Motion platforms unlock programmable automation

Dec. 1, 2008
One of the major hurdles designers face when attempting to build programmable automation systems is the complexity associated with software development.

One of the major hurdles designers face when attempting to build programmable automation systems is the complexity associated with software development. In some cases, designers are required to master four or five programming languages to implement various motion functions. The future for programmable automation is much more promising, however, with the emergence of more versatile software development platforms.

One such system, called “Generic Motion Control” from B&R Industrial Automation Corp., Roswell, Ga., lets users program motion functions over a wide range of scales, from single-axis turning to sophisticated multi-axis processing with adaptive control. Robert Muehlfellner, director of automation technology at B&R, explains the “levels” of motion over which the new software applies.

“The program works equally well for simple point-to-point positioning, coordinated motion, CNC applications, and robotics,” says Muehlfellner. Applications vary from controlling form, fill, and seal machines that use electronic cams and gears, to CNC-based vertical machining centers used in metal-cutting, to palletizers and pick-and-place robots.

According to Muehlfellner, the power of the platform is its open architecture, combining robotic and CNC control with linked-axis movements and single-axis positioning into a single homogenous software environment. It also incorporates drive management, movement and path control, visualization, and I/O handling.

“Another important factor is that the control program is completely hardware independent,” explains Muehlfellner. “Any kind of drive — servomotor, stepper motor, dc motor, or even a hydraulic actuator for example — is compatible with the platform, making it as flexible as it is versatile.”

What makes the platform so versatile is its real-time operating system, which accommodates high-precision positioning tasks. It also allows data, such as tool radius and path-section end points, to be changed on-the-fly. Blistering CNC cycle times of 400 µsec achieve path precision in the sub-micron range. “To obtain this level of performance, generated set positions are sent to the drive over Ethernet Powerlink, which eliminates jitter and ensures greater process repeatability and fewer product defects,” notes Muehlfellner.

Another advantage inherent in scalable software platforms is their ability to simulate and display moving elements. In the case of B&R's software, designers can create complex machine functions using predefined visualization components. The tools — besides letting designers configure control parameters and observe program flow — can be used to simulate motion and automate data logging and process diagnostics.

“By encapsulating expertise in the application layer, rather than building it directly into the CNC core, machine builders can distinguish their solutions from one another,” adds Muehlfellner. For more information, visit

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