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Motion control design trends drive convergence of engineering and IT

Oct. 22, 2021
Managing editor Anna Townshend is joined by Paul Bocchi, general manager of ANCA Motion

Anna Townshend, managing editor of Control Design, discusses today's motion technology trends with ANCA Motion's general manager Paul Bocchi. Bocchi explains how ANCA Motion is managing these trends in its product development as well as what they mean for the future of the automation industry.


Anna Townshend: Hello and welcome to today's episode of Control Intelligence. I'm Anna Townshend, managing editor of Control Design and your host for today's podcast. In this episode, I'm joined by Paul Bocchi, general manager of ANCA Motion. We'll be discussing motion control technology trends, and what they mean for product development at ANCA, and the future of the automation industry.

Hi Paul, thanks for joining me today.

Paul Bocchi: Good afternoon, Anna. Good morning over here, but, yeah, thanks for having me on.

Anna: So, today, we'll be talking about motion control technology trends and how that's affected your company specifically and the industry as a whole. Before we dive into some of those product and industry trends, why don't you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about your company. How about some key things, machine builders, system integrators, or manufacturers should know about your organization?

Paul: Firstly, we are a motion control company. We specialize in CNC control, particularly in market segments such as high-speed laser cutting, and high-precision 5-axis grinding applications. And we've been involved in CNC for over 40 years. We're headquartered in Australia, but we have a global presence through our ANCA offices all around the world in all key regions.

We design, manufacture and support all of our major components that ranges from our servo drives and HMI. We have a range of tubal linear motors. Again, it's design and manufactured by ourselves, and, of course it's all the software, which makes it work.

Anna: Okay. Thanks for that introduction. Well, let's talk some more about some of the technologies that you mentioned. Specifically, what new technology is driving product development for you guys and why?

Paul: So, as a CNC company, we mainly deal with machine tools. CNC is largely applied to machine tools. And machine tools is all about productivity. And, if we talk about productivity, we're talking about things such as efficiency, accuracy, repeatability, and certainly reliability.

So, we're always driven to improve speed and responsiveness and energy efficiency, and, of course, automation plays a key part of that. So, if we talk about examples of what's driving our product development, an example is in laser cutting. Where, over the last several years, there's been advances in high-power fiber lasers, which is really pushing the speed of how quickly you can cut metal.

And, of course, to do that, you need a capable CNC system. So, when we talk about a capable CNC system, as an example, we're talking about a system that can respond very quickly to a machine dynamic. And, to do that, we need to adopt modern market processes with lots of capability to do processing. And when dealing with such dynamic systems, we also need to focus on energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is increasingly becoming important.

So, an example of how we're improving that area is we're starting to utilize high-efficiency silicon carbide power semiconductors, again, in our hardware design specifically, in our servo drives as they are much more efficient. And, of course, automation capability is a key element here. And automation has a broad scope. It can be automation of machine configuration, commissioning to process automation traditionally, such as part loading using robots or other mechanical systems.

And, under all of that, there are some key trends, really capabilities, which support a lot of those other things which I just mentioned. And some of these key trends are elements such as IoT and big data. And, these capabilities can be utilized to support these other elements in many ways by capturing, communicating and analyzing data from a wide range of feedback either from our hardware or other sensors. And we can use that to make the process more efficient and more productive by utilizing machine learning, for example, to improve the process, or do things such as provide advanced diagnostics, or prognostics looking at whether there's something that might go wrong in the machine.

Anna: Great. It's interesting. I think faster and more efficient components are a trend you see across the industry. Every component wants better data, more analytics to make better use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Can we talk a little bit more about how IIoT figures into your business strategy?

Paul: Yeah, sure. As a CNC system provider, we mainly act as an IoT enabler. So, you know, in our core system, we provide those capabilities, to gather and communicate the data, again, from a wide range of devices. So we can gather information on things such as temperatures, whether it's motor temperatures or other elements in the machines, motor currents, machine axis positions, vibration, hot measurements, again, a wide range of things. And we can do that at very high speed as well, depending on the information that we're looking to collect.

And, as mentioned, these can be utilized for things such as advanced diagnostics and machine learning, integration back to the MES systems, and even development of digital twins. But, I guess, apart from being an enabler of these core technologies to enable of these, our real challenge is to find new and innovative ways to actually utilize these capabilities to solve real-world problems. And, in this respect, it's often our customers or the process experts in our key markets, again, in the specific machine tool application.

So a key strategy for us is to work with our customers because our customers understand their problems first, and we have to work alongside them and provide the capabilities to solve their problems. So, our roadmaps already included a lot of these key feature or key developments, but certainly I expect or I know from looking at our roadmaps that these are at the top of the capabilities that we are continuing to develop. It's a strong trend in the market expectation.

