Network architectures that integrate machinery components and synchronize production lines are rapidly replacing traditional hardwired solutions.

Sal Spada
To meet the increasing demands of doing more with less, manufacturing agility and flexibility have become a mandate for many food and beverage plants. Achieving this is no simple task. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting more motion control equipment, which includes servo and stepper motion control systems. As a result, the integration of electronic motion control components in automated machinery and production systems is more critical than ever but integration of system components and production lines becomes engineering-intensive. Machine builders and system integrators are therefore seeking more economical solutions to the traditional hardwired solutions.

In fact, those traditional hardwired solutions are increasingly giving way to motion control network architectures that integrate components inside the machinery. This is where the convergence of motion control and I/O networks has become an increasingly important evolution in machine control-we're seeing device networks incorporating motion control capabilities and motion control networks incorporating I/O capabilities. In tandem, the latest generation of technologies and standards has further expanded network capabilities to include:

  • Multi-master capabilities that reduce network traffic and improve event handling;
  • IEEE 1588 standard for time-based synchronization;
  • Self-healing networking technology for high availability systems;
  • Ethernet-compliant networks that use existing, unmodified Ethernet and reduce the number of specialized networks; and
  • Ethernet-based networks that make modifications to Ethernet standards and provide some level of compatibility for linking with standard, Ethernet-compliant networks.

There are a number of advantages to the latest motion control networks that support a variety of topologies. The historical constraints imposed by automation systems on machine design have been removed, marking a new era in machine architecture. In effect, the true center of the machine control universe is now motion control. And, the selection of a motion control network forms the basis of machine control and production line architectural decisions. The latest developments in motion control network technology directly address the new market dynamics such as modular architectures and reducing the complexity in machine design.

As more automation suppliers incorporate motion control networking technology into an automation solution, the industry recognizes the real advantages of digital motion control solutions. These digital solutions can provide real value in terms of the total life cycle costs of the commissioning, diagnosing and servicing of machinery. These benefits transcend the business issues facing machine builders and are rapidly being incorporated into capital equipment purchase decisions by the end user.