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Technology and legislation drive contemporary control panel designs

08 May 2018

Heiko Luckhaupt of RS Components discusses the functionality of modern control panel hardware and how new and evolved products will help OEMs and end users in terms of ease of use, functionality and their ability to address the demands of modern machine building and end-user operation.

This article looks at the functionality of contemporary solutions, specifically at the move towards the development of smarter machines that not only think for themselves and share operational data far more freely and widely with networked controllers, but also exploit modern advances in communications and HMI-style interactions.

Modern engineers across all disciplines are inherently more mobile; not just in their need to move around with their new multi-skilled mind set, but also in terms of the hardware they use. Very little in industry runs these days without some form of interaction with mobile devices or tablet computers and, as a result, this level of familiarity is gaining serious footholds into the industrial markets in terms of operation and interaction.

Biometrics is huge in the mobile phone world, with face & voice matching and fingerprint scanners becoming the norm on many mid- and high-end devices. The good news is that the developments in these technologies have created smaller form factors and lower prices, making the concept of biometrics far more financially palatable for manufacturers and users of industrial devices.

A case in point would be Schneider Electric, with its Harmony XB5S range of 22mm biometric switches. These have been designed to control access to sensitive systems and machine functions, without the need for keys or passwords. As well as deploying biometric technology, these switches are simple to install, easier to maintain and more cost efficient in the long run versus key-, card- and badge-based solutions. Suggested applications include, but are not limited to, secure or dangerous processes (robot access, fork lift use, etc.), secure parameter setting (food and beverage, pharmaceutical recipes), maintenance or setup processes and machine or line resetting following an emergency stop.

Another technology widely deployed in the mobile phone market is radio frequency identification. RFID is already seeing uptake in multiple industrial applications, including part, batch and consignment logging for track-and-trace procedures and personnel tracking, not only for time and motion studies, but also for access control. In this arena we see products such as the OsiSense XG from Telemecanique, an RFID and Inductive identification system that is easy to install, connect and configure. Like biometric solutions, applications are widespread and encompass flexible production workshops, traceability and access control within the conveying, material handling, logistic and building sectors, to name but a few.

Touch screens are another technology that have seen costs tumbling due to developments for commodity consumer products. The price point, like biometrics, is now at a level where even the simplest devices could offer HMI functionality without breaking the bank. More fully featured devices have also gained with clearer, higher density displays and wider and more vibrant colour choices.

The Pro-face LT4000M range of hybrid HMIs with on-board control functionality demonstrates how smaller units can deliver the HMI and control capabilities of their larger peers. Mounted using a single 22mm diameter hole or onto built-in I/O modules, the LT4000M range offers HMI and digital analogue capabilities in a single unit, saving both cost and space. Available with either 5.7 or 3.5 in QVGA displays, the units offer a variety of analogue and digital I/O configurations and a number of communication options, including Ethernet, Serial USB (Type A) and USB (mini-B), with the Ethernet multi-link function allowing users to easily add a display unit as a sub-display to the facility without changing any settings of the control device.

Human machine interactions have also evolved to the point where familiarity, ease of programming and subsequent ease of use is also paramount, so some manufacturers are treading on ground familiar to most – web browsers and web pages. An example of this would be the LOGO! 8 logic control modules from Siemens. Designed to be an entry point to the world of automation, the range features eight basic CPU modules that deliver Ethernet connectivity with space-saving displays and user-friendly software.

Of particular interest is the company’s LOGO! web editor software, which is designed to enable the control of individual LOGO! 8 logic modules. This new tool makes it very easy for users to define and design their own web pages from a PC, smartphone or tablet and even use photos of an individual automation object and complement them with self-defined visual sensor data or switching elements, and then use a computer or personal smart device to monitor and/or activate functions.

With Ethernet playing such a huge and growing role in industrial communications, RS has its own range of RS Pro Ethernet products, including five- and eight-port din rail mounted 10/100 Mbit/s Ethernet switches alongside a huge array of RS Pro hook up and equipment wire. Over 1,000 products are available in this range. These products are complemented by a comprehensive range of RS Pro branded hand tools and test & measurement equipment, along with cable accessories such as glands, ties and trunking.

Wiring leads us neatly into another important matter, the upcoming publication of BS 7671:2018. In addition to multiple clarifications, changes and modifications there is the suggestion of a section devoted to energy efficiency and even the installation of smart devices. In terms of energy efficiency, the draft proposal sees electrical installations given an efficiency class (EIEC0 to EIEC4) depending on the number of energy efficiency performance level points awarded. This section will cover multiple applications, including electric vehicles, lighting, metering, cable losses, transformer losses, power-factor correction and harmonics. The idea being that an electrical installation should provide the required safety levels, while also offering the lowest levels of electrical consumption.

This is certainly an interesting era for control panels, with technology and legislation having profound effects on their design, population and subsequent operation. With the pace of change, the subjects covered in this article could well be old news in just a year – with a whole raft of new technologies currently sitting in R&D departments and updated legislation being discussed by committees.

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