Custom Automated Machinery: Peter Robbins Explains New Controls

Peter Robbins

As I mentioned earlier, I visited EAM to get some video of their latest project and I realized I was looking at a system that was being controlled by a very intelligent and super-fast computer. Peter Robbins, Manager of EAM’s Controls Department, was kind enough to spend some time explaining to me just exactly what he had done here. Please be sure to let me know if you find this as interesting as I did.

The following is from my conversation with Peter;

Roland Wyman: “Good morning Peter. I’ve just spent a few minutes watching this machine and, even for me, it didn’t take long to see that this machine is controlled by something pretty clever. What is the actual controller you used for this machine?”

Peter Robbins: “The controller I used in this project is Schneider Electric’s LMC058 Motion Controller. It is marketed as a motion controller with logic capabilities as opposed to a PLC with motion capabilities.”

Roland Wyman: “Was this the first time you incorporated this controller in a project?”

Peter Robbins: “This was EAM’s first project using this controller. I knew we were going to need a controller that would tightly integrate the machine logic with the servo motion required to operate a machine at the rate we were looking to achieve and fit into a budget that the customer could accept. The LMC058 boasts a scan time of under 3 milliseconds for up to eight axes of motion. We’re running 4 axes of motion and we are just over 2 milliseconds for the servo process control. The main control for the rest of the machine is running under 10 milliseconds.”

Roland Wyman: “Pretty impressive specs! How did the design and integration go in comparison to earlier projects?”

Peter Robbins: “There was a slight learning curve to deal with but the controller is designed around the I.E.C. 61132 specification which made most of the programming structure very similar to the controllers I have been using.”

Roland Wyman: “You’ve already established that you needed to move to this controller in order to achieve the scan times while controlling all those servos. Are there also added capabilities this offers as opposed to earlier controllers you used?”

Peter Robbins: “As I mentioned, the motion functions in this controller are tightly integrated into the rest of the controller functions and are very fast. The unit also offers built in CANOpen Bus and CANMotion bus so attaching the servo amplifiers and remote I/O was very simple.”

Roland Wyman: “I’m told that a technology that is also available with your systems allows you to log onto the machine, no matter where it is installed. If that’s so, then this means you are providing some form of ongoing service or support to your client. Can you tell me a bit about that?”

Peter Robbins: “E.A.M. has been encouraging customers to opt for our ‘Remote Administration’ package for some time now. With the advances in the complication of machine function and controls structure it is very helpful for E.A.M. to have access to the controller of the machine to aid the customer in troubleshooting the machine. This ability more times than not allows E.A.M. personnel to ‘log onto’ the machine and see firsthand what the machine is doing. This saves both the customer and E.A.M. time and money.”

Roland Wyman: “I would guess your clients see this as an ongoing value to them. That’s very impressive. You’re obviously incorporating all the latest technologies into these projects and it would seem that you find the right technologies for the specific project requirements both in functions, budgets, etc. What do you, as a pro in your field do to keep up with all this? You’re obviously self motivated to know what’s out there in order to offer it to your clients. After all these years, what’s your secret? How do you maintain your enthusiasm?”

Peter Robbins: “The way I explain my position at E.A.M. is that I go into the office each day and play with my toys. In order to be able to supply control systems that meet the customer’s needs it has always been my first priority to listen to what the customer is looking for in the equipment we are trying to build for them. Being able to boil down what the customer is looking for and then deliver it is an art. To accomplish this I stay current on my suppliers offerings, there are many trade shows, webinars, and distributor tech sessions that lend access the this information. I read the current trade publications for controls as well as other industry aspects of machinery, and foremost, I don’t accept “you can’t do that” from anyone.”

Roland Wyman: “Thanks Peter for your time, your information, and your insights. After reading this, I’d be very surprised if some folks might not want to ask follow-up questions or start a thread. Is it okay if they post in the comments section below?”

Peter Robbins: “I would welcome pertinent questions to our product line.”