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A drives family dedicated to manufacturing automation

21 November 2012

Control Techniques (CT) has chosen the SPS/IPC/Drives event in Nuremberg later this month to launch one of its most significant product portfolios in years - the all-new Unidrive M, a family of drives tailored specifically for manufacturing automation applications. This is a strategic move for the company, as it sets out to target more closely the needs of its very wide customer base.

A joint international market research and engineering design effort by CT and parent group Emerson has resulted in a family of seven drives, each with extraordinarily high levels of performance and functionality. No fewer than thirty patent applications have been submitted to protect the technologies that have been developed for this new drives platform.

The top-of-the-range product, the new Unidrive M800, integrates a high-performance machine controller within the drive, dubbed ‘MCi’, which is configured using the CoDeSys development environment with standard IEC 61131-3 programming languages and standard Ethernet for communication across drives, I/O, HMIs, PLCs and other industrial devices. Control Techniques’ synchronised multi tasking structure and advanced motion control applications complete the offering, again utilising open and industry standard technologies.

Onboard real time Ethernet (using IEEE 1588 V2) provides improved machine control with fast and flexible communications, achieving synchronisation rates across the network better than 1µs, update rates as low as 250µs and a virtually unlimited node count.

CT’s new real time machine control protocol uses standard Ethernet TCP/IP and UDP to provide an efficient and compact message structure that frees up Ethernet network bandwidth and minimises network loading. This allows Unidrive M models to talk directly to each other instead of having to route all communications through the traditional machine controller. Each Ethernet-enabled drive incorporates a dual port Ethernet switch with standard RJ45 connectors, greatly simplifying the task of networking machines.

Certain applications, such as electronic line shafts, can be set up without having to write any programming code at all. In these cases, the drives will start communicating with one another automatically, synchronising their control loops for seamlessly co-ordinated operation. With standard Ethernet CT’s protocols are able to work in conjunction with others, such as Profinet RT, Ethernet/IP and Modbus TCP/IP. CT vice president, technology, Tom Alexander explains:

“Unidrive M is quite simply the most innovative project that I have ever been involved with. Control Techniques’ highly advanced new Ethernet protocol has been designed with the factories of the future in mind, and it is far and away the most advanced protocol on the market. The ability of drives in the Unidrive M family to talk directly to each other using this protocol is particularly exciting and it will undoubtedly assist all our manufacturing customers on the essential journey towards smarter production methods.”

Another area of innovation has been the PC tools: Unidrive M Connect and Machine Control Studio. Unidrive M Connect is CT’s new drive configuration and monitoring software, facilitating easy access to the products’ full feature sets, easy optimisation of drive tuning, configuration set back-up and faster troubleshooting.

Machine Control Studio also supports the integrated MCi controller within Unidrive M, the software providing a full function automation development environment that uses IEC 61131-3 compliant programming languages powered by CoDeSys development environment. Unidrive M Connect and Machine Control Studio both use the same communications components, allowing them to run simultaneously using numerous communication protocols.

Control Techniques’ new tools have an operational focus, so the user does not need to know about their specific drives or parameter menus for tasks such as drive and application set up, system and drive monitoring, optimisation of motor performance or even for writing advanced system programs. Tom Alexander again:

“Rather than just updating our existing software suite to fit the new product, we developed our new PC tools using the results of an innovative human-centred design programme that took user requirements into account right from the beginning of the design process.

“Additionally, commissioning and maintenance tasks have been greatly simplified through a user interface that prioritises the most commonly performed tasks, simplifying the experience for all users, whilst advanced users will benefit from the fact that dynamic drive logic diagrams and enhanced searchable listings are present. Meanwhile, the drive and motor performance can be optimised with minimal specialised drive knowledge.”

The new Unidrive M family more than doubles the bandwidth of the control loops. Using motor control algorithms developed by CT in combination with the latest microprocessor technology, ensures that Unidrive M achieves optimum stability and performance across all industrial motor types. Users are then able to maximise machine throughput in every application and with every motor, whether standard ac induction, highly dynamic linear, energy saving permanent magnet or high-performance servo type.

Market research
According to CT, the creation of the Unidrive M family, involved an unprecedented market research programme to ensure that the engineering plan remained entirely focused on customer needs. The initial programme of qualitative research consisted of a series of in-depth interviews with OEMs and other end users designed to identify the precise needs of the manufacturing market.

This was followed up by a programme of quantitative research which greatly expanded upon the findings of the interviews, to ascertain which drive features each specific area of the manufacturing market required. The quantitative research consisted of ‘conjoint studies’ - sophisticated web-based surveys which recreate the buying decision in order to establish the underlying needs of the customer. CT strategic marketing VP, Jay Wirts explains:

“Our research has enabled us to understand the manufacturing market more thoroughly than at any previous point, and the information we received was vital in deciding which customers to target with which products. We found that customers within the manufacturing sector are clustered into seven main groups, each with highly specific needs. As a result of our research, we decided to develop a range of seven drives: one for each main customer group.

“Making a wide selection of drives and drive options available will enable Control Techniques to offer customers a highly optimised drives family that is more closely tailored to their needs than any other offering available on the market. I am convinced that our new range is going to transform the performance and productivity of our customers’ machines.”

CT president, Enrique Minarro Viseras adds: “Once Unidrive M is released, Control Techniques will be launching additional ranges of drives that will be targeted at each of our other main market sectors.  This will enable us to match our products to the precise requirements of all customers in all sectors in a way that has never been done before. Our goal as a company is nothing less than to revolutionise the drives market for the benefit of our customers.”


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