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  • Writer's picturePaxton Shantz

Highly Compact Tool Handling Solution Meets Flexibility, Productivity Demands

German engineers automate magazine for storing up to 9,000 tools using PC-based control, EtherCAT and dynamic motion control solutions from Beckhoff

A tool terminal that Wassermann Technologie developed in collaboration with system integrator Becker Engineering features an exceptionally compact design and high flexibility. The increasing demands placed on cutting technology and the associated requirements for higher flexibility and productivity are leading to an increase in the need for more advanced machine tools.

“The innovative tool terminal was designed in accordance with these current customer needs,” says Eberhard Hahl, managing director of Wassermann Technologie GmbH in Eichenzell, Germany. “Only the diameters of the tools and tool drums are predefined, while all parameters such as tool lengths, length divisions, number of tools, tool cleaning, tool holders and RFID tool data acquisition are freely configurable. The salient feature is an extremely compact design. It is achieved by having the tool drums run inside one another around one axis instead of side-by-side.”

Wassermann Technologie, Germany
The openness of PC-based control means the tool terminal can be connected to machine tools via any third-party control system. ( © Wassermann Technologie, Germany)

The concentrically structured tool terminal consists of a rotating outer drum, with the option to add up to two more drums running inside one another, depending on application requirements. The tools are handled by a linear unit with an integrated tool changer. The latter places the tools in the drums and also takes them to a tool buffer or directly to a tool changer on the machine.

“The tool terminal offers tool management for up to 9,000 tools,” Hahl says. “It is suitable for use as a direct magazine and tool store for tool management, and alternatively as an extension of existing tool magazines or as a central supply magazine for several machine tools.”

Julian Becker, application software developer at Becker Engineering GmbH in Leichlingen, Germany, believes the terminal offers crucial benefits in machine tool applications as an intelligent auxiliary magazine. “The tool terminal can operate completely autonomously. For that purpose, it has its own tool management, database and sequential control system as well as its own interface to the machine tool. In addition, there is software in the tool magazine itself for external auxiliary handling, interfaces to peripheral devices and integrated data acquisition for the tooling,” Becker says.

The high flexibility of the tool terminal means that the end customer benefits from significant cost savings, according to Hahl. “In the tool terminal, we have designed a standard magazine with a wide range of uses, and that is reflected in its excellent price-to-performance ratio. However, an individual connection to a machine tool, for example, can be realized entirely according to customer specifications if desired. The tool terminal is available as standard in two model variants: S-Curve for up to 280 tools and D-Curve for a maximum of 570 tools,” he says.

Open, scalable and efficient control technology

The tool terminal’s extreme flexibility is largely due to open and modular control technology from Beckhoff Automation, which enables machine tools to connect seamlessly to the most diverse control systems available. “Higher flexibility also means the option to integrate the widest variety of machine tools with the most diverse control platforms,” says Christoph Neuhaus, application software developer at Becker Engineering. “The openness of PC-based control is important for this capability. For instance, third-party software can also run on the Beckhoff control hardware, which among other things facilitates access to the tool tables for the individual machine.”

Beckhoff Control Panel
With its modern and appealing design, the Beckhoff CP3915 multi-touch Control Panel with push-button extension contributes to the high-quality appearance of the tool magazine. (©Wassermann Technologie, Germany)

Becker Engineering has worked with PC-based control since 2014, and has gained many advantages as a result, according to Neuhaus. “We benefit from the fact that PLC and additional high-level language applications can be realized on one universal multitasking platform,” he says. “Another advantage is high scalability. Should performance requirements increase, the system enables the uncomplicated migration of a control project to more powerful hardware, such as a device equipped with a multi-core processor.”

Wilm Schadach from the Beckhoff sales office in Monheim, Germany, adds that PC-based control offers a universal approach from the point of view of engineering and design, too. “This means that the tool database can run on the same platform as the PLC, motion control and visualization applications. That has proven to be a major advantage in the overall system architecture,” Schadach says.

Not only that, getting familiar with PC-based control technology from Beckhoff was very simple, according to Becker: “Support of common, standardized programming languages simplified the programming significantly.”

Wassermann machine tool
This extremely compact tool terminal from Wassermann integrates up to three concentric drums. (© Wassermann Technologie, Germany)

Becker Engineering has also benefitted from the wide range of communication options via TwinCAT ADS (Automation Device Specification). “ADS provides easy access to PLC data from a high-level language application. On the other hand, it is just as easy to develop an ADS server in a high-level language that you can access conveniently from the PLC. In this way, reliable transmission of data between the tool magazine and a machine tool can be achieved with little effort, for example, to exchange job numbers or previously evaluated usage data,” Neuhaus says. “Also, in the case of future developments, necessary updates can be loaded quickly and conveniently. Industrie 4.0 solutions can also be realized with the client/server architecture available via the ADS communication.”

For Neuhaus, other important aspects of PC-based control include the availability of the current Windows operating systems, the user-friendly software update policy, and the simulation options available without additional license or hardware requirements. “The complete system can be simulated on your own development PC. This means, for example, that you can convert the motion axes to simulation axes or map the I/O behavior with hardware using software simulation blocks,” he says.

Convenient and efficient motion control

Beckhoff servomotors
The AM8000 series servomotors provide dynamic and precise motion control sequences. Their compact design and One Cable Technology reduce space requirements and startup times. (© Wassermann Technologie, Germany)

In a recently implemented tool terminal with two drums, a total of five servo axes are used for fast and precise tool handling. The associated AX5000 Servo Drives and AM8000 Servomotors are controlled by a CX2030 Embedded PC with TwinCAT NC PTP, all from Beckhoff. In addition, one rotational axis is provided for each of the two tool drums as well as a vertical axis for reaching the desired drum level, a horizontal axis for reaching into the level and a rotational axis for a double gripper. The pneumatic control for the double gripper is an additional automation task.

“The tools are transferred from the drum to the outside via the gripper rotation axis. This can also be implemented as a telescopic axis in order to transfer the tool directly to a magazine on the machine without intermediate handling,” Hahl explains.

The motion control application was implemented in TwinCAT software with the aid of PLCopen motion blocks, which Neuhaus says has proven itself in practice. “The programming of motion functions with the associated function blocks was very simple and extremely time-saving,” he says. “Another advantage of Beckhoff drive technology is One Cable Technology (OCT). It dramatically reduces assembly and material costs and allows the use of smaller cable carrier chains, facilitating more compact designs. Apart from that, the electronic nameplate considerably accelerates start-up procedures.”

Ready to enhance your machine tool systems with PC-based automation and EtherCAT? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Paxton Shantz

Paxton Shantz is the Digital Manufacturing Industry Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.

A version of this article previously appeared in Fabricating & Metalworking.


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