Fieldbus & Industrial Networking

Precision measurement terminals for inspecting steering systems

July 2023 Fieldbus & Industrial Networking

Nobody wants to hear cracking, scratching, knocking or whirring while driving. But how can subjective noise perception be quantified and measured objectively? thyssenkrupp Presta tests this by measuring structure-borne noise during end-of-line testing. Joachim Sutterlüty, Karsten Mauersberger, Michael Sauerwein, and Julius Ellmann have replaced the previous external electronics with high-end ELM measurement terminals, in conjunction with TwinCAT Scope. This saves not only a lot of engineering work and time, but also a great deal of space and money.

Just a few moments are crucial in the life of a steering system when thyssenkrupp Presta puts it through its paces in an end-of-line test rig, as it does with every steering system. In addition to various functional tests, the noise generated plays an essential role. “Acoustic testing is about ensuring that drivers do not perceive any annoying noises while driving,” explains Joachim Sutterlüty, head of automation at thyssenkrupp Presta. Translating these noise perceptions into measurable values is the job of the experts at the thyssenkrupp Presta Acoustic Centre Of Excellence. Together with customers, they analyse and define noise behaviour right from the development stage on prototypes and pilot series, and measure subjective acoustic properties in objective terms. This noise profile and its permissible limits later form the basis for measuring structure-borne noise in production.

If the noise spectrum of a steering system lies outside this profile, it is returned from the test rig to a rework station, where the measured structure-borne sound spectrum is used to decide whether to rework or disassemble the component. As Sutterlüty says: “With our sensors, together with the measurement terminals and PC-based control from Beckhoff, we can evaluate the noise so precisely that the worker can accurately narrow down the cause of the noise based on the displayed spectrum.”

Image copyright: Beckhoff Automation.

Structure-borne sound – a complex matter

A large number of tests on prototypes are needed before a noise profile of this type can be developed. Accordingly, thyssenkrupp Presta has a large number of test rigs in operation in the prototype shop, where the acoustics of a steering system are designed. These must then be adhered to in the fully automated assembly plant. “As development is incredibly dynamic, with frequently changing variants, we need a very high level of flexibility,” says Sutterlüty. That’s why Presta designs and automates all test rigs completely in-house, purchasing only the mechanical setup and electrical components. For the latter, the automotive supplier has relied on Beckhoff components for more than 20 years. It now also uses the high-end measurement technology ELM3604 EtherCAT Terminals and the TwinCAT Scope for measurement data acquisition.

High-end measurement terminals replace standalone system

The previous concept was based on an external system for acoustic testing, which necessitated complex interfaces and signal splitters for the actual test rig control system. As electrical engineer Michael Sauerwein says: “This equipment alone required a separate control cabinet and repeatedly caused problems during commissioning, from complex EMC shielding to double calibration and wiring errors.” Additional considerations were the project planning, configuration and programming of the separate system. With PC-based control, EtherCAT, and the high-end measurement terminals, he was able to eliminate these interfaces completely, gaining significant flexibility and time with a massive reduction in complexity and costs. “Roughly speaking, we save about 5% of the investment costs per test module,” says Sutterlüty.

In 2020, the new concept was intensively tested and examined in an initial testing plant in Eschen. The Beckhoff technology was then integrated into the test field and the sensor signals were tapped in parallel with a previous system to verify the results. Would the high-end measurement technology from Beckhoff come close to the external system? Acoustics expert Julius Ellmann comments: “We wanted to see if we could replace the old system with something that would live up to the same measurement quality.” After all, some sensor signals have to be recorded synchronously at a high resolution, with 24 bits and up to 20 ksamples/s. All of the requirements for metrological complexity were met, and at much better value for money. This is because the ELM360x EtherCAT measurement terminals are directly integrated into EtherCAT. They are also very flexible in terms of the number of channels and – with TwinCAT Scope – are very quickly configured for data collection. “As part of the changeover to ELM measurement technology, we were able to increase the number of measurement channels due to the advantageous price. Together with optimised measurement sensor technology, we were also able to enhance the measurement quality,” explains Ellmann.

Image copyright: thyssenkrupp Presta.

Resolving the software interface bottleneck

The success of the changeover was due in no small part to the flexibility and openness of PC-based control. This was confirmed when TwinCAT was integrated into the external evaluation software – something that was required because Sutterlüty was not willing or able to dispense with the existing evaluation software from the previous manufacturer, as various departments use functions of the software. “But the TwinCAT Scope API from Beckhoff is a powerful interface for reading out the data,” says Maurus Kaelin from Sales at Beckhoff Switzerland. However, the interface of the evaluation software turned out to be a bottleneck. “We had to optimise the software interface so that the data packets could be received and analysed quickly enough,” recalls Mauersberger, who develops the software for the test rigs.

Pascal Dresselhaus, product manager TwinCAT, was on hand with his Scope development team to work with thyssenkrupp Presta and the evaluation software provider and achieve the best possible performance for the application. “Sutterlüty and his team set out their requirement for a powerful, state-of-the-art interface for data acquisition,” recalls Dresselhaus. Many TwinCAT users are familiar with TwinCAT Scope only from its integration in Microsoft Visual Studio for measurement data analysis and machine commissioning. However, in addition to the front end in the TwinCAT engineering environment, there is also an extensive programming interface (API) for TwinCAT Scope (TE1300). Especially in the .NET environment, this can be used to integrate the charts of a Scope View as a Control in your own visualisation, for example. This finalises all of the charting, including the back end with the Scope Server.

In this specific case, however, the API was not used in the conventional manner for the visual display, but instead for relaying the recorded measurement data from the ELM3604 terminals. Using sample code with sophisticated data buffers, smooth integration with the third-party software could be ensured.

The openness of the software solution was an important criterion for thyssenkrupp Presta. This was highly advantageous when it came to integrating the evaluation software and the many export formats. “All options are available, particularly those involving TwinCAT Analytics,” emphasises Dresselhaus: “We have great engineering products for data analysis with over 100 algorithms. From the cycle times of the test rigs to frequency analyses of noise development, as soon as the data is available in the Scope format svdx, TwinCAT Analytics can be used to find many needles in the data haystack.”

Global rollout under way

What began around two years ago with an initial concept is now proving itself in practice. The first systems are already in regular operation at the production plant in Hungary. Due to the results in the areas of both measurement accuracy and test speed, and the much simpler implementation and commissioning processes, the concept based on the high-end measurement technology EtherCAT Terminals will form the basis for all further acoustic measurement modules. In the future, all new acoustic test systems in the production area will be equipped with it. That is because the advantages of PC-based control are compelling, as Sutterlüty explains: “We can completely replace external measurement technology hardware.”


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