First Look: Machine Motion from Vention
Phillip Keane posted on June 30, 2017 | 1498 views

It’s rare that I am caught off-guard by a new product. Being a tech writer, I tend to have a reasonable grasp on products that are on the horizon. So, when I was asked to write a first-look article on this new product, I can confirm that it is as much of a first-look for me as it is for many of you. And I must admit, I am fairly impressed.

The MachineMotion platform from Vention is kind of like a development board (in a box), designed to streamline the design and realization process for automation engineers. What differentiates this system from a traditional development board or microcontroller is Vention’s focus on developing an app ecosystem that can be shared with other users. The company appears to be very keen on developing a community—much like GrabCAD and Thingiverse have done for 3D printing—except the community is focused on machine design, rather than 3D models.

The box itself (Image courtesy of Vention.)
The box itself (Image courtesy of Vention.)

The unit itself (pictured above) is a 3-Output MachineMotion Controller supporting three NEMA 34 stepper motors. It comes equipped with IP connectivity, an integrated Linux single-board computer, three stepper motor outputs and nine sensor inputs.

The unit is ready to use right out of the box and features user-friendly color coding on the connection ports, reducing the number of exposed connections you may be accustomed to when using development boards or even breadboards.  The unit itself weighs in at a fairly robust 7.4kg (as it is constructed from steel) and measures in at 144 mm x 282 mm x 377 mm.

So, that’s what it does and what it looks like. How does it work?

Users start by connecting the unit to a PC, via USB or ethernet cable, and then browse their way to the Vention website to access the MachineApps library (it’s all done via browser). Users can then find an app template that is best suited to their automation needs and download that app directly to their MachineMotion unit. Using a downloaded app, users can control and test their machine designs right from the browser.

Inputs and outputs (Image courtesy of Vention.)
Inputs and outputs (Image courtesy of Vention.)

Vention reckons the whole process can be done in just a few minutes, which sounds preferable to spending hours on mechatronics calculations and formulae (*shakes fist at Pierre-Simon LaPlace*).

"The best part is that designing automated equipment is now as simple as designing non-automated equipment on the Vention platform," Francois Giguere, head of automation at Vention, said.

At the time of release, there were four free apps available on the Vention website. These were 1, 2 and 3 linear axis controller apps, as well as a “ControlCenter App”. The library is planned to grow the selection of available apps once the community begins to design and share more apps on the Vention website.

“To ensure this community is accessible to the broadest audience possible, we intentionally stay away from proprietary controller languages and chose a JavaScript framework,” Giguere continued. “This means that anyone with basic web development expertise is susceptible to learn the eco-system and contribute. This also means that lower cost options to develop proprietary automation software are about to emerge.”

So, what kind of machines can be developed with this system?

So far, some cool projects have emerged, including industrial scanners, robotic arm extenders, reliability test benches and assembly tables. Vention plans to include portable power sources in its app library, which will, in principle, enable users to design mobile robots as well.

Personally, I would love to get my hands on one of these and try my hand at manufacturing some CNC equipment. One of the biggest selling points for me is that, once you’ve finished with a design, you can just unplug the connectors and reuse the system with minimal headaches.

Is Vention about to do for automation what the 3D printer has done for manufacturing? Only time will tell.

The unit costs a reasonable $1567.17 USD and is available now. Actuators are purchased separately. To learn more, visit the Vention website.


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