Increased energy efficiency
One of the major changes in motion control is the overall need to control energy costs at plants. Just 10 years ago, energy efficiency was not a big consideration at factories. Now it’s enormous. “We want to look at the energy characterization of each device to understand what the energy costs of production are,” said Cromheecke. “We see not just an expansion of motion control, but servo technology to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy use. The payback on the servo technology over traditional motors can be dramatic.”
With energy efficiency a major concern across all plants, the motion control industry has adopted energy standards to ensure their machines consume far less energy. “The biggest thing I see in motion control is the impact of energy efficiency standards. That’s changing the way people are looking at motors,” Michael Rasche, senior consultant and research manager for the Industrial Automation and Process Control Practice at Frost & Sullivan, told Design News. “People are looking at the impact of energy on the whole system. Instead of just looking at a high-efficiency motor, they’re looking at the whole system. They’re asking, how can I put on a drive to control my motor while also making the entire system more efficient?”
The shift to software and virtualization
Software validation has been nothing short of a revolution in plant technology. Control engineers can now test an entire plant virtually before ordering machines. Set-up costs are greatly reduced, and everything in the plant’s operation can be optimized and proved out ahead of time. “A new motion control product or platform can be designed just in software where in the past it required a lot of effort from the manufacturer in hardware,” Jason Goerges, general manager of ACS Manufacturing, told us.
Moore’s Law has come to manufacturing. Increased computer power is now dictating improved optimization. “More processing power is making high-performance motion easier to achieve. Performance will continue to increase. It will require less control expertise as the drives and controllers become more intelligent,” said Goerges. “You don’t need a degreed motion control engineer to do it. You can turn the drive on and let the machine configure itself.”
Computer simulation and validation lets plant operators develop systems before beginning the process of cobbling the line together. This allows for considerable tinkering and customization. “We’re also seeing virtual prototyping. It’s moving more from the mechanical to the software. You can now simulate behavior, integration between CAD and control software,” said Fritz. “You can leverage the same IT, driving the motors in the CAD model. It allows control engineers to design their systems before they actually build the system. They validate the mechanical side. They size the motors correctly and validate the motor system. This makes sure there are no collisions.”
The fact is, software configuration can get more out of a machine than hardware configuration can. Using software, you can push the machine harder because you can see its limits and move right up to those limits.
“You can validate the control perimeters by running the control system without hooking up the machines before you put it on the machine,” said Fritz. “You can drive the machine to perform to its performance limits. You wouldn’t want to do that with the actual machine.”