Drives & Controls November/December 2023

n TECHNOLOGY November/December 2023 18 BECKHOFF HAS UNVEILED a new generation of its TwinCat motion control technology that takes advantage of the latest multi-core and multitasking processing technologies to overcome some of the limitations of earlier generations. At the SPS exhibition in Germany, the company also demonstrated how it is using chatbots to simplify engineering. Beckhoff has been selling its TwinCat software control platform for more than 25 years and more than half of all applications involve motion control, But, until now, these applications have been limited to a single processor core and could only execute a single task at a time. Applications using the previous NC2 generation have also been limited to a maximum of 255 axes. With the new modular MC3 generation, these limitations no longer apply. The software can be distributed to several CPU cores with movements synchronised across all of the cores. In addition, axes can operate on the same CPU core with different cycle times, depending on their speed and function. This optimises the use of the core because the fastest axis no longer sets the rate for all of the others. There is no longer any limit to the number of axes that can be controlled. TwinCat MC3 can operate in parallel with earlier NC2 systems, and MC3 axes can be coupled to existing NC2 axes. This means that new machine components can be added without having to adapt existing components. Also at SPS, Beckhoff was showing the latest capabilities of its TwinCAT Chat bot that it announced at the Hannover Fair earlier this year. Large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT from OpenAI can now be used to develop projects in the TwinCat XAE engineering environment, simplifying various aspects from control programming to corporate management. For automation engineers, LLMs could revolutionise the development process by generating and completing code automatically, thus saving time. They can also create personal tutorials and help to solve problems. The models can also be used to transfer knowledge in organisations. They can act as a central knowledge base, storing information and making it available when needed. Another potential role is to relieve pressure on support teams by acting as the first point of contact for customer inquiries. Beckhoff says that TwinCat Chat offers benefits over using ChatGPT in a Web browser. For example, it greatly simplifies the development process, by integrating communications and code exchange. Beckhoff has tailored the LLM initialisation specifically to TwinCat requests. You can ask it questions and don’t need to tell the model that you are using TwinCat, or that you expect code in Structured Text. The generated code can be transferred easily, saving time and avoiding errors that can occur when moving code manually. Simple pre-tested one-click requests can be used to improve workflows. Beckhoff is working on new uses for TwinCat Chat, including creating HMI controls automatically, and as an interface for documents. AT THE RECENT SPS show, ABB demonstrated a technology that offers a simple way to digitise AF contactors and motor starters and provide information about their loads. The Novolink system can be integrated easily with existing wiring and contactors, which can continue to be used. The system can be retrofitted at any time. The system uses a smart gateway, based on the OPC UA open communications standard, that allows manufacturer-independent integration with most modern control systems. It increases availability and cuts operating costs by reducing planned and unplanned downtime through predictive maintenance. Remote access to machine data opens up new opportunities for preventative and demand-based maintenance and provides the basis for data analysis and new business models. The system can collect data such as current and voltage as well as providing performance data, energy consumption figures, and diagnostic and maintenance information. The modules can be integrated with the Automation Studio software from ABB’s B&R subsidiary and, via OPC UA, with any PLC or higher-level system. “Novolink modules address the key challenges of the industry: digitalisation and energy efficiency,” explains ABB’s head of mechanical engineering segment support, Sven Glöckler. “This solution, which is particularly suitable for retrofits and modernisations, creates a bridge from conventional switching technology to the world of Industry 4.0 via an OPC UA interface. “This allows seamless integration into system solutions from all third-party providers,” he continues. “The comprehensive data availability offers users the opportunity to implement new maintenance concepts, increase their operational efficiency and, at the same time, optimise energy consumption.” Technology creates bridge from motor switches to the digital world Next-gen multi-core motion control avoids earlier limitations The latest version of Beckhoff’s TwinCat motion control technology takes advantage of multi-core and multitasking technologies