Connectivity easier for panel builders and system integrators

Josh Roberts, Product Marketing Manager for Electric Automation at Festo

Currently, the automation industry is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of supply for materials such as semiconductors, copper, aluminium, and many other materials that were taken for granted only two years ago. This situation has altered the market dynamics and forced electronic manufacturers, such as Festo, to refocus on product care, altering hardware and software to incorporate components that are more readily available.

With every crisis comes opportunities, and this article explores how necessity is leading to positive outcomes for panel builders and system integrators as industrial automation component suppliers adjust to the material shortages. For example, for those coping with different manufacturers’ PLCs and networks there is a great opportunity to simplify using a new range of multiprotocol devices. These are designed to provide seamless and transparent connectivity that extends from mechanics to servo drives and up to the cloud.

Festo has taken this a stage further, developing a single product that seamlessly connects to several networks, ensuring seamless connectivity combined with a reduction in complexity. This enables panel builders and system integrators to offer their customers up-to-date electronics, multiprotocol functionality and improved performance with a much-reduced inventory.

By combining its popular CMMT-AS servo drives for Profinet, Ethernet IP, EtherCAT and Modbus, into a single multiprotocol drive, Festo has been able to reduce the portfolio of this drive from 21-part numbers down to just seven: making selection faster and easier and reducing the stock holding required for machine inventory and spares.

The new multiprotocol drive features a new FPGA (Free Programmable Gate Array) that reduces processing time for time-critical processes. For the CMMT-AS drive, it is used to reduce latency in the control-loops, making this product market leading in its ability to reduce oscillation and reduce mismatch between motor and load.

In addition to the performance gains, availability of the new drive will be improved: not just in the current component availability crisis but also longer term. No company can afford to hold an unlimited inventory. Stock costs money, and this cost is often reflected in the price of the product. Reducing the portfolio of part numbers by two thirds through the introduction of the multiprotocol drive means that Festo can hold three times more inventory for the same cost, making availability better for customers. This advantage is also mirrored at the customer, especially for panel and machine builders who manufacture machines with different networks to suit the needs of their clients. Now they can hold servo drives in stock irrespective of network and just configure the drive to the right network when needed. The same advantage can be experienced for end-user spares.

The CMMT range of servo drives are universal drives for synchronous servo motors up to 6kw continuous power. Single and three phase versions are available in two form factors, with integrated filters, braking resistors and a further option for an external braking resistor and second encoder input. EPLAN macros ensure fast and reliable planning and documentation. A single cable connection to the servo motors reduces wiring time, costs and space in cable ducting.

Simple, powerful free software

Seamless connectivity should not only be limited to hardware. Selecting and integrating products should also be a seamless journey for users. Festo have developed a new simple sizing tool that allows panel builders and system integrators to input a handful of parameters for their application: either connected to a linear actuator, or the motor alone in a rotary application. The customer then receives five optimum solutions and motor curves, available for immediate transfer to the Festo online basket and even full commissioning files. The Electric Motion Sizing tool is available online and can significantly reduce the amount of time involved in researching and specifying compatible components.

The seamless journey continues with commissioning. The Festo Automation Suite (FAS) allows commissioning engineers to configure all products from remote IO to pneumatic valve terminals, PLCs and servo drives in a single free tool. The commissioning files can be directly imported from the Electric Motion Sizing tool. The FAS automatically connects to the Festo cloud to download project specific documentation and updates within the software. It even incorporates Codesys code for programming PLCs and Motion controllers.

Multiprotocol and IO

Seamless connectivity doesn’t just apply to servo drives for Festo customers. The CPX-AP-I remote IO system allows the use of exactly the same decentralised digital and analogue blocks, IO link masters and valve terminals, irrespective of the industrial network selected. This is thanks to the AP backplane running throughout the entire system. The user only selects a required bus network node and is then able to connect up to 80 different IO modules and still maintain a rapid data rate of 200 Mbaud in real time.

Final word

We can hope that the materials shortages being experienced now are a short-term issue. While they have been caused by events beyond our control, there are positive steps that can be taken to ensure they do not have a negative impact on automation supply chains. The example given here demonstrates how automation component manufacturers are responding by developing multifunctional products and support tools. Reassessing the quantity of components required to achieve a task, and using online configuration tools to achieve optimal design and compatibility, are two ways in which panel builders and system integrators can save time and improve efficiency to remain competitive in these challenging times.

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