Anna: So, what does that mean for staffing in the future? Also, considering some of the other trends we've discussed in terms of faster more efficient components and the rise of IoT, ultimately, how will machine automation and controls affect the way companies staff their operations in the future?

Paul: Yeah. I've been involved in the space for over 20 years now, and I've seen a lot of progress in the market, in the machine tool space, particularly around automation. You know, once upon a time, there'd be a one operator per machine and maybe dedicated to a machine, and just always in front of the machine operating. Whereas now we see that one operator can cater to many machines.

So, obviously, what's becoming a lot more commonplace is the notion of lights out manufacturing, no operators, and also a strong push for unmanned small batch production, and that's more of a challenge, because we're not talking about high volume manufacturing there. We're talking about small batches where traditionally the set up time is a limiting factor or a little bit expensive factor. So, we're seeing a lot more automation in that space as well, a strong drive to automate that. We can see now there's a lot more integration with ERP systems. With an ERP system, we'll allow job scheduling, and through automated processes, we'll allow raw material to be delivered where it's required.

So, again, processes traditionally requiring operators are becoming less commonplace, things such as off-machine measurement and compensation can now be done automatically. And all that can be fed back and integrated into an MES-type of system for better process control. So, the way that I see, the way the industry is going, is that the goal really is to use the machine tool assets effectively, like a printer. Where, in the ERP system, you can schedule your jobs, and you press print, and the parts or components, whatever it is that is being manufactured, is automatically sent off to the machine and manufactured with as little operator involvement possible.

So, I guess, to circle back to your question, how is that going to change staffing, there's obviously an increased trend for reduced requirement for manual operators. And, I think that these will be more and more replaced by automation engineers.

Anna: Yeah. I'm pretty sure our readers and listeners would be happy to have increasing levels of automation drive, the need for more controls engineers for sure, especially, with the industry trends impacting hardware innovation and the push toward software solutions. So, you talked a little bit about this movement already, but can you talk more about how the development of software solutions is impacting requirements for hardware?

Paul: Yeah. So we are operating now in an environment where that information gathering, that connectivity, that analytics at some level is becoming increasingly expected, and certainly more commonplace. So, how does that affect our hardware design? Well, we need to make sure that we'll include these capabilities in our hardware designs, and that may require more sensors to be embedded into our devices, to make sure that there are mechanisms for feedback. Again, I mentioned some of them before, whether it's around motor currents or temperatures or things like that.

And, in some cases, we do need to process the starter at some level. And so we need more micro processing capabilities in our devices as well. And, apart from that, we also need to make sure that we implement the communication protocols to communicate to that wider ecosystem, because that connectivity is more or more required as we become a more connected world.

Anna: Yeah. So, we're definitely seeing this convergence of engineering and IT across the industry. And, you've talked a little bit already about how this has influenced product design and innovations that your company is doing right now. But, let's jump a little bit to the future, and can you talk a little bit about which one, engineering or IT, is or will be leading the direction of future automation and technology?

Paul: Yeah, sure. I believe that the analogy of the evolution of the mobile phone is a good example here, in the context of the question. Where many years ago, a mobile phone had very little functionality other than serving as a phone, it's now evolved into a portable computing and communication device, and it's obviously, significantly more functional and versatile than mobile devices from 10, 20 years ago. So, it's a good example, a good analogy there, because where the software capabilities drove the hardware development of the mobile phone, so too we'll see these enabling technologies and capabilities such as those relating to IoT, lead to system and hardware development.

Anna: Where would we all be without our cell phones? That's a great analogy, and one that I think everyone can relate to. So, looking even further into the future, how will technology change your organization and others maybe over the next five years or so?

Paul: So, yeah, very broad question, and difficult question to answer. But, certainly, we work in a high technology space and over the years, there is a change in the face of technology. It has had a profound effect on not just the products that we develop, but also our own internal operations. So, some of these are planned and anticipated and others really are not. And, I think, an example of the latter is COVID and it's quite a dramatic example of a unanticipated change.

So, COVID had acted as a catalyst in the development and adoption of new ways of working, and it certainly has accelerated manufacturers to automate their processes. I believe, we're in software and IT-related product development; we're already becoming increasingly represented in our own roadmaps, and I certainly expect that to continue. Our software capabilities will continue to grow in importance in terms of our key differentiator. And, as that continues to grow, it might even have the potential to change the fundamental business model.

Anna: Well, great. Thank you so much Paul, for your time and for your insights into motion control technology trends, IoT trends, and the future of automation and controls.

Paul: Thank you very much, Anna.

Anna: Thanks to all our listeners for tuning in today to Control Intelligence, the podcast for Control Design magazine. Thanks, of course, to Paul Bocchi, our expert today from ANCA Motion for his insights into new technology trends, and how the industrial Internet of Things is influencing product innovation and the future of automation.

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