Motion Control & Drives

One machine control over EtherCAT

February 2019 Motion Control & Drives

Manufacturing is changing. Production lines need to be increasingly flexible to cope with shorter production runs, more varied products and tighter deadlines. Manufacturers are addressing these challenges with more advanced, interconnected and intelligent systems that can be programmed to handle a variety of tasks.

This has brought new challenges, such as how to program all these devices without needing to learn many different systems and programming languages. Fortunately, there are tools out there such as Omron’s Sysmac Studio that offer fully integrated development environments (IDE) for configuration, programming, monitoring and 3D simulations. The machine controller used comes standard with built-in EtherCAT.

The EtherCAT network can be accessed with one connection and is the perfect match between fast real-time machine control and data plant management.

”One machine control over EtherCAT through one connection and one software is how we define Omron’s Sysmac automation platform,” notes Omron product manager, Evert Janse van Vuuren. Omron’s EtherCAT solutions include products for logic, motion, safety, robotics, vision, information, visualisation and networking, all under one software.

Accurate positional information over EtherCAT

Recently, Omron partnered with an OEM, one of the top three end of line machine solution providers in Africa, to install a system at a multinational end user plant. The customer required an automated solution to the current manual packing method currently being used. It was suggested by the Omron product manager that the company should deploy Omron Delta robots to pick and place the bottles from a moving puck conveyor and precisely pack the bottles onto a moving tray.

With no vision system being used, it was decided to use two servo systems for feedback on the position of the trays and the pucks.

“The robots synchronise with latched positional data from both the puck and the tray conveyor systems and pick and place relying on the accurate positional information coming from the EtherCAT network,” explains Janse van Vuuren.

The pick and place robotics machine is one of five smart machines that complete this specific line. The bottles are filled, labelled and inspected before the Omron robotics system pick and place the filled bottles into pack trays. The final product is filled roll-on bottles that are shrink wrapped at the last machine in sets of six, to be transported to the distribution facility, from where it is sent to various selling points.

What makes this so remarkable is the seamless integration between Sysmac and EtherCAT that results in the extraordinary speed and accuracy of the system, which provides a complete automated solution to the packaging of bottles, directly from the tray, after being filled.

For this specific project, three Delta robots were used, each having three EtherCAT servo axes controlled as a group. The communications network used between the servo axes and the master robotics controller is EtherCAT.

“At Omron, EtherCAT is used because of its network speed,” concludes Janse van Vuuren. “EtherCAT offers high speed communications between the master controller and actuators or sensors, which is crucial in motion control and robotic applications.”


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