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PPMA Show 2021

NEC, Birmingham(B40 1NT)

28/09/2021 - 30/09/2021

PPMA Show 2021 will be the UK’s largest ever event dedicated to state-of-the-art processing and (more)

Southern Manufacturing

Farnborough, Hants(GU14 6TQ)

06/10/2021 - 07/10/2021

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Advanced Engineering 2021

NEC Birmingham(B40 1NT)

03/11/2021 - 04/11/2021

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Linear transport technology for conveying and assembly

Linear transport technology for conveying and assembly

Market adoption for linear transport solutions has been relatively low to date, with existing offerings not fulfilling customer expectations and requirements. But a new solution from B&R looks set to deliver new best-in-class standards for reliability and ease of maintenance.

A number of linear transport technologies have appeared on the market in recent years, with the principle offering new levels of performance and flexibility in the moving of parts around assembly lines or products through packaging lines. But frequently users realise that these technologies fall down when it comes to total cost of ownership.

Users have noted that shuttle change-over can seem overly complicated, and this is coupled with a time-consuming maintenance schedule. Further, existing technologies are criticised for being noisy, and there is frequently high wear on the bearings due to design limitations. With the additional factor that there is often limited connectivity to third part equipment both upstream and downstream, and it becomes clear that the products are simply not suitable for industrial applications in a production environment. What looks like the perfect product in principle isn’t quite ready for the plant floor in practice.

B&R, though, has overcome these problems and limitations, with its new SuperTrak technology providing the next level of innovation to bring linear transport technology out of the laboratory and into the smart factory. In partnership with ATS, B&R has designed a truly industrial and rugged solution backed by industry leading MTBF figures. Change-over of shuttles requires no disassembly of the track, thereby reducing the downtime drastically from hours to seconds. 

SuperTrak in operation

The modular system carries ‘movers’ along straight or curved linear motor tracks, and their speed, acceleration, direction and position can all be independently controlled. The system is controlled by B&R’s Automation Studio engineering environment, which means that the solution can be easily integrated with third party solutions over many different fieldbuses or open communication protocols over Ethernet such as OPC UA. The control architecture means that routing of the movers can be re-programmed on the fly, and the system can be reconfigured for a new application simply by resetting a few commands. Further, SuperTrak addresses requirements for scalability within the application, with its highly decentralised architecture allowing tracks of virtually any length to be accommodated to meet the needs of any machine. It also means that coordinated motion control is easily managed with additional axes of motion or even robotics. 

This scalability and seamless robotic integration is vital in addressing the requirements of the future smart factory or the processes central to Industry 4.0. In particular, production trends for the future highlight the need for vastly increased levels of customisation within product runs, but without that implying addition production costs. These trends have been given voice within terms such as ‘mass customisation’ or ‘batch size one’, but it is clear that the driver behind them is customer requirements for greater customisation.

Software-driven line change-over

Meeting this need for mass customisation without increased production costs will only be possible with a greater level of flexibility within machines and production lines. That level of flexibility, in turn, is only achievable if machinery changes can be software driven rather than being mechanical changes. This is the key to accommodating faster overall change-over times between products, or eliminating change-over time completely. Low-latency, hard real time synchronisation is also integral, along with technologies such as CNC, robotics and linear transport. 

So how does SuperTrak help today’s manufacturers to begin to address the production requirements of mass customisation. Importantly, the ease of integration of SuperTrak means that the kinematic transformations of the robots or additional axes are calculated in the same real-time operating system as the SuperTrak system using a single CPU. Communication protocol errors or out-of-sync alarms are eliminated, increasing the overall production line uptime and availability. Repeatability of ±10 microns is possible. If the product is modified in size, shape or orientation, there is only a single control system that needs to be updated rather than two or more.

Next-generation conveyor system

B&R is highlighting the potential of SuperTrak as a next-generation conveyor technology, with complete independence of movers rather than conventional systems where acceleration and deceleration affect the whole conveyor. It meets Industry 4.0 and smart factory requirements by being able to accommodate smaller batch sizes and mass customisation, and B&R can point to trial applications where SuperTrak has boosted production speeds by over 50%.

Machine manufacturers also have fewer worries incorporating this technology into their portfolios due to mapp technology and POWERLINK as well as openROBOTICS. Custom motion profiles can be generated for batch size of one and the pallets are controlled as individual servo drive axes. 

B&R asserts that the SuperTrak technology offers industry the proven reliability that is needed for today’s competitive 24/7 production environments. The company will officially launch the SuperTrak technology in the UK at the PPMA show (27-29 September). A live demo on the B&R stand will show a SuperTrak system integrated with both a Comau robot controlled over openROBOTICS, and a Yasakawa robot with a separate robot controller integrated over POWERLINK.

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