PC enables links to QC software

Utilizing Beckhoff Automation’s PC-based controls in its designs, Echo Hill offers its customers simple and flexible connectivity to enterprise systems.

By Dan Hebert, PE, senior technical editor

Echo Hill Automation is based in Beamsville, Ontario and manufactures centerless grinding machines for Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to the automotive industry. Echo Hill machines are frequently used for grinding high-precision mechanical parts used in the assembly of automotive transmissions.

Its Tactic 8 machine has an advanced-parts validation system with measurement tolerances within the micron level. Utilizing Beckhoff Automation’s PC-based controls in its designs, Echo Hill offers its customers simple and flexible connectivity to enterprise systems. An example of such an application can be found in the collection of quality control data.

Learn more with the main story: How to link machine controls to IT systems

Thorrez Industries, one of Echo Hill’s customers, uses this connectivity to enable its machine controller to write the quality validation data of each part to QC software installed on the PC-based controller. The QC software is Prolink QC Calc Realtime, and the data moves one way, from the machine control logic to the QC software, and from there to the plant IT network.

“We wrote code so that a txt file in the correct format is written to the hard drive of the controller after every part measurement,” says Dan Schellenberg, an engineer at Echo Hill. “The QC software automatically opens the file, reads it and deletes it. Since the controller is PC-based, the QC calc database files are saved on a network-accessible drive. We installed the optional Beckhoff windows file function blocks, so opening, modifying and saving text file is relatively straightforward,” adds Schellenberg.

“We also can access our machines remotely, using PC-based InduSoft Web Studio HMI software to connect to the machine controller. For some customers, we use a VPN connection, and for others we use Logmein. In both cases, the customer can share the HMI screen with us, which has a chat function, so we can discuss issues and suggest solutions. We can also see the actual computer code and fix things without having to make a service call to the site,” explains Schellenberg.

“The Beckhoff hardware and software, being PC-based, makes machine to IT integration possible at a very low cost. Probably the next step for us would be to use MTConnect as a standard format to provide information to higher-level computing systems. Ideally, hardware and software suppliers would support this neutral format so that it would gain enough market share and reach a critical mass and drive down cost such that everyone would use it,” concludes Schellenberg.

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