Software connectivity boosts sales, adds product flexibility
Embedding enhanced communications software capability into its machinery helped a precision press manufacturer improve its product and its sales, giving its servo systems the ability to connect with customers’ components regardless of the protocols being used.
Schmidt Technology Corp., located in Southwestern Pennsylvania, has been providing North America with precision presses and technical support since 1992. A subsidiary of Schmidt Technology, a medium-sized enterprise in the Black Forest area of Germany, Schmidt employs 400 employees worldwide. The company introduced its first servo press 10 years ago and now offers a comprehensive line of precision manual, air-powered, and hydro-pneumatic presses for manufacturing industries in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Facing a challenge
Its recent introduction of seven servo press models along with the expansion of its systems to include additional hardware and functionality presented a number of challenges to Schmidt control engineers. Today’s interoperability demands require that its presses communicate electronic data with the control systems encountered at its customers’ sites in an industry inundated with different protocols. Schmidt wanted to eliminate the need to develop drivers for the matching protocols and acquire identical equipment for test and ongoing support, all of which adds complexity to the business model, from the initial sales cycle through post-installation support services.
By embedding communication technology from Kepware into its presses, Schmidt was able to add new and improved functionality to its products. A case involving a medical application illustrates how the change came about and the benefits it has brought. A Schmidt PRC4000 ServoPress controller needed to provide force data to a GE Fanuc PLC that was functioning as a master controller on an assembly line. The application also had to provide the status of force monitoring, sequence information, and real-time access to additional force and position data from two ServoPress modules. As a further challenge, the company engineers did not have a GE PLC in-house on which to test the data transfer. They did, however, have several Allen-Bradley Micrologix PLCs on hand.
The PRC4000 ServoPress is a 6-axis controller with open source logic; a servo control unit that provides sequencing, calculating, process monitoring, SPC, and motion control; and a built-in HMI. The controller contains an OPC server interface to allow for real-time data exchange with OPC clients. The OPC interface allows any word or Boolean information to be exchanged easily between the controller and any other PC-based controller, HMI, or PLC.
Considering options, evaluating solutions
Because the company does not support a direct driver link to a GE Fanuc PLC, Schmidt engineers decided to evaluate Kepware’s OPC server suite (KEPServerEX) and OPC system-bridging software package (LinkMaster). KEPServerEX would provide an Ethernet connection to the GE Fanuc PLC, and LinkMaster would provide a way to bridge the OPC data between the Schmidt OPC server and KEPServerEX. For the development of the project, the engineers were able to download fully functioning two-hour demo packages for the KEPServerEX and LinkMaster from the Kepware website.
The Kepware OPC server suite provides connectivity to more than 130 device protocols including those for Allen Bradley and GE Fanuc PLCs. Therefore, the Schmidt team was able to install it, along with the LinkMaster application on the PRC4000 controller, using Kepware’s Allen Bradley DF1 connectivity to communicate directly to the PLC through a serial port. LinkMaster was configured to take data to and from the OPC server and map the integer and Boolean data directly to available integers and bits within the Allen Bradley PLC. The in-house evaluation system was reliable and easy enough to use that the Schmidt engineers were able to make the decision to use the equipment right at the customer’s site.
The OPC server provides one consistent interface to a variety of industrial protocols, making the transition from the in-house Allen Bradley connectivity to the on-site GE connectivity quick and easy. Installing the two Kepware products on the PRC4000 controller allowed a successful and seamless data exchange through an on-board Ethernet port. Completing what was called a “fast, easy, and reliable solution” prompted a final configuration of LinkMaster to transfer data and status control bits between three PRC4000 controllers and the GE PLC at the customer site.
Schmidt believes it will be able to pursue confidently any and all applications, regardless of PLC brands involved, knowing that the equipment will communicate successfully, and the company will not incur any additional costs by having to purchase other brands of PLCs for testing.
Extending the benefits
“The customer’s voice is part of what feeds Schmidt Technology’s continuous desire and drive to offer new capabilities to stay on the cutting edge,” said Company President Martin Frischknecht. “As a result, bar code scanners were integrated with the press systems and the Kepware software made possible an off-the-shelf solution.”
Bar codes are brought into the PRC4000 in different ways for different purposes. A bar code can be linked to a pressing operation where a graph can be matched up to a part ID. Other information—batch numbers, dataset name and number, date, time, static text, continuous counter, or other variables related to a particular workpiece—can be associated with the graph as well. A scanned bar code can be imported directly into a Kepware U-Con Server, which is linked to the PRC4000 (OPC server) via LinkMaster (OPC client). Functions of the bar code system include:
- Linking data together using a part identification, allowing the part to be processed and linked to its own process data and its history tracked, even if a failure occurs 5 years down the road;
- Identifying batches based on archived data;
- Archiving data to provide traceability by linking process data to a particular number; and
- Attaching data to a part ID, often done with bar code scanners or RFID tags.
The systems can contain multiple scanners for part tracking, tooling verification, lot numbers, and more. Alphanumeric characters are used for graph naming; numeric data can be used as input variables specific to the workpiece. The bar code scanning capabilities and features include selecting a dataset, inputting the pressing criteria, labeling a graph with workpiece identification, and reading lot numbers.
Kepware communications software has helped Schmidt save thousands of dollars on test equipment and testing, extending the company’s reach to customer sites by allowing the Schmidt equipment to communicate regardless of controller brand and reducing the cost and time of the sales cycle. It can expand its systems to include additional hardware and associated functionality without incurring communications development costs. “Kepware is a very flexible tool, which helps us satisfy ever-changing customer requirements in regard to data exchange and management with ease,” said Frischknecht. “Due to the adaptability, it is a cost-effective and efficient solution. We find ourselves applying it more and more frequently.”
For more information on Kepware, a leader in communication software for automation that focuses on developing communication drivers for automation controllers, I/O, and field devices, visit the website at www.kepware.com.
For more on Schmidt Technology Corp., a subsidiary of Schmidt Technology located in the Black Forest area of Germany, visit the website at www.schmidtpresses.com.