Motion control helps keep 3D printing equipment in line
The success of additive manufacturing technology is often measured by the efficiency and reliability of the controls.
- 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, needs to have a small footprint in facilities.
- Modern PC-based control technology offers a compact approach to automation and motion control for additive manufacturing.
- Miniaturization in electronics has extended to drive technology and amplifiers.
3D printers must maintain as compact and efficient a footprint as possible. This is especially true for industrial applications, which are used to rapidly manufacture of prototype products or series production (additive manufacturing or AM) that relies on 3D printers instead of traditional manufacturing methods. Not only must the automation system remain compact and capable of installation inside the printer frame, reducing or eliminating reliance on electrical cabinets, but the motion control should also be fully integrated, ensuring as few pieces of hardware as possible with minimized cabling.
Modern PC-based control technology offers an efficient and compact approach to automation and motion control for additive manufacturing. This is done using hardware and software that have demonstrated performance increases and space savings in numerous industries for decades.
Motion control, miniaturized
Automation using industrial PC technology has been all about hardware consolidation. That means fewer devices or even one device that can do more work in a compact footprint. While this has been expanded to include a vast number of automation, control and measurement functions, it initially meant combining a programmable logic controller (PLC), human-machine interface (HMI) and motion control on one powerful device. This was made possible due to the ever-expanding power of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors.
Moore’s Law for the doubling of transistors in microprocessors made this possible then and now. The ripple effects from the continued increase in processor performance in smaller chipsets reach far and wide. Automation technology leaders have capitalized on this by redoubling processing power with industrially-hardened industrial PCs (IPCs) that can do far more work than a traditional PLC, programmable automation controller (PAC) or standalone motion controller can on its own.
Today, one IPC in a 3D printer can pull double, triple, quadruple duty or more in a footprint comparable to a single-purpose legacy device. Motion control, logic, computer numerical control (CNC) and visualization are within the job responsibilities of the central industrial PC used for overall machine control.
Beyond smaller control systems, benefits extend to hardware cost reductions, less wiring, fewer software platforms and networks to manage, reduced programming and commissioning time, faster time to market, simplified vendor arrangements and more. Equipment manufacturers can use one universal software platform for all automation software development and programming.
Is it I/O? Is it a drive? It’s both.
The power of miniaturization in electronics has extended to drive technology and amplifiers, as well. Servo drives have become much smaller, but also more modular. Modular drive users can add modules as needed for multiple motion axes, power supply and safety technology. These drive modules connect without wiring, cables or any space between them when mounted. One cable technology (OCT) servomotors also have become the norm, reducing cabling and connectors between motors and drives by 50%.
A variety of plastic and metal input/output (I/O) terminals are available with built-in drive technology. This means compact motors can be run to 12 to 30 mm wide I/Os that can handle the drive functionality for multi-axis CNC and more. The space-saving terminals can be added onto the same rack as all the other I/O, including those for machine safety, in a compatible format. Other I/Os on the same DIN rail can connect with devices found in 3D printers such as flowmeters, blowers, VOC, bed heaters and sensors that measure PSI, temperature, vibration and other parameters.
It is possible to embed the I/O system at the board level using pluggable I/O modules, including those for motion control. Options exist for distributed drives that integrate a complete servo drive on the back of a servomotor. This fusion of devices increases the length of the motor without altering other dimensions.
Combined, these I/O and drive technology formats offer exciting opportunities in additive manufacturing to reduce dimensions of 3D printers.
Keywords: additive manufacturing, machine control
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