Mechatronics can be defined as the science to optimize the performance and capabilities of machines using a multi-domain synergistic design approach. It is also described as the combination of mechanical, electronic, computer, software, control, and systems de - sign engineering. Simply put, this concept enables machine builders to produce machines that produce the highest quality at maximum throughput. Additionally, it empowers manufacturers to make incremental improvements to existing assets to ultimately meet or exceed core key performance indicator (KPI) targets.

Sample workflow for mechatronics design.
The packaging industry has largely known about the concept of mechatronics for quite some time. The implementation and adaptation of mechatronics to this point has largely been on the design and development of new equipment, with particular emphasis on those machines requiring high-speed operation. The continual migration from the mechanical to the electrical necessitates this, but mainly from the standpoint of design versus machine optimization on the back end (i.e., existing machine optimization). As companies streamline and become focused on growth even during times of economic turmoil, it is imperative that alternate strategies be considered to remain ahead of the curve.

In the case of a mid-sized yogurt producer, the company looked to expand capacity as well as incorporate modest enhancements to improve core KPIs. This gave way to a mechatronics analysis to achieve key goals and give the once-struggling facility new life. The overall goal for this end user was to use the core principles of mechatronics to bring about a simpler and more reliable means of meeting the challenges facing many packaging companies today.

To begin the mechatronics analysis, a core set of steps was proposed by the Siemens Industry mechatronics team:

• KPI identification
• Identification of non-compliant areas in the overall process
• Finite analysis of existing mechanics
• Analysis of component electrical systems
• Analysis of communications architecture and data handling
• On a module level, begin to determine how to improve
• Design improvements
• Testing and re-testing
• Design improvements into specification

The scope of the mechatronics analysis was on the machine level, and a Siemens mechatronics engineer reviewed the entire process. Working with the original design, the core system was largely mechanical, and to increase productivity and reliability, there were many opportunities to seek improvement just by implementing a servo-based architecture. The decision was to leverage the capabilities of the Simotion and Sinamics platforms to achieve this with Siemens.

The planned change in design outlined the following steps relevant to sizing the system:

• Sizing of the motors and gears
• Selection of the electrical drive system
• Selection of the motion control system
• Design of the communications network

On the target machine, the completion of the design sizing yielded a system architecture that incorporated 12 new electrical axes, and a flexible industrial Ethernet architecture. The systematic coordination of these axes was only secondary to the need to ensure that regardless of the configuration, the system would come together to improve target KPIs, and increase productivity, asset flexibility, and reliability. To achieve this, the sample workflow shown in the figure was proposed.

Simulation: The Virtual Machine

The true power behind the science of mechatronics is the ability to design through simulation. This ability in itself has several key advantages to the customer and machine designer. The concept of the virtual machine was introduced to make the aforementioned workflow possible. Leveraging tools such as NX 6 Motion and MATLAB, the Siemens mechatronics engineer was able to build virtual prototypes and perform a complete dynamic analysis of the entire system before the first component was built or modified. The initial input into this tool was a 3D CAD model to formulate a finite element model. The use of these simulation tools enabled Siemens to integrate the controller and drive system — in this case, Simotion and Sinamics — as key pieces of the analysis and as a contributor to overall system performance.

The incorporation of the virtual machine enabled the customer to mitigate risk, reduce time to market, and reduce cost and downtime. While proposed modifications to the machine were being designed, the customer maintained current production and simultaneously collected additional data to be used in the analysis. There was no waste in the form of building physical prototypes or trial and error approaches to enhancing machine capability.

A secondary advantage to this approach was increased collaboration among the mechanical engineer, controls engineer, process engineer, and plant engineer on the front end. Each discipline contributed to the inputs for the design update and optimization while maintaining focus on the core objectives of improving productivity, asset flexibility, and reliability.

Scope and Impact

Within the packaging industry as a whole, one can expect better machines that have increased flexibility and performance. Domestic end users are interested in assets that have an increased lifespan and the aforementioned qualities. Conversely, for exporters, they expect a low price point and low complexity. To achieve expectation on either end, a higher degree of mechatronics is necessary.

As in the case for this yogurt producer, the short-term goal was to achieve a modest improvement in the performance of the existing asset and achievement of core KPIs. Placing more yogurt in cups at a faster rate and at a lower cost was paramount, but the underlying achievement was giving life to the existing asset and paving the way for the design of next-generation machinery to push this even further in the future.

The identified impact through the mechatronics analysis was by incorporating enhancements to mechanical stiffness, electrical servo implementation, and use of the Simotion and Sinamics products was a productivity increase of double, a waste decrease of 20%, and increased uptime of nearly 15%. The forecasted savings was more than enough for this producer to move forward with the proposed machine improvements and begin discussions of the next-generation design with their OEMs.

As such, the next step is to incorporate these findings and push upstream to the OEMs supplying machinery. Leveraging the learning from the simulation of the existing assets provided key insight to the OEM design of the nextgeneration machine that was to incorporate 23 axes of servo control and a modular machine platform. The core and fundamental pieces will be maintained in the form of the motion controller and drive system. Additionally, the principles accounted for in the mechanical analysis of the machine proved beneficial in uncovering the opportunity for Siemens to again partner, but directly at the OEM level on the new design. The same advantages in terms of simulation and collaboration were experienced at the OEM and thus saved cost, reduced time to market, and fortified a partnership at all levels.

It should be clearly stated that the introduction of Industrial Ethernet connectivity as an information provider and cornerstone for modular machine design has enabled the select group of OEMs to provide scalable solutions to the target end user in this case, and also global end users of other variants of these machine types. Technology is an enabler for OEMs and end users alike, and the speed and options of Industrial Ethernet options Profinet and Ethernet IP are leading the way.

Simply put, the packaging community knows that the number-one priority is to do more with less. Both OEMs and end users are forced to take what they have and make it better while making it more economical in order to compete. Mechatronics is the best-kept secret in the packaging industry. It levels the playing field and enables domestic producers and machine builders to achieve core KPIs, reduce cost and time to market, and position themselves to compete globally. As the science of mechatronics provides no guarantee that doubling production capability is possible in every scenario, it is one tool that systematically allows all possibilities to be explored.

This article was written by David J. Kirklen, Motion Control, at Siemens Industry Inc. in Alpharetta, GA. For more information, Click Here .


Motion Control & Automation Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2012 issue of Motion Control & Automation Technology Magazine.

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