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Deconstructing machine modularity

Deconstructing machine modularity

If modularity in machine manufacturing is carried through to its logical conclusion, inverters also need to leave the control cabinet and migrate to where the action takes place. This allows configurable modules to become easily connected mechatronic devices. We talk to the experts at B&R Automation about decentralised inverters for motion control.


The desire to adapt systems to individual requirements and to add different modular options is becoming increasingly prevalent in machine and systems manufacturing. The idea of a series-produced machine is a thing of the past.

From a control point of view, it is only possible to take advantage of the full benefits of optional devices and machine components if they can be easily connected with the primary machine - ideally with a single plug. In this case, the automation hardware would have to be integrated in the respective device from a location outside of the control cabinet. This is the only way to free up the valuable space inside the control cabinet and add expansions late in the game - or even after the machine has been commissioned.

This trend towards machine modularity has been growing for some time with control technology, with modular systems making it easy to implemented decentralised control islands. The same holds true for motion control as well, with the introduction of drive systems that can power servo, torque and linear motors, making them a universal solution for any automation task in machine manufacturing. These kinds of drive solutions are particularly cost-effective when used with machines that have multiple axes - the plastics, packaging, printing and textile industries being prime examples. By tailoring the power supplies, cooling and scalable IGBT inverters to the application, the perfect drive solution can always be configured.

It used to be the case that optional modules almost always meant having to install separate control cabinets or panels. But decentralised I/O modules and drive controllers can only reach their full potential with regard to cost effectiveness if they completely rid themselves of these additional distribution panels. This not only reduces costs, but the space needed by the device as well. For these reasons, machine manufacturers have longed to liberate control and drive components from the control cabinet for years.

We have seen this come with remote I/O modules that can be used outside the control cabinet in harsh industrial environments. And now motion control has become the next area to experience this liberation.

B&R's answer to the trend towards increased, simpler modularity in machine manufacturing is ACOPOSremote. Part of the proven ACOPOSmulti family, the robust external characteristics of this system allow it to be mounted anywhere on the machine. The device is fully protected against contact and dust ingress, and can withstand powerful water jets from any direction.

The device's decentralised mounting reduces the amount of space needed in the control cabinet - a true benefit for machine users. The ability to easily connect auxiliary components, handling equipment or other small devices simply by plugging them into the CPU makes it possible to upgrade the machine over time to optimise production processes.

A conscious decision was made from the start to not mount the inverters directly on the motors they would be controlling. Although the motor-mounted approach may seem to make sense on the surface, the thermal conditions are such that the performance of the motor is degraded. In addition, the mounting position itself is often hidden, making it difficult to perform maintenance. Nevertheless, one of the biggest challenges when developing these new devices still involved how to dissipate the heat to prevent any loss of performance whatsoever.

One of the things that simplifies setup and commissioning is the fact that these inverters can be wired together in a line structure using only a single hybrid cable for the supply voltage, DC bus, POWERLINK and safe torque off (STO). In addition to this hardwired safety function, the network-based SafeMC functions STO, SBC, SOS, SS1, SS2, SLS, SMS, SLI, SDI and SLP will be offered in the future, just as they are available now for existing ACOPOSmulti devices in the control cabinet.

These new decentralised devices also come equipped with the full range of energy options available for the ACOPOSmulti series. Features include power factor correction, which considerably reduces the connected load or current consumption of the machine, as well as constant DC bus voltage to ensure optimal performance of the inverter modules and motors. In addition, all active power supply modules have the ability to return braking energy back to the power grid (power regeneration).

The seamless integration of the ACOPOSremote into a POWERLINK network allows the device to serve as a central node for implementing additional expansion options while also being able to connect inputs and outputs via its own interface. In this case, it is sufficient to simply connect I/O modules from the X67 family to the ACOPOSremote directly on-site.

B&R says that any additional price of this robust decentralised device is more than offset by the savings achieved in the control cabinet as well as in the wiring itself. Another advantage is that the overall footprint of the machine can be reduced. And the ability to add expansion options as completely autonomous devices is one more feature that machine builders will welcome - without making modifications in the control cabinet, without having to deal with difficult wiring and without having to worry about when to upgrade - even after commissioning.
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