The benefits of decentralised automation

06 November 2023

Decentralised automation concepts can result in seamless integration of servo drives, bringing the power supply and the devices to where they are needed. Using this approach, the control cabinet becomes obsolete, argues Christian Kübler.

Wiring is the biggest cost factor when installing control cabinets, typically accounting for more than 50% of installation costs. The combination of modularisation and prefabricated connectors has provided a leap in efficiency while also helping to minimise wiring errors.

Increasing flexibility and time-to-market are gaining importance in manufacturing and are starting to shape plant design, along with the quest for greater energy efficiency, CO2 reduction and more sustainable production. So, pretty much everything that has been relied on in traditional manufacturing processes is currently under review. 

For automation in car body manufacturing, for example, this means getting out into the field, decentralising, modularising, combining technologies, and becoming more energy efficient. The basic idea behind decentralisation is simple. First, the power supply, as well as other standard components such as fuses or circuits, are removed from the central control cabinet and packed into smaller, decentralised enclosures which are then placed directly on the machine.

The same applies to the industrial PCs which handle communication and control of the system or of individual machine parts. 

Hissing and whistling
In the halls of a typical automotive body shop, there is still a lot of hissing and whistling because compressed air still drives the pneumatic clamps there. Every hiss and whistle is proof that pneumatics are a less than ideal way to get things done – with an efficiency of between just 10 and 20% – and it is expensive.

In contrast to pneumatics, process data including the position of the mechanics, or the required torque, can be recorded and analysed during the motion cycle when using servo motors. They replace the measuring systems and limit switches. Double sheets can be detected in this way. Commissioning is 80% faster thanks to simple ‘teaching’ instead of ‘shimming’. Additionally, multiple clamping points and variant production with different material thicknesses – keyword batch size 1 – are possible without new teaching. Pneumatic clamps, on the other hand, need to be readjusted several times a week. This pays off in terms of sustainability and CO2 targets because regenerative electric clamps save energy, which in turn protects the environment.

A decentralised automation solution is offered by Murrelektronik in the form of Vario-X, a modular, flexible automation platform with which all automation functions can be implemented without a control cabinet for the first time on an as needed and decentralised basis. 

Its application areas in body construction are diverse – from infeed axes to power clamps to lifting units, anything is possible – all driven axes (with a power of up to one kilowatt) can be implemented and pneumatic actuators can be converted to a servo-electric solution with Vario-X. 

Vario-X consists of the platform of the same name and the accompanying automation and installation concept. It brings devices into the machine environment and ensures seamless integration of decentralised servo drives for reliable voltage, signal and data management. It features waterproof and dustproof housings with an IP65 rating that contain the power supply, controller, switches, safety technology and IO modules. The modular units are snapped side by side into a backplane with integrated machine construction profiles. 

Vario-X shortens commissioning by an average of 40% based on the use of digital twin technologies and its installation concept. The bottom line is that, with consistent implementation of decentralisation, the platform enables entry into digital transformation during ongoing operations - the decisive step in the right direction

Christian Kübler is Product Manager for Vario-X at Murrelektronik.

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