Mechatronic motion control sets Industrie 4.0 in motion

Mechatronic machine design will simplify and enhance operations, driving Industrie 4.0 initiatives forward.

By Doug Burns August 7, 2016

Heralded by some as the next industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 (Industrie 4.0 in German)-friendly technologies expand the efficiency, performance, and accessibility of built-in machine intelligence. Mechatronic machine design and engineering provide fundamental building blocks for Industrie 4.0 initiatives.

The road to Industrie 4.0

The industrial revolution brought the first factories and mechanization in textiles and other industries with the shift to coal- and steam-powered machinery. The second industrial revolution brought new, faster advances, including moving assembly lines for mass production. Digital technologies ushered in the third industrial revolution with advances in automation and robotics and significant strides toward improved energy efficiency in manufacturing and process industries.

Referred to as Industrie 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution capitalizes on digital data and automation technologies. Introducing the Internet of Things (IoT) enabled modular components and digital control communications. The IoT provided a potentially massive platform for Industrie 4.0 with opportunities to make systems faster, more reliable, agile, and scalable. What makes Industrie 4.0 so extraordinary is the ability to communicate granular-level data and analysis in near real-time nearly anywhere in the world.

Industrie 4.0 initiatives have grown exponentially as more sensors, machines, and operations connect up to the Internet and cloud platforms. Businesses will be the top adopters of IoT solutions to lower operating costs, increase productivity, and expand new markets or develop new product offerings.

According to a recent Business Insider survey, over half of executives had already adopted IoT-based systems or had plans to do so. Over 80% agree that successful adoption of IoT technologies will be critical for future success. Embedded intelligence and wireless sensors have proliferated in industrial plants and operations. Research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the market value of IoT-enabled devices on the industrial side reaching $151 billion by 2020

Why Industrie 4.0?

The evolution of connectivity in automation and robotics has boosted demand for machine-based, machine-to-machine (M2M), and machine-to-network (M2N) technologies. Mechatronic machine development has advanced progress of Industrie 4.0 initiatives. Connected motor-driven automation and control-based lines and applications are driving critical equipment monitoring and asset management strategies to improve performance, uptime, and machine operating life in automation and robotics.

Cloud-based applications make it possible to perform complex control functions, data aggregation, monitoring, and diagnostics on machinery previously only accessible at the plant and enterprise level.

The evolution of new supply chain models and shorter production cycles requires agility to reduce machine development time and turnkey system integration. As industrial processes become increasingly connected, machine builders and operators need greater flexibility and shorter lead times for more intelligent machine design and commissioning. 

Industrie 4.0, mechatronic motion control

Understanding the role of mechatronic motion control is key to successful Industrie 4.0 initiatives. In manufacturing, packaging, logistics, and material handling, automation and digital technologies must satisfy multiple goals, from improving operational efficiency and performance to scalability.

Managing complexity is at the core of mechatronic machine design, accounting for numerous engineering functions required to implement IoT initiatives.

Efficient manufacturing and assembly start with efficient motion control. Motion comes down to the drive shaft, gearing and motor, inverter, or servo drive. Automation is a double-edged sword-improving productivity while adding layers of complexity in the form of kinematic programming and control systems and integration into the network, both Internet- and cloud-based platforms.

Compounding the complexity, most plants operate with at least some legacy systems that may have been online for a decade or longer. Motor drives, programmable logic controllers, and other legacy equipment must be assessed in terms of protocols and communications for compatibility with newer IoT-enabled technologies.

Simpler with mechatronics

Industrie 4.0 benefits from a multi-disciplined mechatronic approach to manage the complexities of merging information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Mechatronic engineering yields better machines by simplifying design, commissioning, and operation. Machine self-optimization and the right advanced motor and inverter systems can make manufacturing and supply chain automation more flexible, faster, and efficient by allowing machine builders to commission, program, and connect machines faster.

