Motion control software: No programming required

May 1, 2000
Recent developments in software let engineers concentrate on designing a motion control solution rather than write lines of code.

How would you like to spend only 1 hour programming a motion controller that coordinates the motion of 12 axes? How would you like software that automatically tunes your drives? Or, how about software that executes diagnostic routines on drives, motors, and integrated motion systems, and alerts engineers or operators to problems?

The latest features in many of today’s motion control programming and setup software give you the easy-to-use functions and prewritten routines that let you program 12 axes in 1 hour and automatically diagnose a system. Engineers no longer have to write lines of application code to program motion. In most software, all that’s required is for the engineer to fill in blanks on a computer screen. Simply enter data on desired final position, speed, number of axes, or position points, and the software does the rest.

Meeting a need

The popular Windows operating system is a large part of the reason why motion control software has become easier to use then earlier versions. Windows offers program- development tools and programming aids (such as Visual Basic, DDE, and others) that manufacturers can use to create application programs that almost write themselves.

The needs of engineers in downsized engineering departments to write application programs faster is the other part of why motor and drive manufacturers are offering easier-to-program software. With this software, engineers can set up two, three, or more systems in the time it used to take to set up one.

Engineering managers are finding that this software helps them deploy their limited engineering resources more productively. Says Karl Meier, marketing manager, Emerson Electronic Motion Controls, “We see that a large portion of motion control users are mechanical engineers rather than electrical engineers. Requiring mechanical engineers to spend time writing lines of computer code to program servo drives can be an unproductive use of valuable assets.”

What’s available

This easy-to-use software comes in a range of application capabilities. Some programs handle only single-axis linear motion. At the other extreme, some handle up to 40 motion axes, coordinated and interpolated. Some programs only set up and tune a drive or drive system.

As long as you do not need to program complex motion or custom motion, then your motion control manufacturer probably offers an easy-to-use software package for your motion control needs.

Do you know how to operate a personal computer? Then you have most of the computer skills you’ll need. Almost all use pull-down menus to navigate software features and capabilities, as well as the previously mentioned fill-in-theblank format. Other features you may find include:

Graphic icons. You link these icons, using them to describe the motion system in flow chart form. The software will convert the icon flowchart into code and transmit that code to the drive or motion system.

Integrated diagnostics. Digital oscilloscopes, spreadsheets, and real-time signal plots are some of these programs’ resident diagnostic features. For example, using the oscilloscope to set up servo drives can be a one key-stroke operation. Such a feature eliminates the time an engineer needs to find cables and wire up the scope, and reduces the time needed to measure the correct signals.

Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE). The Windows operating system is too slow for real-time data capture required in motion control applications. DDE is an addition that helps eleviate this limitation. It captures and quickly transmits data from a device, such as a motion controller, to software applications such as spreadsheets, plotting routines, and operator interfaces.

File management. Some programs will also manage file uploading and downloading, and archive the application programs.

CAD interface. A few programs can receive files from CAD software. These programs will take the CAD data and create lines of code to manipulate the axes to trace the pattern.

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In addition, most software offers automatic tuning of drives to the motion system. You enter in a few parameters and the software does the rest. Most of this software also offers Help functions for online explanation or instruction.

If your motion control supplier doesn’t offer this type of software, it will soon. Here’s a sampling of available programs.

Linear Application Programmer, (LAP) from Atlas Copco Controls, reduces engineer programming time for single-axis linear motion. For actuators, ball screws, and other linear devices, engineers need only enter parameters into the software. The program generates the code necessary to create the moves. The Windows format includes point-and-click operation, selectable speeds and accelerations, and flexible input assignments. Engineers can also define move sequences in a spreadsheet.

BRU Master, from the Electro-Craft Div. of Reliance Electric, includes features such as parameter and I/O configuration to set up a drive for a specific application, manual or automatic drive tuning, and several on-screen tools that help engineers integrate a drive into their system.

The digital oscilloscope tool, for example, is part of the software and saves engineers time in wiring and diagnostic setup. Other diagnostic and integration tools eliminate the need for digital volt meters, breakout boxes, and will indicate if signals from a PLC are properly reaching the drive or if encoder feedback from the motor is working properly.

Two programs from Emerson Electronic Motion Controls, PCX and Axima, handle a one axis positioning servo drive and a multiaxis controller, respectively.

The PCX is targeted at mechanical engineers. If an actuator is to move 10.037 in., the engineer types in 10.037. The engineer does not need to calculate counts per revolution every time he or she enters data. The software then loads the data into the drive to position the actuator.

