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Standardizing CNC controls

By Russ Olexa

July/August 2010 - Because the equipment it produces has similar operating principles, Messer Cutting & Welding GmbH, Groß-Umstadt, Germany, decided to use a standard CNC control technology that works for its entire machine line and any global market.

Also known as Messer Cutting Systems Inc., Menomonee Falls, Wis., the company distributes worldwide and produces plasma cutting technology for most applications. Although Messer builds customer-specific machines that primarily differ by dimension, machine type, number of cutting systems and other details, they all use a uniform control system that works with each machine’s differences.

In 2000, Messer reviewed 50 suppliers of CNC control systems and selected 10 for the final evaluation round. The company performed CNC control hardware checks to test the equipment’s longevity and functions. It also performed software evaluations to confirm the equipment performed as programmed. Messer reviewed controls to ensure it could standardize them for all of its equipment.

Messer ultimately chose Beckhoff Automation LLC, Burnsville, Minn., and completed further tests for the company’s plasma cutting machines. Since 2002, Messer and Beckhoff have worked jointly on global control uses worldwide.

Global control describes the worldwide uniform-control concept for Messer’s plasma cutting machines equipped with Beckhoff technology.

Technical details
Messer uses various Beckhoff industrial personal computers and TwinCAT CNC automation software. Users operate the machine with a customer-specific control panel designed to meet the company’s needs. Machine peripherals are connected to the bus terminal input/output system that is linked to the industrial PC using Lightbus, a fiber-optic-based fieldbus from Beckhoff. The number of I/O connections depends on the machine type and starts with 32 I/Os for the smallest machine. The company uses both digital and analog I/Os, including encoder inputs.

Messer also uses compact AX2500 series digital-servo drives with corresponding servomotors as axis drives, and they are connected via the Lightbus protocol.

The company uses Lightbus because of its high data-transfer rate and fiber-optic-based interference immunity, which is important for plasma cutting machines.

The ScopeView function is one of the most important TwinCAT properties Messer uses.

"Using TwinCAT ScopeView, we can acquire and retrace data in real time, allowing us to keep an eye on the machine performance and impending errors so that we can take the necessary measures in good time. Besides that, the system provides us with exact performance data, which we could only surmise in the past," Mark Ringgenberg, Messer project manager, said in a release.

Messer adapted the TwinCAT CNC software to meet the needs of thermal cutting technology. "We developed the control software and the entire user interface ourselves," Ingo Göller, Messer project manager, said in a release. "In this way, we achieve high flexibility to react quickly and optimally to new requirements."

Global controls
Messer also has introduced global control for smaller machines. The design is based on a Beckhoff Panel-PC that is mounted directly on the operating unit. EtherCAT functions as the industrial Ethernet communication bus, and it uses Beckhoff bus terminals for the I/O system.

Beckhoff offers open automation systems based on PC-based control technology. The company’s product range covers industrial PCs, I/O and fieldbus components, drive technology and automation software. Products can be used as separate components or integrated into a complete, seamless control system. They are available for the metal fabricating, forming and cutting industries. FFJ

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