Just over 10 years ago, automakers pulled back the curtains on a new addition to their production arsenal: the servo press. Offering better control, quality and speeds than a mechanical press, it helped improve production performance and flexibility while consuming less energy.
Quality components, including servo drives, servo valves and PLCs, help to deliver seamless operation of all hydraulic movements of critical to optimize production. (Image source: Rockwell Automation)
Flash forward to today, and the servo press has become indispensable in automotive production. But for all the benefits of the servo press, users have discovered it can also have drawbacks. For example, black box servo presses with proprietary programming have hamstrung automakers, since they’re difficult to modify.
Whether you’re a servo press builder or user, you need servo press technology that can keep up with modern automotive production needs. It should be open and configurable, tailored to an application’s unique requirements. Then it can help reduce costs and downtime.
Open Versus Closed Design
If you’re an automaker, a servo press may meet your operational needs when you first receive it. But your needs change over time. New vehicles are introduced. Existing models are refreshed. And production lines are tweaked and improved.
An inflexible servo press makes these changes difficult to implement, since its application code is locked by the equipment maker. Users can’t access or change it. As a result, their only option is to program their own code on top of the locked code to alter or adjust press performance.
This add-on code takes time and resources to not only develop but also test, validate and verify. What’s more, it creates the potential for problems like errors and latencies, which can impact production and lead to longer start-ups. In some cases, servo press users simply throw up their hands and do nothing, because the change they want to make simply isn’t possible.
This is why it’s important to use a servo press with an open design. These presses are flexible and configurable. They can be more easily tailored to a specific application. And they allow users to make modifications over time, such as to support the introduction of new vehicle models or to make improvements to an existing process, while keeping key press safety functions secure.
An open design also allows you to take advantage of CIP Motion to help ease maintenance and reduce downtime. Part of the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) developed by ODVA, CIP Motion provides a common way to program motion over the standard, unmodified Ethernet or EtherNet/IP.
Instead of programming the PLC and then configuring set points and parameters in VFDs or servo drives, everything is managed and run from the PLC. So, if a drive goes down, it can be quickly and easily replaced with minimal reconfiguration.
Servos Built for Flexibility
An open and configurable design is critical for getting the most from a servo press over its decades-long lifecycle. But there are other factors that should be top of mind when you’re building or specifying a servo press that can help cut costs, reduce risks and better meet application requirements.
Some servo press designs are rigid not only in their code but also their motor options. This means you get perhaps a few motors to choose from – and they may or may not be a good match for your application.
It’s important that you have the freedom to use a motor that’s right for you. That means being able to choose from a wide range of motors – from any manufacturer – with the specific speed, torque load or other characteristics to tailor your servo press and its performance to your exact needs.
Saving on Design Time and Energy Consumption
Any opportunity to reduce servo press design time can help you get to market faster. One way to shorten design time is by using a sizing tool for the motor, drives and energy management. You just enter into the tool the machine and process information for a given application, and it runs all the calculations to determine what type of drives and motors are required in the servo press.
This tool can provide 80% time savings during the design process compared to doing all the calculations manually. It can also help avoid performance issues by reducing the risk of human error.
Energy cost reduction is a top priority in many industrial operations. A servo press inherently consumes less energy than a mechanical press by reducing the required stroke length. But it can also reduce energy usage in other ways. For example, a drive with regenerative active front-end technology can deliver further energy savings; Instead of dissipating extra energy generated by the press, the drive captures it and puts it back on the incoming power supply. This technology can reduce the energy costs of your servo press by 10 to 20%.
Technology Built for Safety
A servo press that uses integrated safety – where one controller provides both motion control and safety – offers several benefits: It can reduce your hardware and installation costs, and it can give workers better visibility into all machine events, including safety.
The same drive that provides regenerative energy savings can also provide integrated safety functions. These functions can improve productivity while helping protect workers. For example, a safe-torque-off function can remove rotational power to a servo press motor without removing power to the drive. This allows you to quickly resume operation after a demand is put on the safety system.
Check on the Support Availability
Support availability can be easy to overlook when you’re selecting or specifying a servo press. But it can make a big difference to both design and operational productivity.
When reviewing servo press technology vendors, make sure they offer local support in the places it will be needed. For example, if a servo press is being built in South Korea and then deployed on a line in the U.S., your vendor should have local support in both countries.
All these considerations – from an open design to local support – have one thing in common: They’re all intended to help you create a servo press that makes you more competitive. As automotive production continues to evolve, it’s important that your servo press technology helps keep you at the forefront of change – not watching from behind.
Bill Sarver is a senior industry consultant for automotive and tire at Rockwell Automation. He works with Industry 4.0 and IIoT strategies in manufacturing development. Bill has been working in the automotive and tire industry for 38 Years and earned a degree in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Administration from General Motors Institute.
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