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  • Writer's pictureJeff Johnson

PC-based Control and XTS Power EV Motor Manufacturing

GROB increases efficiency in hairpin stator production lines for a major electric vehicle maker by implementing flexible control technology with fast cycle times

automotive assembly machine for EV motors
The CP3918 multi-touch Control Panel, together with an application-specific push-button extension and the convenient user interface created with TwinCAT HMI, enables optimum use of all GROB machine functionalities.

GROB-Werke GmbH & Co. KG creates high-volume production and assembly systems to meet critical requirements for the rapidly growing electric vehicle (EV) market. The machine tool manufacturer based in Mindelheim, Germany, recently completed a sophisticated production machine for hairpins, which form the stator winding rims of electric motors. The complexity of this system for a U.S.-based EV maker illustrates the advantages of implementing a fully integrated, optimally scalable automation solution.

As a globally operating family business, GROB has been developing systems and machine tools for the top automotive manufacturers and their suppliers, among others, for over 95 years. The company’s portfolio ranges from universal machining centers to highly complex production systems and manual assembly stations to fully automated assembly lines. This also includes production systems for electric motors as well as production and assembly systems for battery and fuel cell technology.

“In this area, we cover the entire production chain and offer customer-specific systems for the entire powertrain,” Fabian Glöckler, head of the control technology department in GROB’s electromobility business unit, explains.

electric vehicle stator and hairpins
GROB’s electric motor stators (right) contain several winding rims made of individual hairpins (left).

The decisive factors for GROB’s EV applications, including the hairpin machine, are minimum cycle times and corresponding fast process sequences. The company meets these requirements with PC-based control, EtherCAT and drive technology from Beckhoff. The eXtended Transport System (XTS) also enabled key adaptive automation capabilities in this machine.

Powerful automation technology energizes EV manufacturing

The complex processes in EV motor manufacturing present many differences from the production of internal combustion engines, according to Daniel Gugenberger, group leader of electrical design at GROB’s electromobility business unit: “The classic assembly processes, such as bolting, press-fitting and manual assembly operations, have been automated to a large extent and would not be able to be performed by a machine operator with the required quality, precision and speed.”

An EV motor manufacturing machine with the Beckhoff XTS
A look inside the machine gives an idea of the complexity and variety of the motion sequences, right up to the XTS system (foreground).

This is where PC-based control from Beckhoff has proven its worth, Gugenberger says, because detailed machine and process data are of crucial importance due to the very high system throughput: “When a complete manufacturing process runs in two seconds, production monitoring and error analysis are possible only with appropriate analysis tools and high-speed cameras. We very often use the TwinCAT Scope View software oscilloscope for this.”

Around 200 hairpins in approximately 50 different designs are required to build a stator winding. These are produced one after the other in the order required for placement in the pre-insertion nest. Inline error detection is therefore important.

“In the event of a material or geometry error, the corresponding hairpin must be produced once again and inserted into the system using automated feed so that it can be inserted at the correct position,” Glöckler explains. “With the large number of motion axes and hairpin variants, this means an enormous management task for the control technology, as a wide variety of parameters, bending angles and cam plates need to be calculated just in time.”

IPC and EtherCAT technology drives EV production forward

A Beckhoff C6030 IPC
A C6030 ultra-compact Industrial PC provides optimal computing power for central control of all process sequences.

According to Martin Ellenrieder, Group Manager of Function Development in GROB’s electromobility business unit, the trend toward electromobility also places new demands on control technology: “Compared to systems for internal combustion engines, the systems are characterized by more sophisticated stations, reduced PLC cycle times, a higher proportion of drive technology in assembly and sophisticated coupled movements.”

This is also evident in the hairpin machine (second generation), which is fully equipped with Beckhoff control and drive technology. In addition to four GROB spindles, a total of 57 NC axes are implemented – 40 real and five virtual axes as well as 12 movers of the XTS that are operated as individual servo axes. In addition, there is an extensive I/O level consisting of EtherCAT and TwinSAFE Terminals or Box modules, with 270 digital inputs and 150 digital outputs.

Using a C6030 or C6032 ultra-compact Industrial PC (IPC) and TwinCAT 3 automation software as the control core, the machine achieves an extremely high output rate based on a cycle time of just 2.3 seconds per hairpin. This is even more impressive due to the complexity of the machining process and the wide range of control tasks involved, which extend from the infeed of the copper tube wire through its straight alignment, complex bending and stripping, to exact positioning in a pre-insertion nest:

  • Wire supply (from coil to straight copper wire, with or without electrical testing of wire insulation): PC-based control for dancer control

  • Stripping copper wires on the fly: axis positioning, cam plates and flying saw

  • Wire feed: coupling of axes to a second encoder system, switchover of the encoder system depending on the operating status of the system, as well as switching of the axes used via interfaces for special operating modes (travel with or without wire)

  • Wire inspection: transport and positioning

  • Press-fitting/cutting: cam plates as well as compensation of material displacement during the pressing/cutting process via dynamic coupling factors of the virtual gear functionalities

