It’s happening — Arduinos are finding use in high-performance motion applications … even those with industrial-grade motion controls.
Recently, I got the chance to sit down and talk with Abe Amirana, director at Teknic Inc., and Teknic’s Brendan Flosenzier, applications engineer, about the evolution of Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, and other low-cost microcontrollers and minicomputers now finding use in industrial motion-control applications.
As a brief background, Teknic sells fully integrated ClearPath brushless servo motors that incorporate an encoder, digital servo drive, and controller … and interface well with most any microcontroller or minicomputer, thanks to industry-standard digital I/O.
The combination of a ClearPath integrated servomotor along with a low-cost microcontroller (roughly $30 includes the full microcontroller, along with a C-based IDE), provides machine builders and OEMs a powerful prototyping environment for automated machine control. More after the jump.
In fact, Design World is hoping to do a product video to demonstrate what an Arduino does when running alongside the industrial-grade sine-wave vector drive of a ClearPath. Stay tuned.
According to Flosenzier, the story begins when graduate and undergraduate engineering students receive robotics and controls assignments which require low-cost microcontrollers or minicomputers. Often an Arduino solution effectively meets their needs due to the wide availability of board options and shields — a shield is a modular circuit board which further extends Arduino’s functionality — along with a wide open-source community for support.
For some mechanical engineering students, working with an Arduino is often their first exposure to embedded controls.
But electrical or software engineering students can also use an Arduino as the basis for more advanced designs, then move to higher-performance, single-board computers for subsequent work. Graduates come out of academia well-versed in the use & application of Arduino, Raspberry Pi and other microcontrollers or minicomputers and naturally progress from these chip kits to full minicomputers. Teknic, an OEM vendor of brushless servo motors, now leverages this expertise to engage in a community of corporations adopting the technology. More after the jump.
Arduinos at Teknic: It started as a prototyping tool
Flosenzier first brought Arduinos to Teknic’s engineering labs for testing work — in an effort to recreate a customer’s machine problem that was hard to reproduce with a digital function generator. Based on the success of that project, he was encouraged to use an Arduino setup for a wide range of regression test suites … writing basic programs to output complicated waveforms.
From there, he’d input the programs into the Arduino and found he could reliably reproduce even complicated controller signals — and observe the response to a better quantifier.
Because the tool proved powerful enough, Flosenzier implemented an Arduino function library to automate parameter settings for several ClearPath motion modes. The availability of writing software classes to emulate different modes through the Arduino lets designers do a number of things, according to Flosenzier. Only setup of the most advanced functions are involved, and even these aren’t difficult.
If a machine axis just needs go to a few different positions and execute basic positional or velocity control, according to Flosenzier, even freshmen engineering students with zero motion-control experience can independently build such a machine within a month of researching the Arduino and learning how to program it. It is that easy to use.
Amirana was initially skeptical that Arduinos would gain traction corporately (Arduino started out years ago within the academic environment) but he sees Arduinos’ ease of use, low cost, and global community are spreading its use. Third-party boards and Arduino Shields (plug-in devices such as LCDs and wireless-communication boards to expand functions, even to industrial-grade operations) are spurring this rapidly accelerating trend.
Case in point: An OEM machine builder of industrial mixers historically would use a PLC with an HMI (for the operator UI) running complicated ladder logic in a proprietary environment. This setup limits the motion-control components one can use … for example, forcing OEMs to use less efficient and less flexible AC induction motors for motion.
In contrast, Teknic’s ClearPath lets OEMs use a three-phase, permanent magnet, brushless servo motor all with an integrated digital servo system running vector, closed-loop control. This design is smaller, price competitive, and far more flexible than a design running off an ac induction motor with a variable frequency drive (VFD). Now, OEMs can use the power and cost effectiveness of the Arduino community to leverage these kinds of functions as well.