Addressing the challenge of panel downsizing
The challenges facing panel builders and machine designers to reduce costs, increase flexibility, and meet user requirements to optimise plant floor space, have seen trends to reduce panel sizes. And yet at the same time end users want increased functionality, often built around whole new control architectures. In this article, Jodie Commercial of Omron discusses how a new breed of compact panel components can help in addressing these challenges.
Increased demand for customised products and shrinking time-to-market expectations have contributed to the fundamental shift in how products are designed and created. To fulfil today’s demand for smart products and customised design, manufacturers must break away from their outdated, mass manufacturing habits and explore the world of automated engineering.
Panel space has always carried a cost premium, but as the prices of steel and copper have risen in recent years in response to the demands of the global economy, so the requirement to minimise panel sizes has become more acute. Panel builders – and indeed machine designers – will frequently have to take into account export costs as well, and the bigger and heavier the panel, the higher the cost of transportation.
But it is not just the panel builders themselves who have an interest in downsizing panels. For end users, whatever industry they are in, available space on the plant floor is inevitably limited. As companies look to get ever greater levels of productivity within the same production real estate, there are requirements for smaller panels to help optimise floor space.
Complicating matters further, end users will also frequently ask for panels which allow for ongoing system upgrades or for customisation. A given line may have an operational lifespan of 15 years or more, and will be modified on numerous occasions to increase performance or to handle a wider array of products. For the panels themselves, this inevitably means the addition of more control and I/O components.
This makes panel downsizing even more of a challenge at the design stage, with panel builders being required to implement an initial control solution in the tightest possible space, and yet still leave room in the panel for upgrades. Alternatively, at the midpoint in a machine’s operational lifetime, panel builders will be asked to upgrade existing panels where there is no more space, facing the challenge of adding increased functionality into panels which already seem unfeasibly small.
To meet these challenges, Omron has developed a complete range of compact components to enable panel streamlining. With slim in-panel component designs that offer widths of as little as 6.2mm, as well as on-panel components with reduced depth, panel designers can take advantage of industry leading component performance combined with minimum size to reduce overall panel dimensions by as much as 20%.
The complete range of compact in-panel components from Omron includes: electromechanical and solid state relays, micro connectors, safety relays, temperature controllers, timers, measuring and monitoring relays, PLCs and power supplies. On-panel components with reduced depth include pushbutton switches, temperature controllers, timers and counters.
Slim industrial relays with widths of just 6.2mm wide allow modules to be downsized or the number of I/O points to be increased without increasing panel space. Safety relays save mounting space and measuring and monitoring relays offer a compact footprint for narrow panel spaces with widths of only 17.5mm and 22.5mm. These products also offer features such as screw-less terminals, LED status indicators, simple front wiring and push in terminals, all helping panel designers to optimise panel layouts without impacting on issues such as usability or maintenance.
When it comes to power supplies, Omron has developed innovative, compact uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that use lithium-ion batteries in order to minimise component size and weight, as well as increasing product life. And standard switch mode industrial power supplies have been redesigned to be up to 13% smaller than comparable power supplies, offering the smallest footprint on the market.
As a further aid to panel downsizing, Omron has made parts data for all control products available via an online data portal. The information from this portal can be directly imported into leading panel design software packages, including EPLAN and Zuken E3. The company also offers 2D and 3D CAD files in the most popular formats via the Omron website.
As designers strive to meet streamlining challenges, Omron’s component downsizing strategy results in smaller and lighter panels that offer reduced transport costs, more room for customisation, and reduced costs linked to installation, set-up and wiring. Not only does this enable panel builders to improve their competitive edge and reduce their own costs, ultimately the overall size of a production line is minimised and the end user achieves greater flexibility when rearranging production lines.
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