Software-Based Machine Controller - A3200

Design Features

  • Broad motion capabilities include: point-to-point; circular, helical, linear, and spherical interpolation; velocity profiling; on-the-fly trajectory modification; electronic gearing; high speed I/O; camming
  • 1 to 32 axes of scalable, synchronized motion
  • Utilizes the power of the PC to exclude the motion control card
  • Uses commercially available FireWire determinism for communications between controller and drives
  • Runs brushless servo, brush, stepper or voice coil
  • Programmable in native RS-274 G-code, C, C++/CLI, .NET, MATLAB, AeroBasic command set, or LabVIEW for flexibility

Aerotech’s revolutionary motion, vision, robotics and I/O platform, the A3200 (or Automation 3200), is used in a number of applications in semiconductor, medical laser processing, automotive, data storage, and machine tool industries. The system comprises a high-performance, software-only motion controller (Nmotion® SMC) that provides 32 axes of synchronized motion control. It is the successor to Aerotech’s performance-leading and extensively utilized UNIDEX 500 and 600 PC-based motion controllers. The Nmotion® SMC retains the finest features of these earlier motion controllers and integrates them with an advanced, high-performance distributed control architecture to create a truly high-tech motion, vision, robotics, and I/O platform.

The A3200 digital automation system signifies a ground-breaking advancement over traditional PC-bus-based motion controllers. The A3200 is software-based (PC slots not required) and marries a powerful, high-performance motion engine with vision, robotics and I/O in a single unified programming environment. The A3200 employs the industry standard FireWire® (IEEE-1394) network to provide from 1 to 32 axes of synchronized control without any degradation in performance as the axis count increases.

The incorporation of many common automation tools into one platform provides users the ability to integrate, develop, and maintain the system faster, with lesser cost than in the past. For example, coupling the vision module with the motion system that manages a cutting process (laser, mill, drill etc.) provides the ability to identify the workpiece and its position, and to alter the position and signal to the cutter all within a single system. This integration radically decreases wiring and the necessary components, which not only cuts integration and setup cost but also boosts reliability.

The Automation 3200 addresses a key shortcoming of present-day multi-axis controllers: as axes are integrated, performance distinctly degrades as either the program execution time or the servo update time increases. The Automation 3200 utilizes a distributed control architecture that enables it to maintain performance autonomous of the number of axes being regulated. It achieves this by avoiding the processing blockage caused by present-day common single processor control architecture. Position, current loop closure, and velocity are handled by Aerotech’s Intelligent Network Drive. Trajectory generation is accomplished on the PC using a real-time operating system that functions with higher priority than Windows®. The PC launches programs and transmits the position commands to the Ndrive via the FireWire® high-speed serial bus.

All of the outer signals including encoder and I/O are fed straight into the drive, allowing a single cable to be used between the drive and the PC. Drives are networked together using a single cable.

In developing the Automation 3200, Aerotech planned that its next generation controller must overcome the inadequacies of the traditional ±10 V network interface. While still feasible for a number of applications, ±10 V has limitations, mainly when multifaceted motion control is involved such as is typical in various Aerotech applications. For instance, noise coupling onto the analog signals can cause variability in the servo loop that prevents high-system bandwidth. Furthermore, with the ±10 V command, the controller does not have information of how well the existing loops are monitoring. With these and other inadequacies, it was determined that the next generation controller had to utilize a high-speed serial interface.

Digital networks, such as RS-232 and Ethernet, are extensively used in several different industries. Other newer networks such as USB and FireWire® are becoming progressively popular. For instance, virtually all new computers currently have these interfaces as standard.

With a range of digital networks available, Aerotech prepared a list of criteria that the Automation 3200 network interface had to possess. The following list specifies the main criteria Aerotech used to eventually select FireWire® and why those criteria were thought to be vital.

Criteria FireWire SynqNet Ethernet USB SERCOS CAN
Deterministic Yes Yes No No Yes No
Data Rate 3.2 Gbps 200 Mbps 1 Gbps 480 Mbps 16 Mbps 1 Mbps
Standard on PCs Yes No Yes Yes No No
Windows Support Yes No Yes Yes No No
Self ID Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Topology Tree Ring Tree Tree Ring Tree
Peer-to-Peer Yes NA Yes No No Yes


SynqNet™ is a registered trademark of Motion Engineering.
FireWire® is a registered trademark of Apple Computer.

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