What does the future hold for electric drives in the industrial automation sector? Currently there are three trends which are dictating development – speed and ease of specification, simplified control and maintenance, and machinery safety. Here, Nigel Dawson, Festo GB’s Product Manager for Electric Drives, looks at these trends.
Today’s consumers expect their products, however sophisticated, to be intuitive, readily available, and quick and safe to use. The iPad is a great example; as soon as you take it out of the box, you know how to charge it, switch it on and hey presto you’re up and running in no time at all. What’s more, if you’re a technological Luddite or need help setting it up, there’s simple online support or you can call the hotline for step-by-step assistance.
This expectation has spread into the industrial world: design engineers and machine builders expect Festo to have products that are easy to specify, for the control technology to be simple, for the maintenance to be straightforward and for the products to adhere to the latest safety legislation.
So how can vendors help to reduce the time taken to dimension and select the product? Just as the iPad is quick and easy to select, buy and get up and running, so should electric drives be. Festo has responded to these demands with the introduction of its ‘Optimised Motion Series’, which is a range of electric drives based on those easily accessible and easy to use iPad principles.
The intuitive online configuration tool assists in the specification and selection process and for easier sizing a range of pre-defined and tested combinations with all of the necessary data is available. For easier ordering, a complete drive solution – comprising mechanical system, motor and motor controller – is available with just a single part number. And, for easier assembly, the motor and mechanical system is integrated.
The second trend is for simplified control and maintenance and web browser technology is at work here; it allows the user to source electric drives that are easy to commission, programme and maintain. The demand from the end user is that electric drives have to be intuitive and they don’t want to have to buy specialist programming cables and software.
A standard Ethernet CAT5 cable, which is relatively cheap and readily available, will connect straight into the controller from the laptop and, using a web browser, type in the IP address of the controller, which has its own web page on-board, to commission it (as you would when setting up your own home router). This web-based configuration makes control simple too as it is based on the basic principles of solenoid valve technology. The diagnostic function, accessed via a standard web browser, supports simplified maintenance.
The final trend which is influencing the sector is machinery safety. But, the issue here is that the machinery safety industry is focused on electrically and electronically monitored systems that end at the motor. The question is who is monitoring the mechanics? Here, Festo have developed a unique overall safety concept integrating clamping modules and linear feedback systems onto its popular EGC axis. These mechanical measures, combined with safety functions in the drives and motors and specific electric drive safety controllers allow customers to create fully certified systems for category 4 / PLe safety from a single supplier with full documentation and circuit diagrams.
By understanding these three trends, Festo is opening up new possibilities in industrial automation, making it easier for machine builders and design engineers alike to specify, control and maintain electric drives while ensuring they comply with the latest safety legislation. Ultimately, machine builders can improve motion control and profit margins, as well as make significant cost savings on integration.