From the smartphones we all carry to keep us connected to the smart house that can be programmed for tighter security and maximized electrical efficiency, Internet-connected technology has become intertwined with almost every aspect of our daily lives. These same kinds of advances in connectivity, control and automation are also found throughout industrial applications, and now are making their way into motion applications. The results of this type of Internet-enabled machine provide a new level of flexibility, performance and cost advantages.
The old way of addressing machine integration and motion control focused on basic engineering disciplines—mechanical and electrical—with each dedicated engineering group working independently. Mechanical engineering would work on the physical motion created, such as the bearings, rails, drive mechanisms and how to connect to a motor. Electrical engineering would select the sensors and connect the I/O, driver, PLC, controller, amplifier and power supply. Selection of the motor would, most often, be left to the electricians because it had to be connected to power and controlled.
With the rise of mechatronics, a new model has emerged that simplifies the machine design and build process while easily enabling Internet integration with the use of smart robot modules. This marriage of mechanical and electrical disciplines, leveraging optimized motion elements and smart stepper or step-servo closed-loop motor technology with integrated controls, can be applied to single-axis, multi-axis or XYZ Cartesian configurations.
To illustrate the advantages of this combination of enhanced mechanical components with smart motor technology and control strategies, following are what I consider to be the top 10 advantages for both machine builders and users:
- Lower cost and enhanced functionality. Less wiring and connectors, fewer components and sensors, less labor invested, reduced time spent in setup and maintenance, and maximized operational uptime all add up to substantial cost savings in overall cost of ownership and operation.
- Less space. With the driver, controller and amplifier all built into the smart motor, the panel space required for these devices can be eliminated, resulting in savings of material, time, labor and overall cost.
- Simplified wiring. By eliminating the need for a driver, controller and amplifier to be housed in a separate cabinet, fewer sensors are required, especially when an encoder is used. All this results in fewer I/O connections and less complicated wiring schemes.
- Reduced troubleshooting. With fewer components and wire connections, the job of tracking down any problems that might arise is greatly reduced.
- Streamlined commissioning. Not only is machine installation and startup made easier with pre-programmed homing routines, so too is the ability to make changes at an individual axis without working through the PLC. This distributed control model frees up the installation team to work on multiple axes simultaneously and report progress via Internet connectivity. It also allows an operator to make in-process adjustments at an individual axis without affecting the PLC or production line.
- Modular integration. Standardized smart robot modules make integration into multiple axes—or multiple machines—a natural and easy process.
- Automated adjustment. Rather than a time-consuming manual changeover, switching a packaging or assembly line to a different size or part can become automated and recipe-driven, thereby increasing manufacturing flexibility and speed. In addition, adaptive control is possible with conditions monitored and adjustments made locally—in real time—at the actuator level without having to route instructions through the PLC.
- Maximized uptime. Real-time monitoring of temperatures, friction, motor torque and other performance-related data can be routed to a mobile device, allowing the decision maker to proactively handle issues related to maximizing machine uptime.
- Preventive maintenance. Established timeframes for periodic maintenance based on cycles, number of pieces run or other dynamic conditions can easily be monitored and reported to any Internet-connected device, such as a workstation, tablet or mobile phone, allowing teams to proactively keep equipment running at peak efficiency.
- Increased output. The above-listed features all work together in an Internet of Things-connected motion system to drive greater flexibility, less downtime, increased performance, and greater bottom-line output for manufacturing, assembly and packaging operations.
With the integration of processes and equipment enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), traditional disciplines are merging, and the benefits can be seen throughout the lifecycle of a machine. The design phase is shortened with cross-discipline communication, design development and project management tools. Procurement and build cycles are shortened due to the need for fewer components along with the use of online configuration and purchasing tools. And with IoT-connected programming and real time analytics, ease of use, maintenance and overall life are increased for the user. All of which combine to increase your bottom line, creating more opportunity and increasing financial returns.