With literally hundreds of exhibitors nearly filling all three halls of Chicago’s McCormick Place, it’s impossible — even with three full days of meetings — to get more than a flavor for this annual event. There’s simply just too much to see.
Making it a little easier to absorb as much of it as possible is that few companies time new product announcements for release at such events as they did in the past. Chalk up this change, along with an overall reduction in attendance, to the Internet. (Don’t get me wrong here with this attendance comment — PackExpo 2010 saw heavy foot traffic during the week.)
As a result of the move away from product introductions based around events, tradeshows today have become a demonstration platform to actually see, touch and interact with the recent introductions you’ve heard about. Ultimately this means that while massive shows like PackExpo remain a little overwhelming in their scope, attendees aren’t leaving as inundated with information as they have in the past when dozens and dozens of new products were commonly introduced.
Based on the conversations I had with several exhibitors, this change has been translating into better booth visits from likely customers. Visitors are now coming armed with information and specific questions about a company and its products rather than simply kicking tires and gathering random bits of data as they roam through the halls.
Of the new product trends I noticed while visiting several exhibitors, two trends stuck out this year. One is that moving control out of a central cabinet is increasingly becoming a favored approach to automation. The other trend is that 2011 is shaping up to be a big year for new product announcements in the automation and control sectors.
With regard to distributed control, this trend is definitely more appropriate for discrete and hybrid automation applications rather than in process industries (though device level intelligence is a burgeoning trend in that field as well). Speaking with exhibitors showcasing devices with some level of embedded intelligence, the common factors driving this trend are a desire for simplicity in the design phase (less cables to route back to a central area), the ability to more precisely control and gather data from specific devices in a large system, being able to deploy device-level safety options, and to perform maintenance on any given point in a system without necessarily having to disable the entire operation.
At the Siemens booth, two of its recent introductions were showcased in application examples. One of these products was the company’s Simatic CPU 317TF-2DP controller that combines motion control, safety and standard tasks in a single device. Siemens says that possible applications for the new device range from controlled single-axis positioning to complex, synchronized sequences of motion, such as geared synchronous motion, curve synchronization or print mark correction. The synchronous axes can be coupled to a virtual master or a real master. For safety-oriented applications, the controller meets the requirements of all relevant standards, including EN 954-1 up to Cat. 4, IEC 62061 up to SIL 3 and EN ISO 13849-1 up to PL e.
The other product showcased by Siemens was the embedded PC on its Simotion P320-3 motion control applications. This embedded PC features a DDR3 memory, an Intel Core2 processor and no moving parts such as hard disks and fans, making it suitable for industrial environments. According to Siemens, its multiple onboard interfaces support communication over Profinet as well as Ethernet interfaces that run at 10/100/1000 megabit speeds. An integrated power supply on the embedded PC bridges temporary power failures. And in the buffered SRAM memory, process data is saved securely even in the event of a sudden voltage drop.
Offering a different take on the decentralization theme was Rexroth’s IndraDrive Mi “Near Motor” Drive System. This self-contained drive system mounts directly on a machine near the motor and away from the control cabinet to reduce cabinet size, save cooling and wiring costs, and provide more flexibility in machine layout.
Based on Rexroth’s IndraDrive Mi integrated motor and drive product, the Near Motor servo drive only includes the drive portion. The Near Motor is designed for use in applications with different motor sizes or motor combinations, and is compatible with Rexroth’s MSK family of servo motors ranging from 3 KW to 15 KW. According to Rexroth, it can also connect to third-party motors, including servo and AC motors.
Because the Near Motor uses less total space compared to a traditional servo platform, it reportedly reduces the size and air conditioning energy requirements for the control cabinet to give machine builders more flexibility in designing machines. For machine designers, Rexroth claims that the integrated concept behind the IndraDrive Mi and the IndraDrive Near Motor eliminates the need to replace wearing parts such as fans, electrolytic capacitors and relays.
Another company showcasing its decentralized offering at PackExpo was Lenze, which highlighted its 8400 motec drive packages. These packages combine the company’s new inverter-optimized L-force three-phase AC motors and the 8400 motec motor inverters. The inverters provide the ability to increase the motor power at a higher speed. This combination motor/drive package is constructed by having the gearbox input pinion pressed into the motor output shaft. Lenze claims that this enables the unit to be considerably smaller than other combined units where the gear wheel is placed on the shaft.
Among the targeted applications for this mechatronic product are retrofits of existing systems where engineers are looking to replace switched motors with new low-current control systems.
In Part 2 of this blog installment, to be posted in a couple of days, I’ll highlight a few other interesting products on display and hopefully be able to share some insight into new product releases coming your way shortly (I’m awaiting final clearance now to release some information from one of the largest players in the automation field).