While efficiency, reliability, increased productivity and affordability are as critical as they are anywhere, the real watchword of the machine cutting market is flexibility.
Since automated cutting machines are often used to cut a wide range of materials with varying dimensions and patterns, the machines are often highly customized with their own unique design specifications and requirements.
When Buffalo, N.Y.-based Eastman Machine Company, a global provider of material cutting solutions started designing its latest offering, the Eagle C3, its primary goals were to address an inflexible architecture and analog motion controller that limited the value of previous versions. To accomplish this Eastman incorporated SynqNet, a network-based motion control system from Danaher Motion.
Eastman has been making cutting machines for a variety of industries since founder George Eastman invented the first motorized cutting tool in 1888. Today, Eastman provides material cutting solutions ranging from manually-operated machines to fully automated systems like the Eagle C3, a fully automated conveyor cutting system with a user-friendly touch screen interface and self-monitoring capabilities which is used to cut everything from upholstery, canvas and vinyl to fiberglass, carbon fiber and Kevlar.
“If it’s on a roll, and it’s not metal, we can cut it,” says Carl Leinweber, an Eastman sales executive.
With past Eastman systems it was very difficult to make the customer-requested modifications that are commonplace in the industries in which Eastman works, such as adding additional axes to support proprietary components. Customization efforts often involved a team of engineers and required a detailed risk and analysis assessment in order to determine a reasonable workaround solution. SynqNet is easily scalable, so Eastman is no longer limited to a fixed number of axes. SynqNet supports up to 32 nodes with up to 32 axes of motion and over 16,000 bits of digital I/O or 1,000 points of analog I/O.
“Now that SynqNet supports up to 32 axes per controller card, adding an additional axis for a customer is no longer a problem. “Determining whether we can accommodate a specific customer request is no longer a concern,” says Paul Wilkins, Eastman chief technical officer. To add a custom labeler or separate punch to the main head unit, we simply add another SynqNet node to the SynqNet network, he adds.
Other improvements enabled by SynqNet include reduced cabling and improved monitoring and troubleshooting.
Previous Eagle marks were analog systems that required a tremendous amount of cabling. Each machine had 14-20 different types of cables, including power cables, serial cables for controller input/output (I/O), and custom cables for discreet I/O. In some cases it took more than 1,000 feet of cable to accommodate the long cable runs between the control box and the machine, driving up the cost of the unit and increasing points of potential failure.
By transitioning to an all-digital SynqNet network and taking advantage of its large data bandwidth, Eastman was able to put all system level control on SynqNet and use one network to support both motion control and I/O. SynqNet also gave Eastman the flexibility of creating a motion network with centralized control and distributed hardware, which allowed them to place discrete I/O modules in more convenient locations for shorter cable runs. For example, the Eagle C3 features SynqNet Slice I/O modules that are mounted right next to the sensors. As a result, Eastman was able to reduce the total length of cable used by 80 percent.
Another advantage of using SynqNet is the ability to collect real-time diagnostics over the network for complete system visibility. Eastman created a “self monitoring” Eagle C3 machine that reports faults and can alert operators when attention is needed or if maintenance is required. For example, if there is a loose network connection or a faulty cable, an operator will receive an error message and use the software tools to pinpoint the exact location of the problem on the network. Preventative real-time diagnostics make it possible to continuously monitor the health of the system and give operators the flexibility of fixing potential problems at more convenient times to maximize machine uptime and productivity. The total cost of ownership for the customer is reduced because operators can now quickly diagnose and fix many problems themselves.
SynqNet also makes it possible to troubleshoot the machine remotely. An operator can now examine the status bits of the machine through software to get a clear indication of the error status for quicker maintenance and repair. If a customer’s machine has a network connection with Internet access, an Eastman technician can access their machine and troubleshoot the problem remotely, without ever visiting the customer. Eastman can now “solve problems directly over the phone in real-time, instead of traveling to a customer site and troubleshooting the old fashioned way,” explains Juhasz. The ability to retrieve real-time diagnostics over SynqNet and remotely access a machine’s data over the Internet will dramatically reduce the amount of time and money spent on troubleshooting Eagle C3 machines in the field.