If we did it all again, we wouldn't change a thing
B&R first introduced its groundbreaking X20 I/O and control system back in 2004. This past year alone, the company sold nearly 200,000 controllers and well over a million I/O modules from the now enormously popular product line. Anton Meindl, manager of the Controls business unit at B&R, tells us how the X20 system continues to steer the course of the industrial control market with its three-part design, compact dimensions and robust construction.
Anton, what exactly is so revolutionary about the X20 system?
We were the first on the market to introduce a compact I/O system with three-part modularity. Since then, we've been shown time and again that this was the right way to go – not only by the stunning commercial success of the X20 system, but also by the number of competitors who have followed suit with similar designs. None of them has been able to match the X20 system in terms of performance, however.
What's the big deal about three-part modularity?
Since the bus module is always identical and there are only a handful of different terminal blocks, this modularity allows us to produce the system much more quickly and efficiently. This in turn allows us to offer it at a lower price – with no compromise in quality. A removable terminal block also speeds up installation and makes maintenance a heck of a lot easier. If you run into a problem, you just pop off the terminal block and replace the electronics module without having to disconnect or reconnect any wiring. It's virtually fool-proof and absolutely tool-free.
Doesn't this miniaturization come at the cost of functionality or stability?
Not in the slightest. Functionality and robustness have always been our top priorities. The X20 system can be used anywhere from -25°C to +60°C with no problem. The modules are also GL-certified and have been tested with vibrations up to 4 g. Other manufacturers develop specialty systems for extreme environments just to cover the same broad spectrum of applications.
How much time went into developing the X20 system?
With many years of experience in control technology to draw upon, our developers were able to complete the project in a relatively short time. Only 18 months after the decision was made to design a new control and I/O solution, X20 modules were rolling off the line. Seeing as how it was a complete departure from its predecessor, the System 2003, I think that's a pretty impressive achievement.
The X20 system has been around for a decade now. Are there any plans to replace it?
Absolutely not. The X20 is still the most innovative solution around, and it is well-equipped to handle all the market requirements we expect to encounter in the foreseeable future. Even if we were to go back to the drawing board for a new system, we'd do it exactly the same way we did it ten years ago. And you have to remember, the X20 system has evolved steadily over the years. We're constantly enhancing the electronics, developing new modules for special applications and upping the processing power of the controllers.
A year ago you introduced reACTION technology, which is based on the X20 system.
That's right. reACTION technology delivers ultrafast automation using off-the-shelf control and I/O modules – and its 1 µs response time is unrivaled anywhere in the world.
Can you give us a glimpse behind the scenes at how the X20 modules are produced?
We designed the whole product range for automated production right from the start, and for the past four years we've been running multiple fully automated lines. The housing is formed using ultrasonic welding and then laser printed with the serial number, marks of conformity and other important information. The plastic material we use for the housing even allows the laser to print multiple colors by varying its intensity. Finally, each and every module is subjected to fully automated functional testing, so our customers can be confident that they will receive a perfect product every time. Upon request, we're also happy to assemble the required modules into a ready-to-use system – fully automatically, of course – so all that's left for the customer to do is open the box, hang it on the rail and lock it in place. This saves a ton of valuable time during installation.