The range of furniture available in the market today is more diverse than ever: The furniture industry caters for all conceivable requirements and preferences with regard to style and design, comfort, functionality and price. This market leaves nothing to be desired and responds to trends and fashions in a target group-specific manner. The fast pace of changing living styles and not least the competitive environment oblige furniture manufacturers to offer highly flexible product ranges. Individual production has thus become a common requirement for the furniture industry and its suppliers – naturally with maximum throughput.
Meeting these requirements represents a challenge for the machine construction and system engineering sector, because furniture manufacturers keep asking for more powerful, more flexible and more automated systems that enable them to supply top-quality products at prices in line with market requirements. The furniture production process involves a wide range of machines with different functions and stringent requirements in terms of performance and flexibility. Data management is an increasingly important factor in industrial manufacturing, both vertically (from order processing to the machine) and horizontally (between the individual machines in a production line). Machine builders have to find the right balance between top performance, low costs, optimum integration into the respective production structure and machine type, and ease of use.
There is basically only one platform that can meet all these requirements, i.e. PC-based control, which combines PLC, NC/CNC, line and camming functionality in a single hardware or maps it through software modules. The PC can easily handle tracking of parts, user interfaces, CAD/CAM user interfaces, drill optimisation, configuration tools, production data collection and local databases. Porting all functions to PC hardware also simplifies data transfer – generally via Ethernet – to the production databases and ERP systems.
The furniture industry is using this reliable and highly innovative control platform very successfully. The high scalability of the PC hardware makes this technology now also economically interesting for “low-cost” machines and enables integrated application of a single technology across all machine lines and types.
The Beckhoff product range covers the main areas of Industrial PC, I/O and fieldbus components, Drive Technology, and automation software. Product ranges that can be used as separate components or integrated into a complete and mutually compatible control system are available for all sectors. The TwinCAT software PLC and Motion Control solution is the centrepiece of the scalable and modular Beckhoff control technology. This control system provides suitable solutions for any task in woodworking with regard to computing performance, complexity and costs. Beckhoff offers controllers in all performance categories, ranging from simple applications to complex, high-performance machines.
Over the recent years the demands on communication systems for production facilities have increased significantly. While in the past a wide range of different, more or less special buses was used, these are now being replaced with a single, significantly more powerful system: EtherCAT. EtherCAT is based on Ethernet and forms the backbone of the machine. The bus cycle times of all devices, whether assigned to the PLC or a CNC, for example, are in the sub-millisecond range. This means that any limitations regarding performance, determinism, synchronicity and topology of conventional bus systems are a thing of the past. The design effort is reduced, special local, intelligent control components are replaced with simple inputs and outputs, and the system can be extended as required almost without restriction or loss of performance. A further advantage is the fact that, in most cases, Ethernet is already used at the master computer interfacing or machine networking level.
The bottom line: No matter which machine type is to be automated, the control hardware consists of an Industrial PC, EtherCAT as high-performance bus system, local I/Os and drives – everything else is mapped in software.