Right-size your system

Aug. 1, 2011
Machine builders can right-size their control architecture so it easily scales from small to large or single to multi-disciplined applications — and meet varied end-user requirements.

Most machine builders consider safety, performance, flexibility, and enterprise integration top customer drivers guiding new system design. Machines that best meet these objectives are scalable — to efficiently conform to the widest range of applications. What's more, scalable, right-sized controls help a machine's price and performance match real-world design parameters.

Controls to evolve with markets

A one-size-fits-all design approach often results in a control architecture that locks machine builders into a system that's over or undersized for actual machine requirements — and diminishes customer satisfaction. In fact, this approach is fairly common; traditional manufacturer response to new production requirements takes two forms:

  1. In capital-rich times, companies completely overhaul old lines and often install ultra-sophisticated machines — purchasing machines that can handle more throughput than needed and equipped with features without immediate use.

  2. In tougher economic times, manufacturers often purchase and install only what's needed at the moment, exchanging features and speed for lower overall capital cost. For example, a manufacturer might purchase several economical, dedicated machines for multiple product SKUs on one production line.

Otherwise, a manufacturer might choose to retrofit existing machines instead of purchasing newer machinery.

Today, because the number of product variations continues to explode, neither of these approaches is effective. Another option — leveraging scalable controls — is more suitable for modern builds.

Scalability for standardization

Besides accommodating a range of machine sizes and degrees of complexity, a scalable architecture can also unify safety, motion, and process controls. This helps machine builders standardize on one architecture and leverage a common programming and configuration environment — regardless of the machine complexity or functions requiring management. Lengthy control selection processes are bypassed, and accommodating the shifting of design parameters or expansion of end-customer applications is easy.

If a machine builder motivates customers to standardize on one control platform, the builder can also streamline support and maintenance efforts. Here, engineers only require training on one platform, so the machine builder can provide focused support while saving on costs. Customer support consistency and quality improves, and the machine builder can stock fewer parts while improving part availability.

How to right-size a control architecture

To choose the right control architecture, builders must work with customers to assess machine requirements. Often, the best place to start is a consultation with a supplier that offers a portfolio of control options, an understanding of how scalable technology can be leveraged, and tools to support the approach.

  • Accelerator Toolkits from Rockwell Automation help with all facets of machine design, including selecting components; developing drawings and code; laying out operator screens; starting up a machine; and providing troubleshooting tips.

  • Motion Analyzer software also helps engineers size and select an optimal motion system — one that uses appropriate amounts of energy and achieves specified speed and throughput. This digital modeling and simulation tool integrates with 3D CAD mechanical design software to link mechanical, controls, and electrical design software packages.

How does it work? Engineers can use Motion Analyzer software to create motion profiles, and then transfer the profiles to a 3D CAD mechanical design software to visualize how the machine moves. The mechanical design software then calculates the torque or force required to move the load through its profile, which Motion Analyzer uses to size and select motors and drives.

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How one machine builder benefited from the process

JANDA Company, Inc., a manufacturer of resistance-welding equipment, upgraded its machinery to a scalable Logix Control platform to enable its engineers to install different controllers depending on the performance needs of a customer's welding machine: The engineers either install an Allen-Bradley MicroLogix, an Allen-Bradley SLC 500 controller, or (for machines needing high performance and a small footprint) an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix PAC from Rockwell Automation.

“With the scalable platform, we're able to match the control requirements of each customer and automate the entire welding process,” says Bob White Jr., president of JANDA. The Logix Control platform also helps the engineers reduce programming, design, commissioning, and installation time. “We only need to learn one programming environment, so we've reduced our electrical design time by 25% — and we can assemble the machines 30% faster upon installation.”

Before, relay logic complicated upgrades: If a component needed replacing or adding, the entire control panel had to be pulled apart. In contrast, adding a timer to the new single-controller-based setup takes just a minute. Finally, because the entire machine is controlled on one platform, it can be operated by just one person: With the added help of servo drives, “one of our customers went from producing 30 parts per hour to producing 200 higher-quality parts per hour — with four less personnel,” White adds.

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