How Cyber-Physical Systems Extend Mechatronic Capabilities

As exemplified by the Festo Motion Terminal, the use of cyber-physical systems is extending the capabilities of automated devices—even pneumatic ones—in preparation for Industry 4.0.

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Smart cyber-physical systems (CPSs) are completely new and are set to increase production and make it much more flexible by enabling autonomous production with self-regulating systems. As such, they are also set to change traditional processes in the value chain by simplifying them—this is what we call digital simplicity. 

An example of the kind of smart CPS I’m referring to is the Festo Motion Terminal, which is being used to future-proof new plants for machine and system builders as well as for operators. With its digital pneumatics, the Festo Motion Terminal combines maximum standardization with a very high level of flexibility. It is also enabling Festo to propel pneumatics into the age of Industry 4.0. The technology behind the Festo Motion Terminal unites the benefits of traditional pneumatics with those of controlled and complex electrical motion. Despite the simplicity, it integrates more functionalities than conventional technology.

Intelligent automation
The trend in automation towards networked, decentralized, and intelligent systems with optimum function integration is unstoppable because technical and economic requirements are constantly on the increase. The demand for additional features, such as the interpretation of environmental information, is also on the rise in the age of Industry 4.0. New communication opportunities, including the ability of components to communicate with each other, are opening up completely new areas of activity. This not only allows for more specific preventive maintenance, but also clears the way for autonomous production with self-regulating systems.

Because automation needs to continually be ever faster and more diverse, as well as more flexible and more intelligent, greater availability and flexibility are required along with productivity, energy efficiency, and cost-effective just-in-time production down to batch size of one. However, this is where conventional mechatronic systems reach their limits.

Cyber-physical systems
Digitization will profoundly alter the world of production. For the first time, cyber-physical systems are enabling solutions that combine mechanical systems, electronics, and software. CPSs also prepare systems for Industry 4.0 applications, including pneumatics. Compared with modular mechatronic systems, CPSs offer an impressive combination of maximum standardization and a very high level of flexibility. Since the Festo Motion Terminal uncouples pneumatic functions from the mechanical hardware and makes them available via apps, a wide range of pneumatic motion tasks can be performed with just a single valve type. This offers many measurable benefits along the entire value chain.

The Festo Motion Terminal as a CPS solution enables complex movements like gentle retraction into the end position as well as various speed profiles or positioning tasks that were formerly only possible with servo-pneumatics or electrical automation. It also makes it easy to realize a wide range of functions such as condition monitoring and preventive maintenance while reducing energy consumption. Any higher purchase costs associated with CPSs are quickly compensated for by hugely simplified processes, increased productivity, and process reliability.

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