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Omron Advances Integrated Logic, Motion, Vision Control

In an effort to distinguish itself in the arena of high-speed machine control, Schaumburg, Ill.-based Omron Industrial Automation, a division of Japanese electronics giant Omron, is releasing what it calls “a new category of machine controller” that seems to take the integration of high-speed motion, industrial vision and networking to a whole new level. High-speed packaging machines are the first target for the company’s newly designed, highly synchronized NJ-Series Machine Automation Controller (MAC).

Sysmac (SYStem for Machine Automation Control) is the automation platform and the first controller model being released is the NJ-Series. In an exclusive briefing, Omron executives took Automation World editors through the design of the NJ-Series MAC platform and its integration with Omron’s vision system and then on a tour of Omron North America’s customer demonstration and testing lab, where packaging and other applications are evaluated for speed and accuracy. The controller was announced in August in Europe ( and is scheduled for global availability in November.

The NJ-Series MAC was created from the ground up to provide machine builders with faster, more synchronized motion and I/O control than that provided by existing programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or programmable automation controllers (PACs), according to Shawn Adams, director of marketing for Omron.

“The NJ-Series MAC was purposely designed to meet the challenge from machine builders for a fully scalable, high-speed motion and I/O controller with the ability to change servo parameters on the fly, integrate vision data, and keep all the servo motor shafts accurately synchronized,” said Adams. “They need integrated and expanded capabilities for complete machine control without the ballooning costs of added processors and complexity to handle multiple motion axes at high speed with sequential and process control.”

The MAC “takes a fresh approach to resolve the integration of control technologies without degrading performance,” explained Bill Faber, Omron’s commercial marketing manager for automation technology. It features an advanced real-time scheduler that manages motion, network and the user application, then updates simultaneously to ensure perfect synchronization. He said updating all three in the same scan is unique to the product, and “it sets the performance benchmark to qualify for the MAC category: processing and updating 32 axes in one millisecond.”

(Below:  Atef T. Massoud, Omron Industrial Automation’s motion control expert, discusses motion simulation and other capabilities of the software at Omron's North America’s customer demonstration and testing lab.)

Suppliers of PACs have been touting integrated motion control for some time, but as the motion gets faster, “more controller processing power is consumed,” said Faber. “As production throughput and cycle times are increased, or more motion axes are added to increase automation, additional CPUs must be added to compensate.  This not only adds cost, but eventually a bottleneck limit will be reached if the architecture is not designed for scalable expansion and high performance together—it remains a tradeoff.”

The NJ-Series incorporates an Intel 1.6Ghz processor proven for harsh industrial environments, and runs under a proven, non-Windows based and highly integrated real-time operating system (RTOS).   The CPU is scalable to support 16-, 32- and 64-axes of real or virtual servo, with capabilities of coordinating 16 axes in 0.5 milliseconds. Programming conforms to IEC 61131-3 standards with full use of objects and data structures for re-usability, and PLCopen Function Blocks for Motion Control are included.

The surprisingly compact fanless unit includes a USB port and SD card slot, as well as EtherNet/IP and EtherCAT ports built-in. For robustness it includes standard PLC system checks (Watch-Dog Timer, memory, etc.) as well as a single event log for controller, field device and network events. “The NJ-Series MAC has the computing power of a PC, but is designed for industrial manufacturing environments where uptime and immediate startup are key issues. Industrial PCs typically take up to 80 seconds to power up,” Faber adds.

Omron’s NS-Series HMIs, sold separately, come pre-programmed with NJ-Series diagnostics screens to reduce integration time and costs, so users can just plug in the interface to configure or troubleshoot the controller.

One connection, two networks
Part of how the NJ-Series is optimized for high-speed operation is its integration of networks. “We are able to reduce latencies of disparate components by building in high-speed network communications as part of the controller,” said Faber.

Omron uses standard Ethernet Cat-5 cabling for ease of wiring, but supports a dual-network strategy on the controller:  EtherNet/IP provides reliable peer-to-peer communication across the production line, integrating upstream and downstream processes and machines for exchange of information, while EtherCAT, a high-speed, real-time variation of Ethernet, meets the more stringent needs of motion, vision and other machine control applications.

“We didn’t invent EtherCAT,” said Adams, “but we leverage it. Beckhoff invented it and more than 1,600 companies have adopted it. We did a lot of research on system synchronization and Ethernet-based networks for industrial automation. EtherCAT was the fastest and the most efficient.” EtherCAT is a 100Mbps industrial Ethernet network compliant with IEEE 802.3 frames, capable of handling up to 192 slaves with refresh time down to 100 microseconds (µs) and less than 1µs jitter. It achieves high accuracy for multi-axis synchronization thanks to its distributed slave clock mechanism”, said Adams. t, was involved in the development and validation of Omron’s NJ-Series controller and Sysmac Studio Software.


>> FREE! On-Demand Webcast: Real-time Ethernet for Machine Control


Omron Industrial Automation’s Bill Faber is joined by Dennis Hydock, president of high-end motion/robot/ vision integration for Integrated Industrial Technologies (I²T), to discuss how the EtherCAT industrial Ethernet network can be applied to all aspects of production, from design, development and deployment through to production and maintenance on the factory floor. This free, on-demand Webcast takes a comparative look at Ethernet-based industrial automation networks, assessing speed, performance and precision for machine control applications. It also discusses how Omron uses EtherCAT to integrate HMIs, servos, AC drives, I/O, vision, and PLC-based or stand-alone controllers.



Integrated vision
EtherCAT supports the integration of vision into the controller. During the visit we saw a demo showing the integration of motion and vision capabilities. According to Adams, Omron is several months away from having the vision integration capability built into the NJ in its final form, but a future upgrade to Sysmac Studio software for the NJ MAC will put all the sequential control, motion control and vision system data capabilities under the same integrated development environment.

Adams did announce availability of Omron’s new FQ-M series vision sensor designed for object tracking, describing it as “a smart camera with EtherCAT—camera, image processing and connectivity in one.” The unit includes an incremental encoder input for easy tracking and configuration, and both Ethernet and EtherCAT ports. Configuration and monitoring is done within Sysmac Studio software.

Sysmac Studio Software integrates configuration, programming and monitoring of the NJ-Series MAC, providing an integrated development environment for sequential control and motion control system design, and program validation. Advanced simulation of sequence and motion control, data logging and data trace is included, which reduces machine tuning and setup time. Sysmac Studio also provides an advanced 3D simulation environment to develop and test off-line motion profiles such as cams and complex kinematics.

Renee Robbins Bassett,, is managing editor of Automation World magazine.




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