Machine Builder Saves With AS-interface

Automacad Concrete (www.automacadconcrete.com), Québec, Ontario, Canada, develops and builds customized equipment for manufacturers of concrete products.

One of Automacad’s flagship machines is called the Split-Impact, which is considered one of the fastest concrete splitters in the industry. Completely pneumatic, the machine mounts in-line directly over a conveyor. As large slabs of dry-cast concrete move down the conveyor, the powerful Split-Impact machine cuts the concrete in one pass, producing ready-to-tumble products.

Controlling the force of the machine is a skid of pneumatic heads that each contain a blade that is driven down into the concrete for precise cutting. For Automacad, wiring the pneumatic cabling and tubing back to a control panel has historically been time consuming. On a single Split-Impact machine, more than 300 wires can be connected from the skid to the main control panel, leading to wire bundles that are cumbersome and unsightly.

In addition, Automacad typically dismantles its machines, ships them and re-builds them at their customers’ plants. With the large number of wires required, installation and panel-build took days to complete, not to mention that re-verification was needed to ensure that no wires were crossed.

Improvements needed

With the popularity of the Split-Impact machine growing, Automacad President Louis Hébert and his team of engineers decided recently that it was time to reduce the number of cables in the field and improve the networking technology on the machine. The company also wanted to reduce installation time and panel build complexity.

Automacad looked to ifm efector North America (www.ifm.com/us), Exton, Pa., for its expertise in providing networking solutions for actuators and sensors. ifm suggested the Actuator-Sensor interface (AS-interface) bus system for networking input/output (I/O) points and reducing wiring complexity. AS-interface is a simple, open-network alternative to conventional wiring. 

A basic AS-interface system consists of four main components: a controller, power supply, standard input/output (I/O) modules and a trapezoidal “flat” cable that carries both power and data. In a system, the flat cable is positioned along the path of the I/O points. The I/Os are then connected to the cable using AS-interface’s snap-and-go piercing technology. One cable can connect an entire network of I/O points. If needed, a user can connect additional splitter modules to branch and lengthen the network as well as add safety functionality. The controller monitors all communication over the AS-interface cable without the need for special software. A power supply feeds a symmetrical supply voltage into the AS-interface cable, which provides communication and power to the sensors.

Automacad fitted the top of each pneumatic head with an ifm ClassicLine Airbox that controls the digital inputs and pneumatic outputs. The Airboxes are daisy-chained through all of the heads of the Split-Impact machine. One AS-interface cable brings in all digital inputs and drives out all of the outputs. One pneumatic tube supplies the air to each Airbox.

A selling feature for Automacad was the low-profile, simple-to-mount Airbox housing, which fits easily on top of the pneumatic head. The module can rotate in three directions with a simple twist to accept the flat cable vertically or horizontally. This allows Automacad to stock fewer parts.

Compared to other systems, which can be regimented and complex, another AS-interface benefit is its lack of restriction on adding and subtracting components. “The AS-interface network helps make our machine a modular system. We can easily replace a head wherever we want,” says Hébert. Use of AS-interface has enabled considerable installation-time savings. According to Hébert, Automacad saves three days in wiring and three days in pneumatic set-up. If a customer needs to add a pneumatic head, Automacad simply ships the head with the Airbox attached to the top. The customer plugs it into AS-interface cable and they can see it remotely.

Other benefits include ease of programming, and simplified troubleshooting. If there is a problem on the machine, the AS-interface network applies its auto-addressing feature to locate the issue. For customers, “we promote the long-term benefits, such as troubleshooting, flexibility and reliability,” Hébert says.

Automacad Concrete
www.automacadconcrete.com

ifm efector North America
www.ifm.com/us

Subscribe to Automation World's RSS Feeds for Columns & Departments

More in Control