Thursday, December 27, 2012

Servos vs. Pneumatics, or, Don’t Cry Over Spilled Soup

Canned soup is probably one of the most ubiquitous items found in supermarkets, cabinets, and pantries everywhere. When you think for a minute about how all that soup gets into all of those cans, though, it’s kind of amazing. After all, volume-wise, that packaging process has to occur extremely quickly in order to churn out enough to keep the shelves lined. And as any overeager stovetop cook knows, when you pour soup too fast from one container to another (like from a pot to a bowl), you get a big “Splash!” That’s sort of the problem that the company in this Packaging World article ran into, except on a much grander scale.

In the course of switching from traditional can packaging, to a more convenient pot-like package ready for the stove, the company discovered that splashing and spilling had become a much greater issue resulting in too much wasted product. Reducing packaging speed is simply not an option in the mass-produced packaged foods industry, so another solution was required. Air-powered pneumatic equipment did not help at all, remaining too erratic. Simple mechanical solutions were a stopgap, but the required flexibility for later modifications wasn’t there. The solution? Using servo control to bring electronic cylinders to hydraulic-like levels of smoothness, accuracy, and control in the operation. With indexing and rotary tables, the process was perfected, enabling the company to proceed with its innovative packaging concept. Another success story for servos.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Automation, Apple, and U.S. Manufacturing

With the news that Apple will be opening a full manufacturing factory in the United States – not just one for custom assemblies – the issue of bringing these types of jobs back to America is sure to remain under the spotlight, as it has been for months. As mentioned in the article, Apple’s expenditure will be a tiny percentage of its total manufacturing budget, and many Apple components are already manufactured in the United States, specialty or not. It’s tempting to call this a largely symbolic move, except that the effect it will have on the community in which it’s located is tangible and real, and the enormity of the symbolism is significant.

Why? Steve Jobs is quoted in the article as saying just a few years ago that “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” That was one (perhaps the only) prediction that the great visionary got wrong. The fact that a huge company with as much concern for their bottom line as for innovation and marketing made this change indicates several things. One, it is possible to work U.S. manufacturing into your business model. Processes like automation keep real people involved – in fact, they’re necessary, to develop control inputs and monitor the process – while providing the required efficiency for such large-scale runs. Second, it is a recognition that people are interested in buying “Made in the U.S.A.” And not just here. Chinese consumers have indicated that not only do they prefer the Made in the U.S.A. label, they’ll pay more for it.

Finally, it is a recognition that the innovations that make a move like this possible – and that make a company like Apple possible – are, and have always been, U.S.-based. We believe that this is only one wave in the continuing surge in American manufacturing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SPS Show Unveils First Sercos III and EtherNet/IP Blended Infrastructure

Continuing the Sercos trend from simply a set of specifications for motion control, to a full-system, integrated interface for all aspects of I/O and communication,  a major advance debuted at the SPS show held over the last week of November in Nuremberg, Germany. Harnessing the full ability of Sercos III to operate to the EtherNet standard (IEEE 802.3 and ISO/IEC 8802-3), this new blended infrastructure goes one step further, utilizing that specification to enable single-cable TCP/IP and Sercos III communication between controls, devices, and drives. Previously, intra-standard device communication was possible, but required additional wiring and setup.

The advent of this blended infrastructure means a continued increase in the freedom and flexibility afforded to manufacturers to integrate motion control and automation with their operations. As a very simplified explanation of how this infrastructure innovation is possible, think back to how we mentioned that Sercos III was designed according to the EtherNet standard – basically, to mimic it. In the integrated system, the TCP/IP (EtherNet) transmissions are essentially meeting Sercos III halfway, modifying their differences to match up with the cyclical nature of Sercos.

Sercos III, and the entire Sercos interface, are far too versatile and wide-ranging to explain full and simply in one blog, but are definitely worth learning more about. Continue to follow us as we explore the ways in which Sercos and automation are continuing to drive the manufacturing resurgence.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Smart Choice: The Intelligent Servo Drive from IIS

Representing a true partnership between IIS and our OEM clients, the Intelligent Servo Drive (ISD) concept represents levels of customization, engineering expertise, and production efficiency unavailable through traditional motion control product channels. You may notice that we call the ISD a concept, rather than a product. This is no accident. By developing a series of interchangeable components – think of building blocks – and working with our clients to build around exactly the functionality you need, in exactly the package you need, IIS has created a unique offering not only from an engineering standpoint, but also from a business standpoint.

