Automated Design Corporation (ADC) is a custom automation company specializing in machines for sporting goods. More than half of ADC projects are now related to the manufacturing of sports equipment as well as load frames and impact testers. To create consistent, repeatable results, ADC uses PC-based control technologies from Beckhoff.
Since their introduction, the load frames have become a significant segment of the ADC product lineup. A load frame, in simple terms, is a platform upon which a testing assembly can be built. ADC has 3 options for their load frames: the GEN IV, CTS and SWC.
Early in the company’s history, ADC purchased a traditional PLC from one company, an HMI from another, and a servo system from a third and sometimes additional control technology from a fourth. “The first few days when starting up a project back then were spent just connecting each of these very different systems and establishing acceptable communications. The PLC had its own programming software, the HMI had its own programming software, and the servo drive, another still,” said Tom Bitsky Jr., Lead Developer at ADC. The programmers at ADC needed to write the automation and control programs that ran the machine but also required additional complex code just to handshake across different vendor platforms.
ADC soon discovered that this control system architecture was not sustainable and the team sought a better solution. Given the extensive software background of the developers, a colleague suggested using Microsoft Visual Basic (VB) for automation projects, moving away from traditional PLCs. ADC evaluated Beckhoff as a supplier, and found that the company offered a complementary solution with their Industrial PC hardware, TwinCAT PC-based control software, and EtherCAT as the high-speed industrial Ethernet communication system.
The load frame systems require a robust, flexible, controller for myriad application areas. Initially, ADC used a Beckhoff CX5130 Embedded PC coupled with a CP2907 Control Panel. Recently, however, the company has moved into an all-in-one option by standardizing on a Beckhoff CP6706 Panel PC for their sporting goods testing applications. This device offers an integrated 7-in. touchscreen display, 1.75 GHz Intel Atom processor (2 Cores) and Windows Embedded Standard 7 operating system installed as standard.
Bitsky discusses the benefits of the Panel PC: “For a project in the earlier days, we were implementing three axes of coordinated motion control and had to run some custom Windows services. The CP6706 Panel PC covers all these needs, and provides us with ample power and flexibility in a very compact package.”
ADC uses the Beckhoff TwinCAT 3 automation platform as the software programming environment and runtime for the load frame systems, specifically leveraging the TwinCAT 3 PLC and PLC NC/PTP packages. This solved some longstanding programming challenges at ADC:
“Before, the first batch of load frames created a bit of a headache. We spent an enormous amount of time getting everything to work together in harmony and talking to each other. It was frustrating, time-consuming. By using TwinCAT 3 and EtherCAT, everything is handled by the system itself and connects automatically. Through the use of an ADS router, TwinCAT easily connects to custom user interfaces and third-party devices,” said Bitsky.
ADC also values the Windows operating system for industrial applications, particularly the ability to utilize C++ and .NET in the same environment as the machine control. “Coming from a computer programming background, the ability to program in C++ makes things much easier as we integrate new features,” Said Bitsky.
Compact motion control in these machines is equally important, and ADC uses AM8121 servomotors with One Cable Technology (OCT), connected to EL7211 servo terminals. Bitsky continues: “Our previous motion control solution was chosen because it could easily switch 120/240 VAC, but it was expensive and required a lot of cabling. OCT technology removes up to 50% of this cabling and greatly simplifies integration. In addition, the programming and machine runtime in TwinCAT make commissioning easier.”
The rapid acquisition, transmission and storage of data are the most important end results of the machine’s operation. To this end, ADC uses a variety of EtherCAT I/O terminals as well as EtherCAT Box I/O modules for mounting outside of electrical cabinets. “EtherCAT has been a key technology for ADC because we need a fieldbus that can deliver high-speed communication and data collection for our applications. Because it is widely accepted by thousands of technology providers, EtherCAT provides the basis to connect a vast range of automation hardware, and offers streamlined options to connect and transmit all necessary process data.” He also commented that the ability to quickly add new functionality as needed via EtherCAT Terminals has made developing and upgrading ADC systems much easier.