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Expanding manufacturer used servo to drive exports

22 December 2011

Scarborough’s Firmac is leading the resurgent UK manufacturing industry by exporting an innovative modular duct forming and stacking machine. The system has been developed with the first UK use of the Mitsubishi MR-MQ100 single axis motion controller to be used on a 1500mm flying shear, to Oman.

With the UK market for the supply of new machinery within the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) sector slowing Firmac Ltd (www.firmac.co.uk) decided on a bold move designed to punch through the downturn and open up new markets in the Middle East. But as well as the commercial thrust, technical innovations were needed to address demands new to Firmac’s engineers.

Controls manager Gregg Firth explains: “Until a couple of years ago we made a standard range of duct forming machinery, but we wanted to diversify into larger machines and ancillary equipment that could be sold as a complete system to companies setting up new workshops within the industry. These would be much more suitable for export beyond Europe to the booming markets of the Middle East and Asia where state of the art buildings with complex HVAC installations are needed to fuel their rapid development.”

So while the sales teams were forging new relationships far afield, the directors were busy moving the company to larger premises and recruiting 10 extra staff, while the engineering team were pushing the envelope of design technology. High on the agenda for the engineers was the development of the 1500mm flying shear, which while offering world class performance would be simple for local assemble and robust for long term reliability.

“We called in Gary Hatfield from Mitsubishi Automation, knowing this would give us access to some of the best specialist machine designers in the country,” says Gregg. “Sure enough they had an imaginative solution for our flying shear drive. I had assumed that we’d need a complete control platform of a PLC and motion controller to do the job. However, Gary had a better idea, which was neater, simpler and addressed the competitive cost pressures we were meeting.”

In fact Gary suggested using the MR-MQ100 single axis controller. This could synchronise shears to a separate encoder or virtual axis with no additional controller hardware.

While the MR-MQ100 is an economical solution, it isn’t lacking in features. A complete range of essential functions are available, including encoder and virtual axis synchronisation, registration, point to point positioning and user defined cam profiles. In addition, the hardware complements these powerful software features with built-in I/O and SSCNET III motion networking capability as well as an Ethernet port.

Gary: “I could see Gregg liked the idea of the MR-MQ100, but what really swung it was its use of SSCNET III, Mitsubishi's simple but rugged optical fibre motion network. A single connection is all that's needed to provide full communication and control over all functions of the MR-J3B servo amplifier regardless of capacity. Not only was this going to reduce hardware costs, it was also going aid successful installation.”

Alex Birtwistle was the lead electrical engineer on the project who programmed the motion system. He was impressed with the intuitive MT Developer 2 software that replaces abstract programming with graphical models of the actual mechanical system. “It's easy to create virtual clutches, gears and cam profiles by simple drag and drop selection,” explains Gary.

Firmac also used Mitsubishi drives on other concepts of the machine. An inverter controlled Infeed drive provided the decoiling and levelling of the sheet metal before a transfer table, placed after the flying shear, moved the notched ducts to a 2 axis servo controlled stacking unit.

“It was an easy decision to go all-Mitsubishi,” says Gregg. “One advantage was that we could set all the drives together in master-slave mode and ensure synchonicity across all the modules in an instance. It also means we know our machines can be serviced and supported wherever they end up in the world. I’d also like to thank all the Mitsubishi technical support personnel who have helped us throughout the project.”

For further information, please contact Amaechi Oduah:

Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V. Automation Systems Division
, Automation Systems Divisions, Travellers Lane, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL10 8XB Tel: 01707 276100 Fax: 01707 278695  Web: http://automationsolutions.mitsubishielectric.co.uk Email: automation@meuk.mee.com
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