Motion Control: Automation’s Critical Element

April 9, 2015
Central to nearly all automated machinery—from the practical to the awe inspiring—are motion control components. These components include everything from pneumatic and hydraulic actuators to linear motors and associated motion technologies. Here’s a look at a few recent developments in this area.

Once thought of as important primarily to the machine designer, interest in motion control technologies is now spreading more widely throughout industry. Some of the credit for this is due to the increasing availability of mechatronics education and some of it is certainly due to the growing deployment of and interest in advanced robotics.

With this realization in mind, I made a point to stop by several motion control-related displays at the recent Automate event in Chicago. Following are highlights of what I saw at three particular company displays.

At the PHD Inc. display, much of the company’s history since its founding in 1957 was on display via an array of cylinders, escapements, grippers, linear slides, rotary actuators, clamps, multi-motion actuators, switches and sensors. The company’s focus is on providing actuators to push, pull, lift, rotate, turn, grip, reach, clamp, hold, position, escape, insert, load, unload, pick, place, and orient parts or materials in a variety of manufacturing processes.

The newest release on display was PHD’s Optimax Series OCG Round Body Pneumatic Cylinder. These cylinders are offered as an alternative to PHD’s standard “built-to-order” product line and are designed to be competitively priced and field repairable. Available in six bore sizes with 10 stroke lengths, the cylinders’ imperial and new metric designs come with standard cushions to reduce end-of-travel impact and have drop-in mounting capability to match global standards and magnets for switch sensing capability.

Nook Industries is a manufacturer of linear motion systems used in industries ranging from transportation, paper, chemical and food & beverage to energy, aerospace/defense, entertainment and medical/diagnostics. Founded in 1969 by Joseph Nook Jr. as the Ball Bearing Screw Supply Company, Nook Industries has grown through acquisition and organic expansion to now offer a full line of linear motion components and systems

This year the company is offering a new line of electric slides with linear motors that is calls “an evolutionary step over pneumatic slides” based on its ability to be customized. The new product line is the Elax direct-drive with linear motor. It operates without contact, meaning no wear and tear that can affect accuracy over time. The drive’s cross-roll guides have a linear force support and are reportedly less pollution sensitive than closed-circulating, ball bearing systems. According to Nook, this means the product has a lifetime of up to 20,000km (12,400 miles) of travel.

Elax is said to offer flexible positioning with an accuracy of +/- 10µm and resolution of 1µm in a modular system with strokes of 30-150 millimeters (1.18-5.90 inches) and can be configured in Y-Z pick-and-place flat or upright options, an X-Y cross table configuration, or in an X-Y-Z cantilever configuration.

One of the more spectacular displays at Automate was Güdel’s—see the video below for an example of the track-mounted robotics technologies that were on display. Güdel supplies linear motion modules, robot track motion units, gantry robots and components to OEMs, systems integrators and machine builders serving the automotive, aerospace, logistics, heavy industrial and power generation industries. In business since 1954, Güdel’s recent expansion is a clear example of the increase in U.S. robot investment and deployment.

Güdel’s expansion is the result of the company investing in a custom bridge mill designed specifically for machining its TrackMotion and gantry modules built in the U.S. at the company’s Ann Arbor, Mich., facility. With a bed that measures 16 meters long by 1.5 meters wide, the new machining center will be used for milling Güdel’s longest beams. The center also has the ability to machine three faces and both ends of a beam in one setup.

At the Automate event, robots and controllers from Yaskawa Motoman, ABB and Fanuc were shown in operation attached to Güdel’s TrackMotion technology for moving robots in different manufacturing operations. Specific applications demonstrated were:

• A Yaskawa Motoman MA2010 robot mounted on a Z-axis made with standard Güdel TrackMotion components for a modular precision lift for welding, painting, surface finishing, polishing and other process applications.

• An ABB IRB2600-20/1.65 robot mounted to an overhead TrackMotion TMO-2-E gantry to demonstrate floor space savings and extend the robot work envelope for material handling/machine tending, welding, and any in-line process with a long footprint.

• A ZP-3 gantry with dual independent carriages set for 2-axis handling (plus rotary wrist axes) with control provided by Fanuc’s Power Motion i-MODEL A motion controller. This demonstration highlighted the use of overhead linear motion technology for CNC machine tending.

The video below shows various Güdel track and gantry modules being used to convey robots in a variety of application types.