Aerotech Bolsters Motion Controller With EtherCAT Support

Aerotech says it has has enhanced its machine controller with support for EtherCAT -- a capability that lets engineers build high- and low-power digital and analog I/O into a system seamlessly within an integrated platform that provides performance motion, motion tools, and diagnostics all in one.

EtherCAT -- short for Ethernet for Control Automation Technology -- is an open-standard, high-performance fieldbus system based on Ethernet that's used in industrial environments, especially those that use robotics and other assembly-line technology. The technology processes Ethernet frames on the fly within an EtherCAT network. More industrial environments are adopting Ethernet as a way to unify the factory floor with front-office functions, and EtherCAT is the standard for industrial automation apps.

With the new functionality, the Aerotech A3200 Integrated Automation platform now offers motion control, PLC, and I/O in an integrated environment, Joseph Profeta, director of the product management for the company's control system group, told us in an email.

"Aerotech A3200 users can now utilize the variety of devices that use the EtherCAT standard in conjunction with a high performance machine controller," he said. "This feature provides additional flexibility and choices in the architecture selected by users."

The addition of EtherCAT means machine developers can import the EtherCAT I/O configuration file into the A3200 MotionPAC PLC module, making it available to all programmers. Another new feature -- a full network and I/O mapper available in the MotionPAC mapping tool -- allows connections to be made between EtherCAT I/O points to TAGs or variables, Profeta said.

These connections are made with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop tool to move the EtherCAT I/O names on to the TAGs or variables defined in any module of the platform, including MotionPAC or the Operator Interface, he said.

Programmers won't need to assign memory addresses to these EtherCAT I/O mappings. Instead, the platform's MotionPAC automatically manages the memory associated with them, allowing programmers to view these assignments, Profeta said. Programmers also can change or create memory assignments. Once EtherCAT I/O is connected to TAGs and/or variables, they can be used in any of the controller's modules, including the Motion Composer, MotionPAC, Scope tools, or the Operator Interface.

Aerotech's EtherCAT I/O also can be used in any of the A3200 controller's programming languages -- including IEC61131-3 (LD, FBD, ST), .NET, LabVIEW, G-code, or AeroBasic -- giving programmers flexibility regarding the programming languages or tools they use. The company said the drag-and-drop mapping process is similar across multiple languages, eliminating any concern developers might have for managing the memory of or exporting into A3200 modules or third-party tools like Microsoft Visual Studio.

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