  • 2D bending: dynamic cam plates generated by hairpin parameters that are coupled using dynamic coupling factors of the virtual gear functionalities

  • 3D bending: dynamic cam plates generated by hairpin parameters that are coupled to the XTS movers by dynamic coupling factors of the virtual gear functionalities

  • Pre-insertion of the hairpins: cam plates or coordinated motion

  • Variety of infeed variants/positioning movements of the pre-insertion nest and clamping finger: coupling of virtual and real axes

Proven automation system and innovative HMI

As early as 2004, GROB began to implement Beckhoff technology on its machinery, as Ellenrieder recalls: “Initially, test stands and additional magazines followed, until 2017, when the first assembly line was also automated with PC-based control. The main reasons for the respective use were the short control cycle times as well as the high system flexibility with respect to future applications and requirements. These include numerous interfaces to different bus systems, the extensive motion functions and deep diagnostic capabilities.

“TwinCAT offers as an advantage, a special openness – e.g. with the integration of MATLAB®, which helped especially in the development process for the systems. Process engineers could thus easily integrate simulations into test facilities,” he adds. “Further aspects include automatic code generation from the E-CAD system through to the HMI, the simple integration of motion control software blocks developed in-house, as well as the integration of version control, bug tracking and software testing. In addition, the flexibility of TwinCAT makes standardization in software development much easier for us.”

Beckhoff and GROB-Werke engineering experts
Close teamwork paid off in the development of the sophisticated hairpin machine seen in the background: (from left to right) Tilman Plaß, Darius Wala (both Beckhoff), Oliver Schernau, Fabian Glöckler (both GROB), Karsten Schätzle (Beckhoff), Thomas Thurnhuber, Daniel Gugenberger, Florian Pichler (all GROB), Florian Schütt (Beckhoff), Martin Ellenrieder, Andreas Reißer and Thomas Greißel (all GROB).

The ultra-compact IPC – C6030 or C6032 if more interfaces are required – is used in connection with a CP3918 multi-touch Control Panel with customer-specific push-button extensions. “The IPC provides sufficient computing power to reliably achieve our target of a 4-millisecond PLC cycle time. Added to this are its very compact design and variable mounting options,” says Glöckler.

In the case of the operator interface, the focus is on convenient and error-free machine operation. To achieve this, the company began relying on TwinCAT HMI at a very early stage. “Accordingly, close cooperation with Beckhoff, especially with the Munich office, was important at the beginning to implement such a large HMI project,” Glöckler adds. “This worked very well – e.g. with the automatic coupling between HMI and PLC and the implementation of multiple languages. It resulted in an HMI tailored to our requirements with a focus on intuitive usability, clear parameter display and exceptional diagnostic depth. The result is a uniform and innovative operating concept for all of our systems.”

Sophisticated motion via servo drives and XTS

Beckhoff AX5000 Servo Drives
In addition to the compact drive technology from Beckhoff, AX5000 Servo Drives are primarily used to control the AM8000 servomotors. One Cable Technology (OCT) minimizes installation space and cabling effort.

The numerous rotary axes are implemented with AX5000 Servo Drives, EL72xx and EP72xx compact drive technology and AM8000 servomotors. In this context, Ellenrieder sees a particular advantage in motors and drives with One Cable Technology: “OCT results in a significantly reduced cabling effort and minimizes potential sources of errors. Other important factors when using the AX5000 are the additionally covered encoder interfaces and the safe motion functions of the AX5805 TwinSAFE option card.” Added to this is the rich set of functions within TwinCAT, such as TwinCAT NC PTP, NC Camming or NC Flying Saw, and above all the combination of these functions, he says.

The rotary motion axes are supplemented by XTS from Beckhoff. An oval, 3-meter-long track system with 12 movers transfers the individual hairpins to a linear portal for the final insertion process. According to Gugenberger, the XTS offers application advantages with the increased flexibility of the system and the ease of adding new functions.

“In addition to classic transport tasks, we use XTS for flexible positioning at different processing steps – the bending and camera stations. We benefit from the system’s compact design as well as from its modularity, which makes it easy to integrate different stations,” he explains. “The transport system yields further advantages through flexible distance control according to the component status (no component, first bend, second bend), the reduction of cycle times, and the decoupling of individual processes so that, for example, varying process times do not directly affect the machine as a whole.”

According to Ellenrieder, TwinSAFE has proven itself overall as a system-integrated safety solution and offers a high degree of flexibility in safety applications. In addition to the drive-based safety technology, the EL6910 TwinSAFE Logic module also provides a dedicated safety controller in an I/O terminal format. In complete production lines, the distributed safety devices of the individual machines and systems communicate with each other via the EtherCAT Automation Protocol (EAP). “This safety communication across control system boundaries is a very important aspect of our machine safety,” Ellenrieder says. “GROB’s customers generally use a large number of systems that are also interlinked.”

Ready to rev up your automotive and battery production equipment with New Automation Technology? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Jeff Johnson of Beckhoff USA

Jeff Johnson is the Mechatronics Product Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.


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