For example, frequency inverters with advanced functionality actively support connectivity for new and legacy machines. Built on parameterized programming technology, smart motor drive technologies can expedite machine kinematic programming from concept to deployment. Parameterization allows easier commissioning than traditional programming. Bringing a smart drive online no longer requires special training. The same principles apply to parameterization of the inverter during commissioning. In some cases, Wi-Fi and a pluggable memory module are the only requirements to replicate parameters for commissioning in mere minutes.

Reducing the number of variables simplifies machine and motion control. Integrating electronics and software into the drive mechanics forms one aggregate unit which, when combined with intelligence, allows a range of motor speeds at constant torque suitable for a wide range of industrial applications. By rendering unnecessary and different inverter variables, the motor speed of rotation can be freely adjusted and controlled remotely via mobile devices.

Intelligent motors can now link the traditional field of speed-controlled drive technology with Industrie 4.0 by blending the simplicity of a line-voltage-operated motor with the advantages of an electronic drive control unit to give mobile users optimal remote access to motor control. High-efficiency modular drive solutions combining a motor and gearbox with variable motor speeds can often achieve the same, or improved, performance results as a motor and inverter drive.

Machine software has also gone modular. Application templates are practical engineering tools to make sophisticated and complex motion control more accessible and comprehensible. Modular software templates allow easy-to-parameterize drives. Many modular automation systems for centralized, controller-based and decentralized, drive-based platforms use automation topologies incorporating EtherCAT, PLCopen, and other industry standards.

Increasingly, Internet/Internet protocol (IP), transmission control protocol (TCP)/IP, and open-system architectures are making headway into industry sectors and outpacing proprietary fieldbus networks in new installations. Motor drive connectivity can offer different forms of wireless and fieldbus communications, including Ethernet, multiple input/output (I/O) interfaces, and plug options for a keypad, USB, or a wireless local-area network (LAN) module. The availability of a choice of interface options simplifies commissioning, parameter setting, and connectivity. Wireless, I/O, and plug-and-play options empower real-time data transmission to a network and for cloud-based control and analytics.

Open-standard programming gives operators control at the process level and the ability to integrate upstream and downstream drive-controlled tasks using the same controller. Open-standard environments increase network access points, which can be a double-edged sword. Industrial connectivity and controls need to be evaluated and assessed for potential cyber risks and for preventive measures. A control platform with internal controls, programmable logic controller (PLC) safety measure system, and equipped with user rights management can support multi-layer cybersecurity protocols. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework provides specific guidelines for implementing security controls for industrial network and IoT-connected devices. [subhead]

The promise of Industrie 4.0

The promise of Industrie 4.0—more productive and profitable operations with authenticated users accessing data analytics, controlling production, and performing preventive maintenance from anywhere in the world—ultimately comes down to the fundamentals of mechatronic motion control systems.

The right tools exist to launch intelligent machines at ever-shorter intervals. Energy efficiency is built into modern drive technologies. Increased programming ease and control access mean operators benefit from higher productivity, ease of maintenance, and reductions in downtime. Motion-centric automation solutions incorporate ergonomic operating concepts and user-friendly, multi-touch, human-machine interface operating systems for process visualization and easier integration to support network and IIoT-enabled connectivity and control.

Clearly, mechatronics are more relevant than before in this age of Industrie 4.0. Agile and scalable drive technologies provide more efficient data flow, visibility, and control, with machine data securely transmitted to and from a network or cloud for real-time decision making, diagnostics and maintenance, and predictive analytics. Transforming complex motion control and automation into easy-to-use drive solutions is the linchpin that sets Industrie 4.0 in motion.

Doug Burns is the director of sales and marketing at Lenze. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Key Concepts

  • The benefits and solutions Industrie 4.0 provides to the manufacturing industry
  • How Industrie 4.0 is optimizing manufacturing operations
  • Mechatronics’ role in Industrie 4.0.

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