The overall trend in drives is for more powerful, capable, and feature-rich products to handle the challenges of automation and control over a range of industries and applications. We asked some top drive manufacturers what they’re seeing and here’s what they told us.
In what industries has your company seen increased activity?
Mike Wolfe, Business development manager at Control Techniques: In robotics, we’ve seen a significant increase of activity in the automated guided vehicle (AGV) segment of robotics. Precision motion, fieldbus control options and distributed on-board motion control are some of the key needs in this market space.
In factory automation, we’ve seen continued strong demand in general factory automation for drives and motors above 150 hp. Our Drive Free Standing (DFS) offering has expanded our reach and support for short lead time needs of ready to use drive and switch gear packages up to 1,250 hp.
In farming we have seen significant investment and customer activity in the automation of field harvesting equipment. These machines require precise motion control, vision systems and powerful control systems to automate activities historically performed by hand.
Warren Osak, President at Electromate: In the past five years we’ve seen a big increase in demand for our products in the robotics and eMobility markets. The cobot (collaborative robots) industry has also been a hotbed of activity. I believe the uptick in activity is directly related to the development of embedded robotics and the ideal function they serve in these growth markets.
Gabriel Venzin, President at ABM Drive Inc. North America: We’re seeing new activity in AGV and OEM applications and some for auxiliary components on e-buses, etc. Also, retrofit requests for more efficient options for auxiliary functions on trains, subways etc. is also increasing.
What kinds of capabilities do your components incorporate to support functions related to the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Industrial IoT?
Edward Tom, Low voltage drives product manager at Yaskawa America: When it comes to IoT/IIoT, connectivity and data are the two most crucial components. Our drives offer a variety of communication options (EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, Modbus TCP/IP to name a few) that provide our customers the ability to connect the drives to their network and fulfill the connectivity aspect. For the data component, all the monitors that are accessible on the drive’s keypad are also accessible through the network. This can be invaluable for those that are looking for innovative ways to monitor their machines.
Osak: Interoperability is a critical requirement in the development of the backbone of the IoT. In fact, interoperability is the primary driver of the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is the name given to the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing. Without interoperability, Industry 4.0 doesn’t exist.
Wolfe: Our general purpose, high performance and servo drive products have been built on a fieldbus agnostic philosophy. We’ve designed our drives to provide diagnostic information through Ethernet based fieldbuses such as EtherNet/IP, PROFINET RT and EtherCAT for many years and will continue to support access to meaningful data for third-party control and data acquisition systems as cloud-based data collection becomes more important.
What value-add services have you provided to an OEM or other user?
Osak: We’ve always prided ourselves on our engineering ability to size, select, and field support the wide range of motion control products we sell. However in recent years we’ve been asked by our OEM customers to collaborate on developing mechatronic solutions and subassemblies for their machines. This, of course, requires a completely different skill-set and requisite higher level of investment, but it has driven revenue growth and strengthened our relationship with our OEM customer base.
Venzin: ABM is supplying OEMs with customized drive solutions based on a modular design. Most of our solutions require in-house engineering support and this is expected by our customer base.
Are you seeing much interest in wireless connectivity for industrial applications?
Tom: We are starting to see some rise in activity when it comes to wireless connectivity, particularly Bluetooth. Our GA800 and GA500 drives offer an optional Bluetooth keypad that offers our customers the ability to connect to their drives without needing to open up the panel door, providing a safer way to get data to and from our drives.
Any selector, sizing, or sales software you use or offer?
Tom: We currently offer software called Product Selector that is available to everyone. The Product Selector provides our customers the ability to select the drive that they need by answering a few questions about their application. This eliminates the task of trying to go through various pieces of literature to try and determine what they should select.
Wolfe: We have significant data collected to show that self-service is trending in engineering for sizing, selection, and closing sales. While high tech pure engineering systems will remain in use for complex engineering problems, the companies that invest in software and processes to simplify the sizing, selection and sales process will rise to the top in the years ahead.
Focus: Safety drives on the rise in machine tools and more
By Matt Prellwitz • Motion control product manager | Beckhoff Automation
Drives with integrated safety technology are on the rise for good reason. Not only do they create a safer overall motion architecture, but they also provide more diagnostics and performance data directly in the PC-based machine control platform. Along with other safety solutions, Beckhoff offers TwinSAFE drive option cards for our AX5000 and AX8000 Servo Drives for this purpose.
Built-in Safe Stop 1 (SS1) and Safe Torque Off (STO) functionality, along with the option to easily incorporate additional safety options via TwinCAT software and EtherCAT I/O extensions, can reduce risk in machines and plants. In a CNC plasma cutter, for example, if a horizontal axis moves outside TwinSAFE-equipped drives can cut all torque to the motors and return the axes to a safe state.
These capabilities and the range of safety hardware in the universal Beckhoff platform greatly simplify machine designs. New safety features of the AX8000 will expand TwinSAFE motion to cover linear motor safety for Safe Positioning and Safe Speed applications by integrating EnDAT 2.2 or BISS C safety encoders from leading encoder manufactures. With the aid of the integrated TwinSAFE editor in TwinCAT, programmers can manage the configuration of the safety encoder.