost machine that lets users make any door they want and offers a high level of customization. Smaller shops requiring a low-volume, versatile CNC machine solution represent the primary target market for this product." The automation used "allowed us to create a machine tailored to a whole market of smaller shops needing automation but unable to budget for our larger machines. The new Commander 3 balances price and functionality for this market."

Inside the machine, an industrial PC (IPC) runs a unified programming software platform for motion control and CNC operations, as well as facilitating remote diagnostics and troubleshooting via standard tools and programs available in the Microsoft Windows OS platform.

The cost-effective automation, said Schneider, provides the ability to access standard connectors and the memory card from the front of the device and "be up and running in mere minutes."

Removing the former mess of proprietary bus system cables, the machine now uses servo drives that only need a standard Ethernet cable to get a high-performance EtherCAT motion system running.

With machines designed for 230 V and 480 V power, "we previously had to include a bulky and expensive transformer in the bill of materials, or stock two power level drives for each size," Schneider said. He added that using a servo drive with auto program that handles both voltages simplifies designs and parts management, and lowers cost to the customer. Single-cable design simplifies installation by reducing motor cabling and connectors up to 50%.

KVAL machines also feature I/O terminals that offer a removable plug face for easy installation and removal. Schneider said sending machines globally "restricts our ability to do regular on-site commissioning and maintenance." The design of the EtherCAT I/O modules enables customers to easily perform routine maintenance by pulling the wiring plug out and reinserting it without complex wiring knowledge. 

Flexible controls, customizable designs

Figure 4: By implementing technological advancements such as automation and PC-based control, this KVAL 990-H 10-axis CNC routing machine and other complex machines can be operated by one person by eliminating many previously manual processes. Courtesy: BAfter redesigning the Commander machine series, using PC-based control and EtherCAT, KVAL was able to program, test, and ship a 10-axis 990H CNC routing machine, with custom G-code routines, in two months; with prior design and technology it might have taken two or three times as long, the company said.

"The initial machines were sent to Australia, so due to the time zone difference and long distance involved, the machines needed to provide easy start-up and troubleshooting that the end customers could ideally perform themselves." The automation used established this ease of use, Schneider explained.

More flexible automated processes and simplified wiring save time. "Because of the extensive wiring in the old system with its servo drives networked over a traditional fieldbus, it usually took two to four days to get the machine from wired to running—but still not fully tested." With PC-based controls and EtherCAT, "The entire process is less than a day," said Schneider. KVAL also created automated test routines, removing the previous manual processes, which were tedious and time-consuming for KVAL and customers. Previous troubleshooting often required checking each axis and limit switches to find the issue. Automated processes make troubleshooting more efficient. Past manual processes typically took two people to complete, where the new system needs only one today. 

Easier expansion

With the new construction and remodeling markets for doors expanding, KVAL maintains a positive outlook on continued business growth. Suppliers with a long-term strategy help. "As a company that has been around for nearly 70 years, KVAL values this type of strong partnership with globally recognized technology experts. With the triumph of the Commander 3, we are committed to migrate as many of our machines as possible" to the new platform to "ensure a strong future, providing the best possible technologies and support to our customers."

- Josh Olson is marketing communications specialist, Beckhoff Automation; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com

Key concepts

  • KVAL redesigned door assembly machines using the latest automation components.
  • Use of a unified programming environment, PC-based control, drives, and servo motor with simpler cabling can save several days' assembly time.
  • Troubleshooting is easier with new automation.

Consider this

How can machine redesigns save you programming, assembly, wiring, and troubleshooting time and costs?

ONLINE extra

More information and photos about this KVAL application are with this article online, beyond what appeared in the May 2015 Control Engineering print and digital edition.

See additional product information by clicking on the link at the bottom for this article:

Products inside: PC-based control helps KVAL door production machines

See a video of the KVAL Commander 3:




Link to other PC-based articles below.

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