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Ditch those cabinets and reduce wiring runs

Automation without cabinets simplifies more complex automated machines and equipment that would otherwise require several long cable runs to control cabinets

Bradley McEwan explains how project expenses can be reduced by building more automation components into the structure of the machine itself

For automation system OEMs, machine builders and systems integrators, one of the most expensive parts of any project is installation. The complex mass of cables and wires needed by modern automated systems often makes installing a new machine a time- and labour-intensive process. 

While the advancement of automated equipment and machine automation has brought a wealth of new opportunities to plant managers, it has meant more complexity for OEMs and machine builders. 

For OEMs, the challenge and irritation of these complex systems is that the high volume of cabling and wiring means that machines take longer to integrate into customer factories. This leads to time-intensive installation projects that prove costly, often reducing profit per sale.

However, some of the latest automation technologies make it possible for OEMs to develop automated machinery that requires little to no space in a control cabinet. 

At Beckhoff Automation, we have been working on products that fit into a concept we refer to as “automation without cabinets”, with the aim of reducing automation project complexity. 

Automation without cabinets simplifies more complex automated machines and equipment that would otherwise require several long cable runs to control cabinets. By using Beckhoff’s automation technologies, the machine’s design can be streamlined and will require less external cabling.

Shrinking automation project costs

The automation without cabinets concept is based on a combination of technologies built upon the EtherCAT fieldbus and PC-based control systems. Beckhoff has developed innovative distributed servo drive systems that transfer the power electronics directly into machines. These products allow for direct component-level connectivity and machines that are true EtherCAT slaves, which ensures high rates of data transmission to networked devices.

Beckhoff’s AMP8000 servosystem, and its associated AM8620 power supply module and AMP8805 distribution module, streamlines motion system cabling, and EtherCAT P cable technology combines EtherCAT communications with a 24V power supply into a single, standard four-wire Ethernet cable. It is a simple technology that overcomes many of the challenges with cabling complexity and design issues of typical hybrid cables. 

Beckhoff’s recent whitepaper on automation without cabinets, which is available on Beckhoff’s blog, highlights how machine builders and OEMs can benefit from lower system complexity, reduced shipping costs and shorter installation times. OEMs can boast ROI as a machine benefit to plant managers, while simultaneously increasing their own profit per product or project.

Machines can have reduced component count by incorporating products like Beckhoff’s AMP8000 compact distributed servosystem, comprised of a servomotor with a built-on, rear-mounted servo drive.

Rear-mounting means the overall servosystem has the same mounting dimensions as a standard servomotor, while also providing performance benefits such as unobstructed heat dissipation and little to no motor derating, compared to a top-mounted design.

EtherCAT P cable technology provides ultra-fast EtherCAT communications and 24V power into one standard four-wire Ethernet cable. With EtherCAT P, DC current is fed directly into the wires of the 100 Mbit/s line, resulting in a highly cost-effective and compact connection. This makes EtherCAT P the ideal bus for sensors, actuators, and measurement technology components, with benefits for connecting small I/O stations in a terminal box as well as distributed I/O components. 

As automated systems become more advanced, there is no need for the project installation time and cost to also increase. 

By investing in new automation technologies and components, OEMs, machine builders and system integrators can benefit from reduced setup times and lower project costs — providing more efficient value to themselves and customers alike.

Bradley McEwan is business development manager at Beckhoff Automation UK.

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