Integrating Next-Generation Motion Control with PACs

Paul Derstine

The explosion of new products and growing customer expectations require greater flexibility, reliability, openness, and performance in manufacturing and production operations. To meet these demands, companies are turning to a new generation of performance-driven technologies.

Consumer appetite for an endless variety of manufactured goods is fueling an explosion of new products, differentiation in packaging, and multiple line extensions. To adapt to these trends, OEMs and end users are driving a major shift in automation systems.

In the past, end users would standardize on a given automation platform, even if it did not deliver the performance necessary to maximize productivity. The primary reason was the desire to reduce the learning curve for staff engineers and leverage existing expertise and intellectual property on a particular system. To keep pace with the growing demand for increased productivity and product variability, however, more end users are allowing OEMs to select a control platform that maximizes productivity by leveraging the latest innovative technology.

In addition, productivity and time-to-market have become even more critical. To achieve these higher performance standards, companies are increasingly seeking to integrate disparate plant floor equipment and network it with operations and enterprise-level systems. This has led to greater demand for integrated control systems.

Increasing Integration and Productivity
At the forefront of these performance-driven technologies is an integrated control system called a programmable automation controller (PAC). These devices provide easy integration and enable the operational excellence that allows companies to become more productive. PACs with integrated motion control can especially benefit applications in high-performance industries that require multi-axes motion control for mid- to high-end applications.

Although a PAC's form factor is often similar to that of a traditional PLC, its capabilities are far more comprehensive. PACs are multi-functional controller platforms that encompass various technologies and products that users can implement as needed. They can include motion control, process control, logic control, and HMI, enabling true convergence. These devices have become attractive to end-users because they can greatly reduce the total cost of ownership.

Key PAC features include:

  • A single integrated, multi-discipline development environment

  • Common tag names and a single tag database for access by all functions

  • An open architecture for interoperability with other suppliers' solutions, based on interface standards, such as TCP/IP, OPC, and XML, and open communication standards, such as Ethernet/IP, Profibus, and CAN

Coupled Motion Control
When tightly coupled with a PAC controller, the latest generation of motion control can overcome the limitations of traditional architectures and provide significant customer benefits, including improved machine productivity, increased engineering efficiency, and enhanced machine flexibility.

PACs integrated with motion controllers can use a high-speed backplane and real-time data-exchange techniques to provide tighter synchronization of multi-axis motion and logic events. Integrating motion in one common environment with HMI, logic, and process control substantially increases engineering efficiency. With a common open standard programming language, tag database, and function blocks, engineers can spend less time and effort learning new programming environments and synchronizing different programs for control of machine logic, motion, and view applications. The result is faster program development, quicker time to market, and faster machine commissioning.

A noteworthy trend affecting engineering efficiency is a motion programming paradigm shift away from proprietary languages and toward open standards. PLCopen has developed an open standard motion programming language that integrates with the existing, widely accepted IEC languages. Open standard programming significantly increases programmer productivity and protects investment in intellectual property by providing portability to different hardware platforms.

In Closing
As companies increasingly adopt and invest in the latest technologies to meet their manufacturing challenges, selecting an integrated motion control solution with the performance, flexibility, and reliability to keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for productivity and more flexible asset use becomes a critical success factor. Companies in high-performance industries that require multi-axis motion control for mid- to high-end applications may especially benefit from integrated control systems.