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Machine controls represent 400 engineer-years of development

25 October, 2011

Omron has revealed more details about its new generation of EtherCat-based machine controllers, ahead of its public debut at the SPS/IPC/Drives show in Germany in November.

The new Sysmac (System for Machine Automation Control) platform can control up to 64 axes, with a response time of less than 1ms for 32-axis systems. It is based on 1.6GHz Intel Atom processors, rather than custom chips (Asics), and integrates PLC, motion control, networking and vision functions.

The new platform (above) has been developed over a period of more than two years by a team of around 100 software engineers – half of them based at Omron’s European software development centre in Southampton, UK – and 100 hardware engineers.

At its heart is the Sysmac NJ 501 controller which uses a flexible, scalable software-based architecture instead of a conventional Asic-based one. “We have made a bold step into the world of PC automation, while retaining the reliability and robustness of an Omron industrial controller,” declares Shinya Yamasaki, senior general manager of Omron’s automation systems division.

The other key element is the Sysmac Studio software, which integrates graphical configuration, programming, simulation and monitoring functions. Machine and motion programming, based on IEC 1131-3 and PLCopen function blocks, are said to be much faster than previous systems. A 3D simulation environment is included for developing and testing motion profiles, such as cams and complex kinematics, and for visualising the behaviour of axes.

Omron has developed all of the software in-house, including a new soft-PLC core which, it claims, is faster than any comparable PLC. This is integrated with a soft-motion core so that logic and motion functions are effectively handled as one task by one program, rather than by separate CPUs. Machine vision functions are similarly integrated: “Vision becomes part of the machine,” says Omron’s software marketing manager, James Riley.

After comparing various networking technologies, Omron has chosen 100Mb/s EtherCat as its machine network and says it can handle up to 192 slaves with a refresh time of 100µs and less than 1µs of jitter. A distributed slave clock mechanism, in which the same message carries both command and response data from slave devices, is said to deliver accurate multi-axis synchronisation. Slave addresses are assigned automatically, simplifying setups.

Omron says that the new Sysmac platform will be its key automation product for the next five years, at least. The first components are available now.

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