Automation

Open architecture adds advantages to automation designs

Manufacturers should consider open architectures when designing new automation products for greater flexibility, innovation, and greater competitiveness.
By Mike Wolfe and Alex Harvey February 17, 2019
Courtesy: Control Techniques

Automation product design based on open architecture systems has several advantages. From mobile connectivity to industrial internet of things (IIoT) integration, the automotive industry is one area at the forefront of automation innovation. Car manufacturing is about improving productivity through automation because, as an industry, profitability is directly linked to the speed of manufacture and machine availability.

The need for high-speed automation in the automotive industry triggered the invention of the programmable logic controller (PLC) –a mainstay of modern automation applications. A PLC is essentially a centralized microprocessor-based device that controls automated processes.

For manufacturers, it is important to be open-minded and look beyond conventional PLC-based systems and consider distributed control.

A conventional PLC system can have a long scan time. Controlling multiple axes on a machine may limit capacity. A distributed control design can offer greater productivity at a lower cost. When moving intelligence to the level of discrete components such as a servo drive, it can provide faster response times.

Manufacturers should consider open architectures when designing new automation products. Some automation suppliers use proprietary software that can limit options for buying components. Implementing an open architecture provides significant benefits to machine builders and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including additional flexibility and allowing the manufacturer to choose the most suitable components for their implementation.

This open approach also can be leveraged when considering which technology to implement and whether it also provides a choice of standardized programming language and communications options for motion control software. Implementing software that uses standard IEC 61131-3 programming languages with wide acceptance means they are understood by most engineers. This makes it easier to manage and maintain by end users.

Automation importance

American firms need to automate to remain relevant. It’s the nature of a highly successful economy: American exporters need to automate to compete with low-cost producers elsewhere. Firms supplying the American home market need to automate to compete with foreign suppliers. All companies always need to be thinking about how to get more production out of existing facilities.

Nidec Control Techniques Digitax HD Servo Drive won a 2019 Engineers’ Choice Award in the Motion control – Drives category. The drives support a wide range of industry standard technologies and protocols. Courtesy: Control Techniques

Nidec Control Techniques Digitax HD Servo Drive won a 2019 Engineers’ Choice Award in the Motion control – Drives category. The drives support a wide range of industry standard technologies and protocols. Courtesy: Control Techniques

Manufacturing improves productivity through automation, and, for the automotive industry, profitability is linked to the speed of manufacturing and machine availability.

Other automation markets

Years ago, in a control systems project in the U.K., hoists were automated in coal mines in south Wales and north England, using hard-wired relay systems. In the coal mines, a panel would wire 500 control relays together. The same sort of equipment was applied to the automotive industry, and they needed to increase uptime. Microprocessors came along and led to the PLC.

The need to improve productivity drives new technology adoption in the automotive industry. Non-PLC based distributed control systems (DCSs), where each variable speed/servo drive carries its own processing power, are growing in popularity in the automotive industry because of improved response times.

Another market focused on automation is food packaging machinery. The U.S. is a big exporter of food products and automation technology helps U.S. food producers export more competitively.

In rubber and plastics production, the cost of the oil-based raw materials is currently low. Plastics manufacturers are focused on improving energy efficiency. Some are upgrading extruders with permanent magnet motors because of high energy efficiencies.

An exciting area for automation is the entertainment industry. High-end drives, motors, and automation technologies move people, not manufactured products, a different challenge.

Consider new designs

Look beyond conventional PLC-based systems to consider distributed control. A conventional PLC system can have a long scan time, so controlling multiple axes on a machine may limit capacity. A distributed architecture can offer greater productivity at a lower cost. When moving intelligence to the drive, it can provide faster response times.

While some automation suppliers use proprietary software to increase likelihood that customers buy all components from the same source. An open supplier sells components compatible with products from other manufacturers, allowing selection of the most suitable component for an application’s needs.

U.S. machine manufacturers interested in exports should consider motion-related safety functionality. The EU has the strongest safety standards and U.S. machine manufacturers may find it makes sense for them to implement EU safety standards to avoid having to redesign products for export.

Energy-saving automation

Well-designed automation systems also offer big potential for energy savings. Moving things requires a lot of energy, and well-designed automation systems have the potential to provide impressive energy savings.

Innovation spurs demand

U.S. automation firms have a global reputation for high-end designs, creating high export potential for U.S. designed and made machines. U.S.-based OEMs design and develop some of the most innovative machines.

Further, automation creates jobs. For the U.S. economy to be relevant, automation is vital. Even though there’s been concern about automation’s impact on jobs in the U.S. since the end of WWII. Yet U.S. unemployment remains low with high living standards and high productivity. Automation increases our productivity, and that generates more wealth.

Flexible automation design

Designing open automation systems gives the flexibility to use a broader array of protocols and components. Open servo drives support a wide range of industry standard technologies and protocols including:

  • Open programming languages using IEC 61131-3.
  • Open fieldbuses and networks including EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, Profinet, and Profibus.
  • Ethernet protocols, including PTP protocol for clock synchronization to IEEE 1588 V2.

An open approach provides significant benefits to machine builders and OEMs including:

  • Optimized system performance with access to the latest industry technologies, programming languages and communication protocols.
  • Future-proofing is assured with adherence to open standards to ensure continuous compatibility with the latest technologies (such as evolving protocols) and avoid the lock-in risk associated with proprietary products.
  • System development speed is maximized due to use of familiar industrial programming languages and compatibility with standard components.
  • Large choice of compatible best-in-class components are provided by open automation’s flexibility.

Innovation and talent recruitment are optimized through broad industry knowledge and use of open technologies.

Mike Wolfe is product manager motion control, and Alex Harvey is director of marketing, Americas, for Control Techniques, a Nidec brand. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Distributed control, servo drives, open programming

Servo drives can be faster and distributed in multi-axes control applications.

Automation adds innovation and jobs.

Flexible automation designs use programming and communication standards.

CONSIDER THIS

Could a new automation design improve your productivity?

ONLINE EXTRA

Nidec Motor Corp. provides more information about Control Technique products.

See related New Products for Engineers at www.controleng.com/NP4E

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Mike Wolfe and Alex Harvey
Author Bio: Mike Wolfe is product manager motion control, and Alex Harvey is director of marketing, Americas, for Control Techniques, a Nidec brand