This dual benefit comes as a result of the partnership entered when the ISD option is chosen. IIS offers our engineering expertise, while the customer is able to arrange for the most efficient and cost-effective production at their own facility or with a manufacturing partner. For large volume OEMs, this option makes the most sense when developing new control systems for new or existing products and equipment. One recent project involved fitting four amplifiers onto one board in order to fit an OEM’s custom enclosure. The Intelligent Servo Drive makes engineering and manufacturing controls like this routine.

In keeping with the ISD offering’s goal of drop-in functionality, both hardware and software configurations are optimized throughout development. By making the user’s current software configuration part of the design process, a bare minimum of reprogramming and setup are required for the new equipment. With space at a greater and greater premium, whether on shop floors or within machinery, the space and cost savings available through the ISD will only continue to become the most viable solution. Be sure to check our next blog for some additional benefits of the system. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

IIS’s Emerald Technology

As part of IIS’s continued commitment to offering the most diverse selection of servo technology, we’re proud to introduce our Emerald ESD-series drives and ESM-series motors. A broad range of features, functions, and configurations make the Emerald series a cost-effective solution to many automation applications. We believe that highly versatile drives and equipment like the Emerald series enable automation to be used in a greater selection of applications, increasing efficiency and throughput, a benefit to the entire industry.

Just what is it about the Emerald series that enables this versatility? Let’s start with some big-picture features. As a SERCOS II-certified drive, the ESD series can easily and fully integrate with any SERCOS II controller as part of a network of up to 32 servo drives. For single-axis controller applications the ESD drive is configured as a standalone position controller and drive combo. We offer a number of size, speed, and power options, and each drive features a full array of inputs and interfaces for the greatest ease of setup, networking, and diagnostics.

Beyond our drive systems, the Emerald series also features powerful yet easy-to-use software, covering everything from pre-sale drive sizing and selection, to full project management and application development. You can also easily fine-tune and adjust loop parameters and response. For more information, please visit our website today.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beyond Material Handling: Toshiba’s New THL Series

In today’s automation and robotics landscape, flexibility, versatility, and affordability are the names of the game. Manufacturers like Toshiba, with their new SCARA THL model robots, are innovating with materials, construction, design, and size, to expand the base of industries that automation helps to operate better, faster, and more efficiently. The recent Automatica show in Munich was a perfect opportunity to show just how much speed and accuracy these machines can generate, from a small package.

With the goal of achieving lower mass, weight, and inertia, Toshiba Machine engineers used lightweight aluminum as a base for the robots’ mechanical components. In order to maintain sufficient rigidity and stability to allow for the necessary accuracy, these components are constructed with a series of ribbed sections. This space-saving step leads to an overall smaller servo motor unit. With 50% lower energy usage than other Toshiba Machine models and an extensive range of capabilities, these robots truly open up the possibilities of automation where it may not have been even thought of before.

We at IIS will always support this type of innovation, and we have plenty of our own to offer. See our site to learn all about it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sercos III v1.3: Automation Optimization

Continuing its shift from early days as a set of specifications, to its current status as the leading universal bus for digital solutions in mechanical automation applications, Sercos recently introduced Sercos III v1.3. This latest specification comprises two new profiles as well as two new services. Read on for more details

Energy Profile: Sercos III v1.3 can not only improve your production efficiency, but also your energy efficiency, with customizable events and parameters to ensure that energy consumption only occurs in process-critical circumstances.

Encoder Profile: Allows for further system integration by making the interface of absolute and incremental encoders available to all network devices.

Oversampling Service: This is where the digital shift really makes a difference. Oversampling allows for faster-than-real-time data acquisition and transmission for equidistant values. For the fastest, most time-critical applications, such as laser cutting or marking, the procedure allows for data to be collected and processed, at a faster speed.

