Video: Let a Black Box Do the Motion Control Dirty Work

Simplify a multi-brand, multi-PLC line with a system like this.

In this video, we check out FESTO’s control cabinet system. It operates as a black-box controller that sits between the gantry sytem and the PLC, handling the complex kinematics and acceptiong a simple, standardized input in the form of etherCAT or Ethernet or other commonly used protocol. Not only does this make setup easier, it also makes routine program changes such as speed control and coordinate changes simpler to implement. But why add a middleman?

Any shop that has implemented a custom automation system, such as a gantry for pick-and-place, knows the headaches of programming advanced kinematics for motion, especially with an unfamiliar PLC. When the system is finally up and running, it’s hard to imagine starting over with different components, a completely new PLC and a whole different set of operations. The new PLC may even require different protocols, languages, or software. Even more complicated is the task of integrating multiple setups into a cohesive system that can work together.

In engineering journalism, everyone wants to hear about the newest arm from FANUC or ABB, but most industrial automation is not six axis robots or advanced cobots. Often, the range of motion required for most tasks can be covered in three axes. In most cases, the solution is T-gantry or gantry systems like the demo in this video.

“Six axis robots can achieve very complex motions,” Said Alejandro Lopez, Project Lead of Controls at FESTO Canada. “However, when it’s time to go very fast and precise, speed and long strokes are the strength of the cartesian, gantry style robot. We can achieve high cycle time with long strokes, in a simple control scheme.”

With this system, the programmer inputs the coordinates, speeds and accelerations, and the system will act as a translator between the PLC and the automated system, eliminating the need to learn programming for coordinated motion in each PLC environment. All the software is preintegrated with the hardware in the cabinet. FESTO provides the mechanics and the motion control box, allowing the system to communicate very simply with the higher-level controllers using standard protocols such as Ethernet IP or etherCAT. This control cabinet takes care of all the motion and advanced kinematics and allows component automation to talk to major brands like Rockwell, Siemens, Schneider or Beckhoff. Using a standard function block, you can control advanced kinematics with simple clicks of a mouse.

Different brands of PLC have quirks and limitations, and machine motion is programmed based on these issues. With this system, the PLC does not need to provide kinematics libraries or calculations for each gantry sytems, allowing greater standardization of programming and setup of your machines.

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Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.