Special to the web by Loren Shaum, ComTec
LEAVE IT to the Germans to do things right! In a very short time, SPS/IPC/Drives exhibit and conference arguably has become the most important global show for factory automation. Originally dominated by German companies, exhibitors at this year's show -- held Nov. 22-24, 2005 in Nurenberg, Germany -- now originate from more than 30 countries, including approximately 170 or more companies from outside Germany. In spite of Germany’s current economy funk, virtually every automation company from Germany, 37 exhibitors from Italy, 35 from Switzerland and 20 from Austria were present. Further, there were several Asian companies, including two from China.
As of closing on November 24, attendance was projected to surpass last year by more than 15%. However, my observations indicate that perhaps 90% or more were from German speaking countries. In talking with show attendees and exhibitors that did speak English, it was hard to estimate the number of machinery builder attendees as compared to supplier and end-user attendees. By all indications, users dominated attendance.
The confusing hall layout was simplified by maintaining a technology focus for each hall; however, there still seemed to be a bit of overlap.Two halls focused on electric drives and motion control, another two on control technologies and sensors, another two on control and interface technologies, and one hall each on mechanical systems and software and sensors.
The conference focused on three themes: Ethernet in Automation; Safety and Security in Automation; and Motion Control. One had to be very proficient in one or more of the German dialects to get anything from the conference presentations, although there were three presentations in English. None of those, however, were highly attended -- except for a number of Asians attending the session entitled “Doing Business in the U.S.”
Nearly 30,000 people attended this year's show in Nuremberg, Germany.
The Ethernet frenzy in Europe seems to have everyone participating in some fashion. At least 14 different types of Ethernet protocol were noted at SPS. With all these variations promoted by suppliers to advance their hardware offerings, it’s clear to this reporter that there never will be a universal Ethernet standard except for the physical connectivity.
Each Ethernet player touted its respective protocol virtues, as compared to all others. Two protocols that seemed to standout were EtherCat via Germay-based Beckhoff, and Ethernet Powerlink via Bernecker+Rainer Industrie-Elektronik of Austria (known as B&R Automation in North America). Both had huge booths and showed distributed control solutions on their respective hardware platforms throughout.
Beckhoff announced that the EtherCat Technology Group, which displayed in a separate booth, now has 241 members from 26 countries. Interestingly, from a global perspective, Beckhoff and B&R are still considered Tier 2 automation suppliers when compared to Rockwell Automation, Siemens, GE Fanuc, or Schneider Electric.
Clearly, with all these Ethernet protocols available, confusion in the market reigns, especially with machine builders. Because of all the options, many are not considering an Ethernet-based distributed control solution unless a customer demands a specific type (of protocol). It is hard to standardize, when Rockwell has one version, others have their own, and Siemens and Schneider currently support only the Modbus version.
Also of note: virtually all control suppliers that offer a motion control product are presenting themselves as the optimum and complete solution provider for machine builders. Besides the Tier 1 suppliers mentioned -- and Beckhoff and B&R -- Bosch Rexroth, Parker, Jetter and National Instruments all touted their respective machine automation solutions. With single-brand solutions being a significant trend in Europe, how much pressure will be placed on the North American machine builder to use a brand solution over a “best-of-breed” solution where better cost and functionality is often the re sult?
Also of interest to mac hine builders was the multi-technology solutions demonstrated by both Bosch Rexroth and Festo. Both offered mechatronic solutions with integrated pneumatics. Festo went so far as to impressively display a completely automated cell using mechatronic products integrated with various pneumatic functions. In an apparent attempt to better match-up with Bosch and Parker, Festo demonstrated various servo products and even a small linear motor.
Omron received much attention by displaying a completely functional packaging machine operating with the new Omron standalone motion controller, Trajexia. This new controller is the first significant motion solution offered by Omron. With all major motion features included, and the ability to control and synchronize up to 16 axes, this controller will have an impact on current machine builders using Omron PLC and HMI products as an alternative motion control solution. Omron has a chance for an entire brand solution. This machine also incorporatedeight YET (a 50-50 partnership between Yaskawa Electric Japan and Eshed Technology, a Robo Group Company in Israel) servo drives as part of the motion solution. Of all the new hardware offerings I saw throughout the show, this new product seemed to be the most compelling.
SPS/IPC/Drives is definitely the dominant global automation happening and should continue to grow. With nearly 30,000 people attending this venue (as many or more that attends IMTS in nine days), expect SPS/IPC/Drives to continue to be the show to be at. For machine builders, this show offers an opportunity to pick and choose optimum solutions.
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