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Advances in valves deliver improved machine control

Advances in valves deliver improved machine control

Dynamic machine control (DMC) is the design paradigm that uses today’s cutting-edge technologies to help build the smarter machines of tomorrow. DMC for fluid power applications includes major advances in industrial control valve technology, such as embedded controllers, sensor interfaces, software configurability, network communication capabilities, and real-time diagnostics. These features make valves an integral part of the network control and communication system, taking commands, feeding back data and even executing custom control code at the node level. This results in a distributed control and diagnostic system that greatly expands application potential, opening doors for future innovation. 

Competitive markets in industries like discrete manufacturing reward firms that increase manufacturing efficiency, throughput, and quality. Manufacturers achieve these objectives by modernising their production machines with the latest in precision control and diagnostics, making their machines smarter, faster, and more reliable. Smart functionality has become a core tenet of lean manufacturing and is driving the manufacturing sector’s adoption of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) as part of automation best practices. 

Historically, adding functionality to a machine required increasing levels of complexity through wiring additional sensors, controls, and interface devices. Centralised control architectures drove increasing system complexity because each new component required analogue wiring to the PLC or supervisory-level controller, not to mention sensor power and signal conditioning. The resulting additional complexity has burdened manufacturers and end-users with systems that are more expensive, more difficult to troubleshoot, and harder to maintain. 

It might seem that developing control code on an industrial valve would be the domain of a software engineer. However, by implementing simple user-interfaces and smart ‘wizards’ to guide users through setup and commissioning, the latest industrial hardware is now making it easy for all users to harness the power of smart machines. 

As part of the industrial IEC 61131-3 PLC standards, there are well-known, programming languages that are based on open architecture and are familiar to, and widely accepted, by many OEMs. This eliminates the need for programmers and hardware configuration experts to learn manufacturers’ proprietary programming language in order to take advantage of advanced functionality in their control design. Eaton’s Pro-FX Technology Platform leverages this approach to the development environment and includes ready-made libraries of programming resources for a variety of hydraulic components. Eaton’s Pro-FX Ready products leverage the platform’s streamlined user interface and setup wizards, making it easy for engineers to use these libraries to create simple and powerful applications on hardware such as AxisPro proportional valves. 

DMC’s approach to utilising on-board motion control enables system designers to improve performance and reduce costs by building machines that are inherently smarter and more scalable than traditional designs that rely on centralized control architectures. DMC integrates four key capabilities: programmable sequen-cing, real-time comm-unication and diag-nostics, high preci-sion control, and scalability 

On machines that have perhaps a single axis of motion and a few interfaces for sequence control (start, reset, emergency stop), the embedded controls on a Pro-FX Ready valve (like AxisPro) can run the sequencing directly, acting as the supervisory controller for the system while replacing the traditional PLC and motion control module. This reduces cost and improves overall performance. 

Multi-axis control and sequencing, including motion synchronisation, is also possible with AxisPro. Application data has proven this approach to provide accuracies of better than 0.25mm. And Pro-FX software tools make coding machine sequences fast and easy. Users can build custom sequences from a library of proven function blocks using graphical programming interfaces that are much more intuitive than the NC machine languages of the past. This delivers the power of embedded digital control; putting the programming and fine tuning in the hands of the hydraulics engineer and eliminating the need for a software engineer to program the system. 

DMC used with smart valves can also deliver advantages in applications where multiple axes and electrical sensors and interfaces typically require a PLC and are in a network communication environment. Even if the smart valve is not running the entire machine, the on-board embedded control system enables direct digital communication with the PLC and other nodes on the network. This real-time communication provides critical diagnostic information back to the PLC and can signal potential problems before they become catastrophic. Preventing catastrophic failure prevents downtime to maximise productivity and reduce cost. 

For many manufacturing applications, the key to competitiveness is maximising throughput while maintaining high quality. Using AxisPro on-board position control to accurately control movement enables high speed machines to run even faster while still achieving excellent quality. A critical improvement in dynamic system performance is the reduction of latency by closing the control loop on the valve rather than via a communication loop back to the PLC or a centralised motion control module. Systems that are free of delays can be tuned to perform better, faster, and with increased stability. 

Eaton’s Pro-FX ready products include a wide variety of hydraulic industrial valve products that are built to enable dynamic machine control such as AxisPro servo performance proportional valves with on-board motion control. Axis Pro is one of Eaton’s most advanced products in a long line of industrial valves with integrated sensors. KBS and KBH proportional valves feature spool position feedback, and an array of slip-in cartridge valves with feedback. Switching valves also integrate electrical feedback, perfect for machines that use spool position feedback as a key safety diagnostic. 

Smarter machines will continue to capture more market share by providing better performance, efficiency and reliability. Dynamic machine control is the system designer’s toolbox for harnessing the latest hydraulic and electric technologies, with intuitive software interfaces, to design the next generation of innovative machines for an ever-more competitive global market. Through cutting edge technology and product development, Eaton is enabling the smart machine revolution with dynamic machine control.

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