Motion control is the automation technology needed to move machine parts in a controlled manner. A well-designed system can vastly improve overall application performance, resulting in faster production times, more accurate load placement, and enhanced worker safety, for example. System design is a mixture of science and art, bringing together all the elements in just the right configuration to achieve application objectives.
Key Parts of a Motion Control System
The controller provides operating instructions to a servo system based on programmed directives or input from an operator. It generates motion paths for the device and responds to any changes in the environment. The controller can range from a binary on/off switch to an advanced microprocessor monitoring all input and output.
Common controllers include:
Microcontrollers: These small, inexpensive computers maintain their instructions in on-board memory. They incorporate sensors, switches, and other devices for gathering input into their feedback loops, and typically require an experienced programmer.
Programmable Logic Controllers: PLCs have been a standby in motion control since the 1960s. Although more expensive than microcontrollers, they offer sophisticated programming and native integration with I/O modules.
Motion Controllers: These purpose-built devices focus exclusively on the challenges around motion control applications. They are typically PC-based, with a graphical user interface for optimizing the system without much manual programming.
The drive is the link between the system’s motor and its controller. Drives translate low-energy signals that originate with the controller into high-power signals for the motor itself. Modern drives typically use four-quadrant architecture, allowing them to regenerate and drive motors in either direction. Drives handle all feedback, such as encoders, tachometers, and resolvers.
The actuator, which provides energy for moving the load, is one of the most important parts of the system. System designers must balance the need for power, speed, precision, and of course, cost-effectiveness when choosing actuator technology. Hydraulic and pneumatic actuators are more traditional, which electro-mechanical devices are fairly innovative by today’s standards.
In an electro-mechanical system, the actuator is a motor, which can be brushed or brushless. The purpose of the motor is to convert the drive’s voltage and current into the necessary mechanical action. Both rotary and linear types are available. With about eight common designs to choose from, selection of a motor has major implications for the rest of the system.
Motion control systems share many similarities, but the right design approach can make a major performance difference. An optimized system brings immense versatility and power to any application.
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