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Ethernet drives give trainees a moving experience

02 August 2010

A PC-controlled three-axis motion platform comprising TCP/IP compatible drives adds a further level of realism to the training experience on an advanced crane operation simulator developed by Indian simulation and IT specialist, ARI

Based in New Delhi, India, Applied Research International (AR) produces a comprehensive range of simulators for marine and allied applications. Its products include a wide variety of offshore, quay-side and gantry crane simulators that provide safe, cost-effective operational training for container movement and bulk handling operations.

ARI’s simulators emulate the visual, behavioural and operational characteristics of their real-world counterparts to create a fully immersive environment in which the trainee can gain true hands-on experience. A typical crane simulator comprises a modular PC-based control system, a replica operator cabin and seat, a high fidelity audio-visual system, and an instructor station equipped with CCTV for monitoring the actions of the trainee.

When ARI decided to add an optional motion platform to its line of crane simulators, it approached fellow Indian company, Electropneumatics & Hydraulics (E&H) for assistance. Specialising in the production of metal-forming equipment, such as hydraulic presses and tube bending machines, E&H also designs and builds special-purpose machinery, largely featuring indigenous content and capability.

For the new crane simulator, E&H chose to base the motion platform on Baldor's Powerlink- and Ethernet-compatible drives and servomotors provided by Baldor Electric India. According to E&H technical director, Ashley Rasquinha, Baldor’s MicroFlex e100 AC servo drives are very cost-effective choice for this type of application because they can be controlled via TCP/IP direct from the simulator’s host PC without the need for additional hardware.

The three-axis motion platform provides X, Y and Z movement of the replica operator cabin, synchronised to computer-generated images as they are presented to the trainee. Since it is designed to emulate the movement of a real-life gantry crane very accurately, the platform’s drive axes are only required to handle relatively simple motion control tasks such as point-to-point moves and homing sequences, and do not require interpolation. As a consequence, the MicroFlex e100 servo drives can be used in their basic Ethernet mode, without the additional complexity of real-time control.

Each axis is driven by a Baldor BSM three-phase servomotor equipped with an incremental encoder for position and velocity feedback, controlled by a dedicated MicroFlex e100 servo drive. All three drives are housed in a separate floor-standing control cabinet, and are connected via a D-Link 10/100 Mb/s Ethernet switch to the simulator’s host PC.

Ashley Rasquinha also points out that Baldor’s ActiveX development tools for its Mint motion control language helped to minimise programming effort. He believes the tools hide the complexity of Ethernet messages and provide a simple interface to all the Mint programming commands and functions. “In conjunction with the excellent libraries of routines that Baldor provides, these made it very easy for us to create and validate all the motion control sequences,” he says. “During the development of the motion platform, we also received excellent support from Baldor Electric India, which happens to be based near our manufacturing facility.”

ARI’s crane simulators are proving to be extremely popular with maritime organisations worldwide, and E&H has already delivered 15 motion platforms to the company, for real customers wishing to embrace the virtual world.

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