Advancing intelligent motion control

Modern manufacturing demands technologies and methodologies focused on minimizing engineering requirements as well as expediting machine motion control by breaking down complex sequences into functional machine modules and linking mechanics, electronics, and software.

By Daniel Repp, Lenze Americas Corp. April 3, 2018

Manufacturing, packaging, and other consumer goods systems have come a long way in the last decade, especially when it comes to motion control. As a result, how we define, approach, and implement motion control technologies during machine development also has evolved.

Consumers want (and expect) highly customized products, and companies that can corner the market expect to turn a neat profit. Whether it’s individualized sports shoes, a personalized bottle of soda, or the latest luxury car with custom features, unique products require an exceptionally responsive production floor with motion control technology that can quickly and easily adapt to changing requirements.

This new manufacturing world demands technologies and methodologies focused on minimizing engineering requirements and expediting machine motion control by breaking down complex sequences into functional machine modules—and then seamlessly linking mechanics, electronics, and software.

The following trends, processes, and tools in intelligent motion control will allow OEMs and machine builders to make their systems function most efficiently in an increasingly flexible environment. 

Advanced modularization

Due to the rising demand for more flexible production, modern mechanical engineering has moved toward a much more modular approach. Complex machines require powerful and uniform automation systems to enable the coordinated movement of multiple axes.

Today, industry leaders are combining machine mechanics and software that are based on a consistent structure for the utmost efficiency. Machine builders have been requiring motion control technology modules for several years, but today’s advanced systems include structured and consistent control technology, modern fieldbus networking, manufacturer-independent standards, and flexible, custom functionality.

Advanced technology modules provide easy-to-parameterize drive solutions with a robotics core that make programming multiple axes as simple as a single positioning axis (see Figure 1). For example, in a winder with a pre-programmed module that has all the functions already built in, an engineer can program anything from dancer functionality to tension control by simply setting the right parameters. There is no need to worry about writing the code to program each individual function. Adding or eliminating modules and devices is made simple with allowances for the widest basic configuration. Engineers can then easily customize by selection or de-selection of modules or parameters.

With the right modular programming solution, engineers can build up to 80% of their applications in 20% of the time it would take to write the code manually. No need for testing, searching for errors, fixing, and then testing again. No time-consuming efforts to understand how the code was originally written just to optimize a simple function. 

Standard application templates

No one wants to spend time working on programming a conveyor infeed. Today, there’s no need. Leading OEMs are not only moving toward more advanced modular motion control solutions that can be easily parameterized but are now simplifying machine engineering design by deploying preconfigured sets of standard application-specific technology modules based on frequently used machine functions (see Figure 2).

Even project-specific functions can be easily integrated into modules and reused to build mechanical structures across various machine types. Whether it’s customized production streams, cam profiling, cutting and sealing, multi-conveyer coordination, or even more complex pick-and-place robotic applications, it is now easy to develop motion control concepts by simply adding individual modules using an application template.

For example, a global OEM of secondary packaging machinery was looking to transition to a much more efficient motion control solution for the pet food packaging machines it was building. By using standardized machine modules, the company was able to create a more flexible machine design with fewer unique elements. The result: the OEM reduced engineering design—including specification, implementation, and commissioning—by 30%. 

A holistic approach to machine automation

It is no longer about simply connecting drives and transmitting data to an information system. OEMs and machine builders are responsible for responding to variable market requests. With time-to-market demands getting increasingly tighter, manufacturers want to produce custom products and make changes on the fly, and they want machines to react to these changes quickly as well. We’re not that far away from the blue-sky concept of single machines that adapt automatically to produce individually-unique products.

OEMs need to automate complete machines in a way that is consistent, flexible, and easily updated or improved. As such, the next brass ring to reach for in the world of motion control—and automation in general—is taking a holistic approach to machine design.

Motion control vendors are working much more closely with OEMs to conceptualize complete systems that run a machine in the most efficient way possible-from visualization to software tools to drives, motors, and shafts. A complete system that is consistent across all aspects is much more likely to meet or exceed the demanding requirements of today’s—and tomorrow’s—consumer goods industry. 

Daniel Repp is the industry manager for automation at Lenze Americas Corp.

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering.

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