Distribution boxes — any way you want them
15 July 2009
Its makers are calling it the ‘world’s most flexible passive distribution box.’ And it may very well be true, this new range, which boasts the largest number of outputs on the market. It certainly has flexibility beyond what is typically available. Called ‘Distribox®’ the concept combines both sensors and valves connectivity in a single box.
Steve Fisher (left) and Andrew Wilson
The Distribox range was born of a collaboration between Italian manufacturer Shield (www.shield.net), located in Cavaglietto (near Novara), and Motion 29, which makes custom industrial solutions.
Shield, with 5,000 sq m of manufacturing space, makes a broad line of switches, connectors, and cables for industrial automation.
Motion29, located just outside of Cardiff (the ‘29’ is in fact the city telephone code for Cardiff), was founded in 2006 to ‘serve the industrial and mobile automation markets with safety, indication, connectivity and remote controls systems.’ says Andrew Wilkinson, one of the founders (right in photo).
‘In addition to supplying off the shelf product, we specialise in developing engineered solutions to meet customers’ specific requirements,’ he says.
Complex distribution needs
The two companies identified a need to offer the end user a line of flexible options to fulfil more complex distribution needs. The result was the Distribox range, which offers a choice of three box formats:
Classic Top Mount,
Compact Top Mount (available with choice of M12 or M8 connectors) and
Side Mount (M12 connectors),
all of which have single or twin I/O—that is, depending on how the cable is wired, the end user may have one or two sensors or actuators wired to the same port, or he may use the additional pin for redundancy.
‘This new family of distribution boxes offers more port versions than any other on the market with 4, 6, 8 and 10 ports available,’ says Mr. Wilkinson.
He says the Classic Top and Side Mount boxes can be specified with an extra row of connectors, which means 6, 9, 12 and 15 port versions are also available.
‘This flexibility is what makes this range of products unique in the market,’ says Mr. Wilkinson. ‘Most distribution boxes are limited to eight outlets. We can have up to 15.’
Each box has a power and status LED indicator integrated into the design to help diagnose problems and errors. This reduces installation time and enables unskilled staff to monitor the machinery.
‘Splitter boxes were not previously available with this number of port options and side mount splitters were extremely difficult to get hold of, despite being in high demand. We are also offering the full range of M8 and M12 connectors to support the new products,’ he says.
Other custom solutions have appeared from time to time, he says, but they have been very expensive.
‘Splitter boxes’ is what the distribution boxes are called in the U.K. Although most of Motion29’s business is in the U.K., they have an arrangement with Shield to represent the Distribox line throughout Europe.
‘Machine builders recognise that, at only 30mm wide the Compact Top Mount series is ideal for situations where space represents the main limitation,’ says Mr. Wilkinson.
‘And their reduced size even allows them to be mounted onto a machine’s frame. The Classic series meanwhile, at just 50mm wide, has the largest number of output to space ratio and allows improved machine assembling definition.
Lighter, and water sealed
Another benefit that Shied has with its specialised tooling equipment is that the company makes the boxes without having to fill them with potting material, which makes the box a lot heavier. Shield moulds the whole box around the electronics at one time, completely overmoulding it so potting material is not required.
This makes the box lighter than typical distribution boxes, which is an advantage when mounting them on moving assemblies, such as robot arms. They can even mix M8 and M12 connectors in the same box, and have other types of cables and connectors.
The boxes are sealed waterproof to IP67, have corrosion resistant nickel plated brass coupling and are moulded out of chemical resistant polyurethane (PUR). Write on labels allow for port or function identification and PUR home run cable is supplied with the product in a variety of different lengths.
At the moment, Distribox is a purely passive solution, but Motion29 is looking at the future possibility of incorporating fieldbus electronics into the product.
Mr. Wilkinson says Motion29’s customers will typically order ‘several hundred’ of the custom boxes, but for very special, complex boxes, the quantities may be much less.
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