Time-Stamping Service: Allowing for event triggers separate from the clock cycle, the time-stamping procedure operates based on value acquisition and command activation based on time stamps. This service is especially useful in semiconductor and solar manufacturing.

Of course, this is just an overview of the advances present in Sercos III v1.3. For full details, read the announcement here, and visit IIS to see how the specification can be put into action.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Expanding Automation’s Footprint: The Pharma and Chemical Industries

As the possibilities of automation expand far beyond the traditional areas of packaging and material handling, thanks to lighter, faster, and more affordable machinery, we are seeing a recognition of its importance in industries that one might not have expected five or ten years ago. The recent ACHEMA 2012 show in Frankfurt, Germany illustrated this, pointing out the critical nature of keeping production and manufacturing in those areas in line with, or even ahead of, market expectations. As experts in automation systems, we’re well aware of the capabilities they afford, but it’s refreshing to see new areas awaken to the opportunities.

Servo-based systems provide the ideal solution to the automation issues discussed in the linked article above. With unparalleled speed, accuracy, and responsive feedback-based operation, the new generation of smaller yet powerful servo drives opens the market to chemical manufacturers in need of versatility, customization, and a wide range of system features. The trend of intuitive, user-friendly software packages, as well as SERCOS specifications and standards, make it even easier for new companies and industries to introduce automation to their production lines. IIS is here to help start that process – reach out today!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Controls Go Green: SERCOS and Energy Consumption

Earth Day
With Earth Day approaching this weekend, now is a perfect time to talk about the energy profile aspect of SERCOS III. As you know by now, the latest SERCOS system aims for all-inclusive, “plug-and-play” control, with full integration from the machine level, through I/O, drives, sensors, and controls. An article from Sustainable Planet provides an overview of SERCOS Energy, the portion of SERCOS that outlines energy consumption requirements. In a nutshell, the level of control that SERCOS enables, allows for targeted, intelligent component energy management, and unprecedented energy use optimization.

By planning for both expected and unexpected production circumstances – the former, lunch breaks, and the latter, machinery malfunctions – SERCOS Energy features predefined energy saving states that can be scheduled or manually kicked in. Think of your computer going into Sleep Mode, or fully shutting down after an extended period of inactivity. That’s the basic principle behind SERCOS Energy, with highly targeted and carefully defined events and triggers. For more information, be sure to read the article, or see the SERCOS white paper.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Other FIRST Competitions

FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) participants. 
We at IIS are primarily involved with the FIRST Robotics Challenge – the competition involving high school students and their mentors (including us!). Besides being a great outlet for mechanically-minded students to expand their skills, the FRC also shows students that careers in manufacturing and automation can be viable, interesting, and fun. What’s more, FIRST gets students involved even before high school with their LEGO Leagues, and also runs a Tech Challenge, putting a different spin on the competition.

FIRST’s LEGO Leagues (FFL)– a Junior league for grades K through 3rd, and the standard LEGO league for students aged 9 through 14 – let students get involved in envisioning, designing, and building robots, with more age- and skills-appropriate guidelines and challenges. Inevitably, these programs groom and prepare students for the more intensive Robotics Challenges as they get older, building a strong base from which to work. The TechChallenges are also aimed at high school students, but with a more head-to-head, individualized aspect to the competitions. FIRST truly offers something for everyone with their range of choices, and we’re proud to be involved with them!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ODVA’s Optimization of Machine Integration

We’ve talked a bit here about sercos’ continuing goal of providing total integration of communication between machinery and controls. In partnership with ODVA, the Optimization of Machine Integration initiative is a visionary roadmap to meet that end. OMI operates under the principle that the ever-increasing number of machines, controls, automation, and ERPs in existence demands a standardized form of communication between these elements to maximize innovation and productivity.

One of the most important factors in achieving this goal of standardization is the importance of an open-source framework – sort of like UNIX, for those familiar with computer programming – that enables all current and future machinery to be developed and integrated, vendor-blind, into any existing system. Saving countless hours of connectivity upgrades and modifications, the OMI standard can be used for large or small operations, ensures security for remote reporting and supervising purposes, and paves the way for unprecedented efficiency as automation technology continues to advance.