Manufacturing, mangos and Melbourne Airport: Beckhoff powers flexible process control

Manufacturing, mangos and Melbourne Airport: Beckhoff powers flexible process control

According to Gary Brown, electrical engineer at AIE Global, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to Industry 4.0 concepts. From their headquarters in Lake Wendouree, Brown’s team has been using advanced methodology to promote Australian innovation through process control and automation systems since 1985.

According to Brown, AIE Global was established by a group of engineers with the specific aim of supporting turnkey automation projects. For ten years, they have utilised Beckhoff Automation solutions such as PLCs with remote I/O, robotics, and machine vision technology.

“The more I investigated the Beckhoff product range, the more I liked what they offered,” he said. “EtherCAT I/O has allowed us to considerably reduce installation costs without any latency issues, and their CPU performance has meant that running out of memory is a thing of the past.”

In 2010, the business won its first project using Beckhoff HMI based PLC for the operation of a multi-axis window manufacturing machine. Since then, it has been involved across a number of large-scale industrial projects requiring tailored engineering support.

At Melbourne Airport, AIE Global was contracted for the design and installation of a PLC and SCADA automation system for an eight-megawatt trigeneration plant. Using seven Beckhoff CX2020 CPU Modules, alongside TwinCAT software, this infrastructure was responsible for providing general-use hot water via four natural gas driven generators.

The PLCs were used in the automation of each genset, plant control, and hot water reticulation. According to Brown, having local EtherCAT-distriubuted I/O for each generator reduced the amount of electrical wiring running into the central control room, and allowed for a smaller cabinet size. This allowed for substantial cost savings, without negative impacts on performance.

Additionally, AIE Global specialises in the development of servo drives for machine automation, also implementing Beckhoff PLC control. These are used by multiple manufacturing sites, specifically on pipe bending applications.

“One large Victorian manufacturer required an upgrade for a multi-axis servo machine used for pipe bending,” said Brown. “The Beckhoff C6015 was used to replace an old Windows XP-based controller; rach pipe bend profile now has its own spreadsheet recipe file which is created externally and loaded using a USB stick.”

Brown stated that contributing to Australian innovation is a key pillar of AIE Global’s approach, and in 2019 their engineers supported the design and implementation of a world-first mango auto harvester, developed by the Institute of Future Farming Systems (a division of CQ University). Part of a fully integrated system, it employs advanced sensor technology to identify and pick fruit, relying on Beckhoff C6015 Ultra-Compact Industrial PC and Automation Device Specification (ADS) protocol for communication and vision processing.

“Looking back on the projects we have done, I can’t help but be impressed by the performance of Beckhoff’s product range,” Brown said. “EtherCAT is fast, with unlimited expansion capability, and the IEC 61131 programming environment significantly maximises productivity. Their large selection of library extensions also offer additional functionality, and can be added any time without needing CPU upgrades.”

He added that the Windows platform allows the use of TwinCAT and has proven to be useful for the handling of recipe files, allowing them to be readily edited by the customer post-installation.

“Many other PLC brands hide their functionality in an endeavour to make them easier to use. That leaves the engineer frustrated when they don’t work, and the technical support is inadequate. Beckhoff ensures a high level of functionality, reliability, and cost efficiency, with excellent backup support from the Australian sales office.”

Beckhoff Customer Video – AIE Global

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