Controls engineers may already think of their work as scientific,
Automation plans to make it even more so.
The company has quietly been developing a concept it calls "Scientific
Automation," which company President Graham Harris describes as a seamless
real-time integration of control and measurement technologies.
"The key is
to have an ultra-fast control and communications systems," he says, noting that
Beckhoff's eXtreme Fast Control (XFC) technology can already achieve nanosecond
precision in event marking through the combination of PC-based controllers, the
EtherCAT real-time Ethernet network and TwinCAT control software.
Beckhoff is still working to flesh out the concept, but Harris
envisions high-speed event marking and measurement of temperatures, vibration,
positions and more. "How Scientific Automation will play out depends very much
on what smart engineers choose to do with it. Right now, it's still early days," Harris says. Ultimately, though, the goal is
to use the ultra-fast measurements of changing machine conditions to update
control loops in real time. Harris says some of the measurement tasks that
Beckhoff wants to bring into the real-time control system can currently be
performed only by specialized off-line devices.
or not, Scientific Automation is off to a good start. Harris says a few
customers, which he wouldn't name owing to confidentiality agreements, have
been using XFC for high-speed event marking and data collection. "They're already
using XFC in ways that are consistent with Scientific Automation," he says.
The company has also started to release the first of its Scienfic
Automation I/O products. Here at the Pack Expo Show in Chicago, it showed off the new EL3602 EtherCAT I/O terminal, which directly measures
signals in an I/O system and could be used for a variety of analog data
collection tasks on everything from test rigs to production machines. The
two-channel EL3602 handles signals ranging between -10 and +10V and digitizes
them with a 24-bit resolution. Beckhoff puts its accuracy at ±0.01 percent at 25°C.
Harris says Beckhoff will likely
release more Scienfic Automation-capable products from Beckhoff after the
SPS/Drives Show later this month. So