If you want to know how to upgrade your technology, start by asking your customer. That's what the Danaher Industrial Control Group (www.dancon.com) did earlier this year when it conducted extensive interviews around the country with design and manufacturing engineers at some 50 companies. Industries ranged from elevators and servo motors to medical diagnostics and packaging machines.
The process resulted in a new presentation that the company describes as "The Top Seven Trends in Industrial Control."
"Our effort was part of Danaher's ongoing voice-of-the-customer focus, which includes surveys, interviews, study groups, and other observation techniques," says Jeff Christiansen, director of the Feedback Business Unit, which conducted the interviews, along with the Instrumentation and Controls Business Unit.
Here is a summary of the dominant views that emerged from these customer interviews:
1. Remote data collection
Typical of this trend, says Christiansen, are manufacturers of magnetic resonance image (MRI) machines. These companies need to build in the ability to monitor machines remotely, so that technicians can determine the problems that await them before they make maintenance calls. This reduces service time and repeat calls—a major selling point for OEMs to hospitals, which can't afford downtime on expensive diagnostic machines.
For Danaher, this trend has spurred upgrades to its ACURO™ series of absolute encoders, which now offer built-in diagnostics and alarms to monitor current and temperature. These encoders can also communicate with any type of host control system, using such fieldbuses as Profibus, DeviceNet, and CANopen.
2. Global availability of product
From an elevator manufacturer came this response: "If you can't support us at the local level all over the world, we won't do business with you." Andrew Ross, director of the Instrumentation and Controls Business unit, admits to being surprised at how rapidly so many of his customers have moved operations to Asia. The lesson for suppliers, adds Christiansen, is to establish flexible production processes that "let you drop a manufacturing cell wherever it is needed worldwide." Being able to adapt your product both to local and international standards is also a must.
3. A willingness to customize
OEMs want cost-efficient products, the survey found, but they also want vendors to adapt products to the changing needs of their machines. Manufacturers of elevators and wind power generators, for example, are demanding components that will last 10 to 15 years or more. To cope, Danaher is introducing the RI 80-E incremental encoder. Its more robust design includes an unbreakable disk, heavy-duty solid bearings, as well as maintenance- free, through-shaft sealing.
Space Saver: Danaher's MLC 9000+ multiloop temperature control takes up just 2.4 inches of shelf space within a PLC. External mounting on the control panels is no longer needed.
4. Increased performance in smaller packages
With the rising costs of real estate for factories, a manufacturer of carpet-weaving machines needs to downsize equipment. For multi-axis applications of this type, Danaher is now offering a new ACURO encoder that is only 36 mm in diameter—a third smaller than the previous model. Yet it incorporates both an opto-ASIC that makes the encoder capable of a wider range of motion control and servo motor applications, and a gearbox for multiturn resolution.
5. Growing use of Ethernet communication
Many OEM design engineers confirm what automation experts have been saying: Ethernet is becoming the dominant network in many sectors of automation. Responding to customers ranging from motor makers to tire manufacturers, Danaher has added boards or chips to encoders to build in Ethernet capability. This allows customers to more easily tie their machine processes into a plant's software control systems.
6. The rise of distributed control
Customers in such industries as packaging and injection molding want more intelligence and communications capability built into devices that control key manufacturing processes. A new Danaher product responding to that need is the MLC 9000+ multiloop temperature controller. This device, which removes the analog control requirements from the PLC, is capable of communicating to the PLC just the data needed for controlling the process.
Networking: ACURO encoders answer customer needs for remote monitoring of machines and processes by using Profibus, DeviceNet, and CANopen, etc.
7. Simpler human-machine interfaces (HMIs)
Manufacturing engineers are looking for smaller, simpler panels that integrate control functions in one easy-to-navigate screen. The new Danaher MLC 9000+ temperature controller, for example, occupies only 2.4 inches of shelf space, and is integrated within the PLC. So plant technicians no longer have to mount and wire individual temperature controllers outside control panels.
Christiansen notes that, while many engineers participating in the "voice-of-the-customer" interviews were focusing on feedback and control products, the trends that emerged are valid throughout many sectors of automation, which include motion control.