CC-Link gains strength as end-users automate

19 August 2014

Suzanne Gill reports on the increasing demand for CC-Link enabled solutions, as more Asian end-users in the manufacturing sector turn to automated production processes to ensure better quality products, and to reduce costs.

According to recent figures supplied by global management company, McKinsey & Company, China now produces 80% of the world’s air-conditioners, 90% of the world’s PCs, around 70% of the world’s solar panels, 90% of the world’s mobile phones, and 65% of the world’s shoes. With labour costs in the region starting to rise there is now an increasing interest in automated assembly technologies.

CC-Link communication technology has already achieved a high degree of acceptance and success in many of these industry sectors across Asia. Most notably in flat panel display (LCD screens for a variety of devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones) and in automotive manufacturing. 

One example can be found in the Changan Ford Mazda Nanjing Company, which was established by Ford & Mazda in 2004. The plant is based on the Mazda ‘Triangle Control’ concept the plant produces multiple models which requires a high degree of flexibility.

The Triangle Control concept is a hierarchical principle intended to address plant control at all levels from model data at the top to actuators and sensors at the bottom. The overall aim is to keep things simple and standardised. As a hierarchical system, networks play a key role, and the network chosen by Mazda was CC Link. 

An example of how the architecture allows flexibility can be seen in the body shop, where the line needs to be able to cope with the production of various different models. The body framing system allows the production of six different models as well as reserving capacity for two additional future models. The entire shop is automated using Mitsubishi controllers and CC Link networks. The system divides into 24 stations, with each having multiple controllers in charge of up to three to four welding robots, with almost 100 robots in total. A further ten stations handle the under body operations. 

CC Link allows production engineers to conveniently reserve future configurations. When production machinery is added, it is then a simple matter to enable the new parts of the network, resulting in a ‘plug and play’ style of network configuration, which helps to reduce project lead-time.

CC Link’s reliability, even in adverse conditions, is demonstrated on the welding line. Despite the hostile operating environment, the line has been running for around seven years without a single hardware failure or network malfunction related downtime. The network diagnostics make maintenance easy. There is no need for complicated parameter settings, and the engineering team found it easy to create clear diagnostic displays to allow operators to view network status at a glance.

The cost saving benefits of CC Link were a key factor in its original selection. The use of standard cabling was seen as a major benefit, and the lack of special connectors or other additional hardware also contributed to the cost effectiveness of the project. Performance capability was another important selection factor. Despite large station totals and long distance requirements, CC Link could still offer millisecond update times.

According to Konrad Kern, product manager systems at Pepperl+Fuchs, conveying technology also offers a good example of where an intelligent interface communication provides a cost-efficient solution and conveying technologies are widely used in the automotive sector across Asia. 

PEPPERL+FUCHS is a system supplier for AS-Interface. “AS-Interface is the most powerful and easiest system offering in parallel energy supply, communication for safe and non-safe signals on one pair of leads,” said Kern. “The company’s CC-Link AS-Interface Gateway is available in a high grade steel housing with display and easy to operate function keys. It can be directly mounted onto a DIN rail and up to 500 IO-signals can be handled under one CC-Link address. This helps save space in the cabinet as well as time and money during installation. It allows bigger sub-networks and offers flexibility for any extensions.

Flat-panel LCDs televisions and monitors have been one of the strongest growing consumer products of recent years. Production of flat screen LCDs at one of the largest plants in Asia is now highly automated, making data communications critical. The company’s choice of a CC-Link IE high-speed Ethernet-based open network to run the automation communications at the plant requires OEMs and equipment suppliers for the company to be able to integrate with its chosen communication protocol.

The modular fieldbus approach of Festo’s CC-Link enabled valve terminals, which allows OEMs to adapt the same machine to different end user specifications is a feature that attracted AVACO, a South Korean machine builder that supplies the flat panel display industry. 

In one application, for an encapsulation machine as part of an OLED evaporated material handling system. AVACO chose to use Festo small valve terminal plug-ins with CTEU CC-Link which enables easy allocation of a group of functions to one application, making the machine design scalable to the particular application needs. It also allows for quick and easy installation. As well as being modular and expandable, this solution also offers modular programming via fieldbus. 

Connecting this type of valve terminal via fieldbus can cut 30% of the usual installation time compared to multipin wiring, and another 30% compared to individual wiring. In addition it reduces potential sources of errors, reduces time to market and increases reliability and availability of the machine due to its integrated diagnostics.

The strength of CC-Link with many of the leading manufacturing end-users in the region is having a knock-on effect with OEMs, integrators and other partners who supply these end users, further strengthening demand for the technology and making it a must have option on products and equipment destined for this region.

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