This article is one in a multi-part series covering the most recent trends in motions designs relating to electric motors. Here are other installments:
All industries — even the automotive industry — are adopting more electric-motor-driven systems than ever. That’s because axes driven by electric motors are often cleaner, easier to setup, and safer than alternatives. Electric equipment is more accurate for robots and automation than fluid-power options as well.
Here, Ethernet communications are increasingly important to the connection of motor axes to plant networks, so plant managers can track machine functions and maximize productivity. That’s a welcome development after years of splintered efforts towards connectivity.
“There’s been proliferation of communication networks in industrial production environments, from networks used to communicate with sensors, to ones for VFDs, ones for I/O, different ones for servos, and so on,” said Doug Parentice of Moog Animatics.
Of course, the downside is that there is a cost to implementing and maintaining this complexity. So moving forward, there is a need for simplification and cost control … and industrial Ethernet offers to fulfill that need, added Parentice.
The IoT and its inroads in electric motors and related technology
To be sure, network standards based on Ethernet protocols (such as EtherCAT) and Rockwell’s Integrated Motion over Ethernet/IP lead. That’s because Ethernet-based standards let manufacturing floors coordinate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and more. Such standards also let engineers integrate safety and discrete machine control with motion control. This open connectivity is changing the setup of motion designs to allow more feedback and IoT-type functions than ever.
Case in point: To let design engineers leverage the benefits of remotely sensing and controlling applications while collecting data as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) movement, Crouzet Automation recently introduced the em4 remote Ethernet nano-PLC.
“Where an application has Internet access, it lets users monitor and remotely control tasks … on everything from a single installation to a fleet of machines,” said John Morehead, national sales manager at Crouzet Motors and Crouzet Automation, brands of InnoVista Sensors.
With 26 I/Os in a compact configuration including an HMI, one can accurately accept high-end industrial-sensor feedback and use eight smart relay outputs and two static PWM outputs to control motors, actuators and other devices … including analog actuators such as valves or pumps.
“Quick and easy application design and remote functions are possible through its graphical function-block language. In addition, applications that have no Internet access can use a Crouzet Automation em4 remote 3G nano-PLC,” added Morehead.
As true with consumer products, OEMs can provide an array of benefits by integrating cloud-computing methodologies … and many of the benefits relate to service improvements.
“I think the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) requirement is likely to promote and benefit from advances in cloud-enabling technology,” noted Danielle Cyr, Product Manager at Portescap.
In short, the FDA UDI system will let users identify medical devices through distribution and use. Essentially, all devices will carry UDI labels readable by humans and machines containing information — including the DI, manufacturing and expiration dates, the lot or batch number, serial number, and donation identification number (if applicable).
“Today, our motors don’t integrate technology for cloud computing, but we continually engage in conversations with our customers about how cloud computing will play an expanded role in the field of orthopedic power tools in the future,” added Cyr.
Meanwhile, advanced sensing makes existing networking more valuable
“Our company presently manufactures a line of analog to digital converters, so several sensor outputs are fed into one converter, producing the equivalent data points through one network address,” said Will Delsman, inside and technical sales manager at NK Technologies.
This approach lets the cost of each sensor remain relatively low while enabling the data to be read remotely through a network connection. Such setups also work with existing analog output sensors … so engineers don’t need to completely toss out legacy controls. That means older products can remain in use, but with the added benefit of reduced cabling and improved remote access and monitoring. Once the existing analog sensor outputs are converted to digital, wireless communication becomes a viable alternative to cabling.
Consider one application example: One steel-manufacturing plant uses a large number of small dc motors on a conveyor which takes red hot slabs from a furnace to the rolling process.
“If a motor fails or the motor bearings and damaged, significant damage to the slab can occur, leaving grooves in the slab which remain to some extent during the rolling process,” said Delsman. “An analog output sensor was installed at each motor, and the output signals were monitored with a programmable logic controller. This provided information about the conveyor drives to let the plant to improve the quality of the finished product reliably and with minimal capital investment,” he added.
In fact, research into non-contact dc current measurement has let NK Technologies develop a sensor with high temperature resistance and simple, two-wire connection to the controller.
Places where IoT works already, and where it will never work
Many see the Industrial Internet of Things or Industry 4.0 as an expanding concept, with an increasing variety of devices being connected via industrial Ethernet.
“With sensors as the infrastructure backbone, and exploiting low cost cloud computing and growing databases, to enable actions having tangible benefits like predictive maintenance,” said Parentice.
“The ability to take sensor input directly into our SmartMotor and smart actuator products, and for our programmable products to immediately act upon that input helps further enable the IIoT trend. For example, in a nut running application our SmartMotors can be programmed to detect running position error which can help detect missing parts and bad or cross-threaded parts in a production process,” he added.
But despite all the hype, some applications will never use IoT. Consider how most of the sales of Moog Components Group operations in Murphy, North Carolina operations are in the medical market, and products they sell most are brushless dc motors and brushless dc air movers.
“These motors and blowers are typically sensorless and unidirectional and really don’t provide any sensor or data feedback,” said Robbie Queen of Moog Components Group.
“We do have some operations that provide very high-end electronics … and I’m sure sensor and data feedback are prevalent in those offerings, but not so much from my operation.”
General thoughts on benefits and challenges of automation
As part of our survey with manufacturers, we also asked our sources about IoT as it related to automation, and the effects of automation in general. Here are their responses.
Many sources agreed that automating a process does not necessarily mean the loss of a human job.
“In many cases, a machine may still require human oversight and support, but eliminate the tedium and ergonomic concerns of doing the manual labor itself,” said Brandon Steinberg, regional business development manager of North America for Portescap.
“Additionally, automating a process to make it more efficient and cost-effective encourages growth and reduces the incentive to relocate jobs to low-cost regions. This can lead to more domestic jobs to support that automated process,” Steinberg added.
“Robotics applications are using more components with special characteristics that were not possible 10 years ago,” said David B. Marks, motor engineering and research manager at Moog Components Group.
“From Moog Components Groups Murphy (NC) Operation’s perspective, automation is not the future, it is the reality,” said Queen.
“We have a very sophisticated automated line where we produce high volume custom brushless dc fans. The application for these fans is extremely cost sensitive and were it not for the automation, we would not have the business. I think when most people think of automation, they automatically think about robots replacing humans, but automation typically requires people to load and offload parts as well as skilled technicians to keep the automation going. So from my perspective, it is better to have material handlers and technicians feeding and keeping an automated line going as opposed to not having the business. It is my opinion that companies that cannot or will not automate in order to land these kinds of jobs, will find themselves losing market share or possibly going out of business completely,” added Queen of Moog.
“A good example to study would be the use of motion control systems in warehouse robotics that replace human retrieval of goods, books, and so on,” said David Marks of Moog.
This is not only revolutionizing the workforce but the work environment as well. Book-bot libraries and robotic warehouses with drone-delivery systems are transformative, though humans are needed in new capacities to regulate, monitor, and provide the personal touch.
“Increased automation today does not have an immediate boost in employment, at least from a headcount perspective,” said Morehead of Crouzet Motors.
“The more immediate boost, however, will be in wages of the more skilled employees necessary to properly support the new automation initiative. The increased automation brings increased productivity which inevitably results in increased market share and increased employment to support that increase not just in terms of the factory floor, but also customer service, sales, accounting and other support functions. What’s important to consider is that the company that chooses to automate will ultimately grow revenues and either sustain or grow employment, while the company that ignores automation is more likely to see decreased revenues and market share, ultimately leading to loss of employment and likely going out of business and no longer being an employer.”