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Orchestrating design skills

ABB Automation has enjoyed extraordinary success in developing select application solutions using advanced robotics

By recognising many ways of Eplan’s advanced automation features that make electrical engineers more productive, ABB Automation adopted the advanced Eplan Electric P8 design automation platform. Its satisfaction of migration from the older Eplan 5 to Eplan Electric P8 got reflected in the experiences of the company’s Robot Automation and Products (RAP) division.

One robot alone does not yet make an automation solution. A user who wants to automate extensively requires a complete system of which the robot is only one component, even if it is the most important, covering all hardware and software and issues like safety. The complete unit has to be integrated into the customer’s overall manufacturing process. This applies both to the hardware, where the robot has to be ‘dressed’ for the particular job and the control software. In many instances, that also means modifying the control systems of other machines in the same production line so that the robot fits in seamlessly.

Application solutions

ABB Automation, based in Friedberg in the German province of Hesse, develops individual systems solutions as well as packages for defined applications employing ABB’s own robots. The RAP division and its 120 employees design and manufacture complete robot cells for the automotive and other industries. Robots can have many capabilities- welding, painting, handling, bending, riveting. They can take rough cast parts, debur and machine them. Others can handle packaging and palletising functions.

Windows-based interface is much easier making several options for automatic generation available at same time

Development in motion

Not surprisingly, the robot is also the starting point for designing process solutions at RAP. But unlike most designers, its engineers start with a functioning virtual model rather than static drawings. “We start from a 3D model that completely virtualises the motion sequences of the machine and robot,” says Marc Haarmeyer, electrical engineer. Each type of robot exists as a model in the library of ABB’s own RobotStudio software. The engineer calls up a model and enters the appropriate ambient conditions to define its operation. Time-dependent factors such as throughput and cycle time can also be simulated in the same way on RobotStudio.

Productivity enhancements

The job for the RAP electrical engineers includes planning and documenting complete electrical and electronic systems including robot programming and the PLC programming for peripheral devices. This requires inter-disciplinary collaboration. “The mechanical and electrical design teams specify the design parameters together with the project manager and regularly review progress,” says Haarmeyer. Planned upgrades for the Eplan Platform that facilitate collaboration mean that Eplan will deliver progressively greater benefits for ABB in coordinating the overall design process.

EPLAN Electric P8

As soon as ABB saw Eplan’s presentation of Electric P8, RAP division managers knew it would be a winner. The combination of graphical and object orientation along with the easy-to-handle user interface and navigators that facilitate work convinced them to upgrade to the new program, and do it immediately.

Template projects converted

Even so, the actual migration to Eplan Electric P8 was carried out with considerable care. One key task was to transfer the intellectual property stored in ABB’s existing Eplan 5 program to Eplan Electric P8. Design work for basic systems and subsystems that is used over and over again is stored as modules, or templates, so that they can be easily imported into new projects, saving a great deal of time.

As a requirement for transferring these modules to the new Eplan platform, each page had to first meet, or be adapted to meet, specific criteria defined jointly by Eplan and ABB. Subsequently, the data was converted and since then the electrical engineering team has been profiting from the advantages provided by Eplan Electric P8. Now that it’s theirs to work with, there is no shortage of automation features the engineers like. “For example, the designers find the schematic generator to be a great help that eliminates certain repetitive tasks during detail work on terminals and other components,” says Haarmeyer. He further adds, “the Windows®-based interface is much easier, while at the same time several options for automatic generation are available: Bill of materials and order lists can be generated automatically. A separate bill of materials is generated for each component in the schematic and the purchasing department receives a combined order list after design has been completed. The navigators and the mass-editing function further accelerate the project. For us, automation like this represents the future of computer-aided engineering.”

More of Eplan Electric P8

The productivity benefits will become even greater when ABB Automation’s Swedish engineering group transitions from Eplan 21 to Electric P8. Then the schematics for both the robot and the application can be developed as part of a single process. And other departments in Friedberg that have been using other electrical engineering design software, like the paint division which develops robot-supported systems solutions for painting applications, are switching to Eplan Electric P8.

To mechatronic design

For Marc Haarmeyer and his colleagues, the next steps in the automation of the engineering process are the inclusion of pneumatics design using Eplan Fluid and the use of schematic macros with defined value sets. There is also a desire in the medium term to introduce the mechatronic integration functions offered by the Eplan Engineering Center. That would align the electrical and mechanical engineering design teams even more closely, since recurrent systems such as pneumatic or electrical drives are mapped, parameterised and stored in modules accessible to different disciplines. This is functional engineering, a completely new design method that improves quality and productivity decisively and assures faster project turnaround.

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