Many users of ABB's smaller robots have requested the extension of the IRC5 PMC configuration to the company's larger models, Campbell said. "People who like the PMC version want to reduce the number of control panels on the factory floor in a robot cell by one." To make this configuration possible for the larger drives, the power electronics had to get smaller and dissipate less heat.
The smaller size also makes it possible to fit robot controllers into enclosures that may be already crowded with other components meant to expand and customize a PMC's functionality. These components may include additional I/O channels and interfaces, machine vision controls, network adapters, and power conditioning.
"In manufacturing today, square footage on the factory floor is getting very valuable," said Campbell. "In a large robot installation, such as an automotive manufacturing line, the square footage taken up by control enclosures is staggering. This helps machine builders shrink things down."
The PMC Large is available for ABB's robot models from the IRB 2400 to the IRB 7600, the company's biggest. It includes the standard IRC5 control module along with a large drive module. These modules can be mounted separately in different configurations -- for example, back to back, side by side, or stacked vertically. As many as four drive modules can be connected to a single module for controlling multiple robots or additional axes.
TJ, those are good points. ABB says it took increased heat and power dissipation into account in this redesign. To make the reconfiguration possible, the electronics had gotten smaller and dissipate less heat, in addition to changing the orientation of components within the enclosure.
Space is always at a premium, but sometimes that premium MUST be paid. As the control cabinets become smaller, it can get more difficult to maintain what is within. And, as the conrollers get smaller, the thermal density gets higher. Smaller control cabinets cannot reject the heat as much as larger ones. To handle the heat, an active cooling means will be necessary, adding to maintenance.
From my experience in machine vision, I think the space crunch trend in general has been going on for the last couple of years, or at least that's when I started hearing about it. It might have been building up for an even longer period before that.
It does seem odd this new pressure for space. For years all you heard was the need for more uptime. Even the pressure on energy efficiency is relatively new. Now there's pressure on integration, data sharing, networking, workflow, alternative energies, even efficiency in HVAC. Space is a new one.
I agree that using less floor space certainly resonates with the front office. But I would imagine it also affects time management. Moving, picking and placing of materials must be faster when the distances travelled are smaller.
I can see this from the seller side. I'm interested in how widespread the space-savings demand is on the user end and how much of a competitive advantage this is becoming for vendors like ABB and others who embrace it. Is it a must-have or just a want-to-have? (Also, which other vendors are doing this too?)
I started hearing about taking up less factory floor and plant space during the last couple of years in machine vision contexts. But I'm hearing about it a lot more now regarding robotics cell sizes, in particular regarding to automotive manufacturing, and also in more industrial contexts. If power supplies are getting the same pressure, sounds like a major trend in progress.
Until recently, I hadn't heard much about designing plant systems to take up less space. Right now I'm working on an article about power supplies for plants being designed smaller so they take up less space in crowded control cabinets.
Against the continuing backdrop of tight budgets, anything that can help shrink cell floor space has to resonate with the bean counters in manufacturing companies. Being able to increase robotics functionality without eating up pricey and precious manufacturing square footage is a huge benefit for plant operators looking to bring more automation onto the factory floor.
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