Dr Julia Duwe, Festo’s head of future motion solutions management, who led the project, predicts that the development will “turn pneumatics upside-down”. The new platform, she says, combines mechanics, electronics, control engineering and software. The on-board apps will give users “the possibility of both registering the condition of their systems in real time, and of modifying their functions,” thus adapting flexibly to suit applications.
The VTEM’s programmability eliminates the need for numerous hardware components, as well as simplifying the engineering of pneumatic installations. Separate valves, pressure sensors and pressure regulators are no longer needed – reducing installation space by up to 65%. The on-board apps perform functions ranging from basic directional control to proportional behaviour and setting motion profiles. They are configured via a Web browser or machine controller.
Initially, the system will come with ten apps, and more are in the pipeline. One app will limit the pneumatic force to a digitally-chosen level to suit its application. Another will minimise compressed air consumption, resulting in energy savings of up to 70% compared to standard operation. A third app will provide a soft-stop function without needing shock absorbers.
Further energy savings come from the use of piezo valves which need up to 99% less energy to operate than solenoid valves. A diagnostics app which detects air leakages is said to cut air consumption by up to 70%.
When modifying an installation, engineers will no longer need to carry out intricate hardware modifications to lots of components. OEMs will therefore be able to adapt their designs quickly and economically to tailor them to the needs of individual customers, as well as being able to cut delivery times. The OEM’s know-how will be protected because it impossible to tell from the outside which functions the valves are executing.
Stroke and pressure sensors built into the terminal will supply operating data in real time and give insights into the system’s internal processes. A “virtual production documentation” facility will issue warnings about wear or parameters that are diverging from their expected values.
Users will be able to access VTEMs remotely via the Internet, and to modify production orders during operation, without needing to reconfigure the system. This will help to achieve the Industry 4.0 goal of batch sizes as small as single items. So, for example, the same installation will be able to fill packages of differing sizes.
The flexibility of the new technology means that users will able to come up with new designs for platforms and modules. Festo suggests that this could lead to previously inconceivable approaches to manufacturing. “We have created an automation platform that integrates all functions, so that adaptive and flexible production becomes economically feasible,” says Alfred Goll, a spokesman for Festo’s management board. “And we have revolutionised pneumatics in the process!”
The Festo Motion Terminal will make its public debut at the 2017 Hannover Fair, before going on sale in the second half of the year. Festo has set up two new dedicated production lines to cater for the expected demand for the new technology.