The ramping up of the low wage economies in the machine building sector means that OEMs often feel they are working under the shadow of the threat of cheap imports. In the first of a series of articles, Robert Brooks and Karl Walker look at the ‘must-have’ features that will keep UK machine builders ahead
Omron welcomed its first guests to its newly opened European Automation Technology Centre (ATC) in Barcelona, Spain, providing state of the art facilities for customer training on the Sysmac platform, development of software libraries for target markets, discussions with customers about new prototypes, as well as proof of the System technology concept and demonstrations of machines.
Guests were shown around the facility, which includes laboratories for developing driving programming software, testing servo applications, developing robot control software, testing network configurations, and setting up individual customer tests in specific market sectors, such as lift control. The facilities also include a ‘Sysmac wall’, which combines all the product ranges within the Sysmac platform into a working demonstration that customers can use for proof of concept and to test new ideas. Alongside this is a working robotic pick and place line, with four delta robots and a SCARA robot, where customers can again test specific applications.
Guests were also given advance information on key new product launches, in particular looking at new best-of-breed slice I/O products and Omron’s fully integrated safety solution for the Sysmac platform. The Sysmac NX series I/O has been developed to meet machine builders’ requirements for openness and performance, providing a modular I/O solution which integrates into the control system via EtherCAT. The first products will be available in the first quarter of 2013, and the full range will include a broad spread of analogue and digital I/O for everything from standard, non-time-critical applications right up to synchronous and deterministic I/O for the most demanding motion control tasks.
Also new is the NX safety controller and safety I/O, which reside alongside the NX I/O to bring integrated safety into the Sysmac platform. The NX safety controller and safety I/O can be freely placed along standard I/O on the EtherCAT network, with all system design, programming, configuration and maintenance of the complete Sysmac system carried out within the Sysmac Studio software. Commenting on why the safety controller was implemented within the modular I/O rather than within the PLC rack, product marketing manager Theo Mattaar said that feedback from many customers was that the separate controller was the preferred solution. “Customers frequently want to expand the PLC or add functionality, and they want to be able to do this without having to revalidate the safety system each time.”
The new European ATC brings Omron’s number of Automation Technology Centres up to four, following the opening of similar facilities in Kusatsu, Japan in April 2011, Shanghai, China in June 2011, and Fremont, USA in April 2012. Asked why Barcelona was chosen for this newest facility, Omron ATC Europe manager Antonio Farras said: “Spain has a very strong packaging machinery industry that Omron has supported for many years, so we have a solid foundation of motion control expertise here. That made Spain the logical country to open the European ATC.”