High-profile extruder control
In the past, Hans Weber Maschinenfabrik GmbH only used PCs to run the HMI applications for its machine automation. A powerful and reliable box PC from B&R – the Automation PC 910 – has now allowed the machine manufacturer to develop a whole new generation of machine controllers. These provide exceptionally user-friendly operation on a touch screen display from B&R.
A glance at the new DS 9 twin screw extruder from Hans Weber Maschinenfabrik GmbH is all it takes to notice: The user interface designed by the machine manufacturer from Kronach, Germany is a masterpiece.
The first thing that catches your eye is its generous 21-inch display, which is easy to read from a distance and allows for optimal presentation of the machine's status and processes. As you look closer, you notice the informative icons, clean organization and attractive design of the user interface, which appeals to the taste of even the most demanding smartphone user.
"We accomplished our goal of creating a modern and ergonomic HMI solution that is as easy to read and convenient to operate as the ones we're familiar with from tablets and smartphones," explains Michael Weber, Weber's managing director in charge of extruder machine sales, with visible pride. "In doing so, we've also greatly increased our brand recognition."
To those responsible for the project, it was clear from the very beginning that a superior user interface would only be at home on world-class hardware. "The Automation Panel 830 from B&R, with its 16:9 format and Full HD resolution, is the ideal hardware platform for us," argues Weber software expert Gerd Brief, who developed the new control and visualization solution.
"B&R was one of the first companies to offer an industrial-grade panel like this at a reasonable price," he continues, "and they were also willing and able to customize the electronics and housing with illuminated ring keys to create the design we were looking for."
Developers at Hans Weber Maschinenfabrik GmbH programmed both the HMI and control applications using B&R's Automation Studio software. They were particularly impressed with one advantage: The HMI application has direct access to variables in the control program. This makes it fast and easy to implement communication between them.
Brief programmed the HMI and control applications using Automation Studio and was pleasantly surprised with the performance: "The great thing about this integrated engineering environment is that the HMI has direct access to the variables in the control program," says Brief. For the first time, he didn't have to bother with communication between the HMI and control applications. "Communication has gotten considerably simpler and faster," Brief adds.
Latency in data exchange is particularly pronounced in coextrusion processes with multiple extruders and one central controller. With the new control architecture, these delays are a thing of the past – even for the most complex extrusion lines.
The HMI application runs on an Automation PC 910, B&R's flagship industrial PC. Its Intel® Core™ i-series processor with an integrated graphics unit offers sufficient computing and graphics performance for even complex image processing and process visualization applications. The same device handles not only visualization of the extruder process, but also the control application and an SQL database that holds the data for trend graphics.
"Windows PCs have limitations when it comes to use in extruders, so in the past we've used them only for running the HMI application to avoid downtime in the extrusion process should one of them fail," explains Dr. Markus Weber. "B&R's industrial PCs are so reliable that for the first time ever we have been able to unite control and HMI on a single PC without the usual risk."
This step brings with it a number of advantages for the company and its customers. The PC is installed in the climate-controlled cabinet in the body of the machine along with the I/O modules from B&R'S X20 System. The controller communicates with the panel mounted remotely on the machine via Smart Display Link, which also carries the USB and touch screen signals. The I/O modules used by Weber engineers to control the extruder's drives and heating zones are connected to the controller via a fast I/O bus.
Easier to implement customer requests
"Consolidation of HMI and control on a single industrial PC, a fully integrated software solution and a modular I/O system have all made it considerably easier for us to respond to our customers' special requests," says Brief. "This is a key benefit, since offering optimal solutions to our customer's specific technical requirements is a core element of what we do. Nearly every extruder leaving our plant has been uniquely customized in one way or another."
With the outstanding durability of Weber extruders, the company is also frequently called on to modernize older machinery. More and more often, customer specifications for modernized equipment include networking capability in accordance with EUROMAP 27. "The first time we encountered this requirement, we turned to our usual control supplier. However, we were disappointed to find that they were unable to offer a solution," explains Michael Weber. "After some looking around, we got to B&R and knew we had found what we needed."
The automation specialist offered not only EUROMAP 27 support, but also the benefit of its extensive experience. Relieved by active support from B&R, Weber's development team was able to focus on developing the new controller generation.
Weber's process engineers set about optimizing the processing unit on the twin screw extruder from the ground up. "On the Extruder DS9, for example, our latest developments have achieved output levels with a 90 mm screw that would have previously required a 107 mm screw.
The processing unit has grown somewhat in length, but is still considerably shorter than our competitors' units." For the user, this leap in performance shows up clearly on the bottom line, allowing them to achieve the same output with smaller extruder screws and correspondingly smaller motors and inverters.
Even more cost savings and investment security are gained using FleXXtrusion®. This technology allows the new generation of twin screw extruders to quickly adapt their output to changes in demand without requiring entire new machines.
Dr. Markus Weber illustrates an example from the area of window profiles: "These applications frequently have multiple profiles – one main and one secondary profile, for example – which are required in different quantities. If you're using our twin screw extruder with FleXXtrusion®, you can quickly exchange the processing unit – even with an older processing unit – and at the push of a button resume production with an optimized set of parameters."
New generation of controllers for all Weber extruders
While these developments only apply to the new generation of twin screw extruders, users of any Weber extruder will benefit from the latest generation of controllers, as Michael Weber explains: "Unless the customer explicitly requests otherwise, we'll be equipping all of our extrusion lines with the new controller based on B&R technology."
And Weber is already hard at work on the next round of developments. "B&R technology is well-established in this industry and provides an excellent foundation for even more groundbreaking functions to come," concludes Brief. "We're looking to integrate multi-touch and gesture-based operation in the near future, and the Automation Panel has what it takes to get us there."