Application modules enable the drive to perform specific tasks, such as phase synchronization, random infeed control, press feed control, and cam profiles.

The Axima program, targeted at electrical engineer needs, can be used to create and run up to 23 programs simultaneously. The software uses “time-slicing” to execute segments of each program. Timeslicing assigns priorities to each program and executes the instructions accordingly. This is a typical way for a computer to multitask.

The software defines coordinate systems as the number of axes in a functional group and controlled by one motion program. For example, with six axes, one coordinate system could be an X-Y-Z assembly station, another system could be a two axis pick-and-place system, and a third could be a coordinate system of simple linear motion. Each system can be independent from another on the same machine while operating at the same time. Engineers can have a maximum of eight coordinate systems operating eight independent, single axis drives, or have the eight axes in one coordinate system.

VisualMotion, from Indramat, a division of Mannesmann Rexroth, helps engineers develop programs for the CLC multi-axis motion control system. Windows based, it has pull-down menus for access to setup and limit parameters of the motion controller and digital servo drives. It also uses point-and-click icon programming, including editing, program compilation, and downloading functions.

In the digital oscilloscope function, drives capture torque, velocity, and position data in a proprietary real-time algorithm and send them to a spreadsheet for analysis and display. Through the DDE function, engineers can also send data to other programs such as Wonderware’s In- Touch man-machine interface software and Microsoft’s Visual Basic application development programs.

Engineers can use the software to program up to 40 motion axes, coordinated and interpolated. In addition, this package helps engineers manage file upload, download, and archiving needs.

Advanced Motion Language, (AML) from the Motion Technology Div. of Pacific Scientific Co., offers what it calls a soft motion controller. It lets engineers control multi-axis motion from industrial PCs.

It uses object-oriented programming, where a control element such as a sensor, motor, or drive train is represented as a predefined component known as an object.

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The software supports basic elements of motion control, including relative and absolute moves, electronic gearing, registration and programmable limit switches. It electronically links two or more axes (drive trains). Electronic gearing can be axis to axis, axis to external encoder, or axis to virtual axis. The software also can generate cam profiles, up to four per axis. These can be user defined or the software will calculate them.

MCAPI, from Precision MicroControls, uses Windows in its line of multiaxis motion control cards. Hardware interfacing is managed by this software, which comes in three parts.

A low-level device driver provides communication between the motion control and Windows operating system. Dynamic Link Library (DDL), (communication code that links various devices to a PC), communicates with the driver. The library implements the motion function of the software. The highest layer of this program includes protocol and connections for various hardware drivers, as well as support files.

Thomson offers a DOS-based representation of a Windows environment that uses icons to define a move profile. Features include real-time diagnostics, on-screen editing, terminal emulation, manual tuning display, and multiaxis coordination. The tuning display includes a graphical representation of the system gains.

This software has an interface for a DXF or HPGL post processor. Engineers can use this feature to download CAD or graphics files to the control. The control then converts these data to control language and then manipulates the axes to trace the CAD pattern. This saves machine programming time.

Circular and linear interpolation are standard features. Up to four axes can be controlled from one servo controller. Controls can be daisy-chained for control of up to 256 axes.

For more information

Atlas Copco Controls, contact the company at 211 Overlook Drive, Sewickley, PA 15143. Tel:412-749-0710 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 412-749-0710 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax:412-749-0705.

Electro-Craft div. of Reliance Electric, contact Reliance Motion Control, 6950 Washington Ave. South, Eden Prairie, MN 55344. Tel:612-942-3600. Fax:612-942-3636

Emerson Electronic Motion Controls, contact Emerson EMC, Subs. Emerson Electric Co., 1365 Park Road, Chanhassen, MN 55317. Tel:612-474-1116. Fax:612-474-8711

Indramat Div., Mannesmann Rexroth, The Rexroth Corp., Indramat Div., 5150 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates, IL 60192. Tel:708-645-3600. Fax:708-645-6201

Motion Technology Div., Pacific Scientific Co., or contact the company at 2455 MeadowBrook Parkway, Duluth, GA 30136. Tel:404-497-8086. Fax:404-497-8666.

Precision Micro Controls, or contact the company at 2075-N Corte Del Nogal, Carlsbad, CA 92009, Tel:619-930-0101 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 619-930-0101 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax:619-930-0222.

Thomson Industries, or contact the company at 2 Channel Drive, Port Washington, NY 11050. Tel:516-883-8000. Fax:516-883-9039.

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