IPCs enhance warehouse automation

Tuesday, 12 December, 2023 | Supplied by: Open IIoT

IPCs enhance warehouse automation

A high-profile distribution centre in North Rocks, Sydney, was grappling with an outdated control system, and Layer Seven Automation was tasked with finding a futureproof solution to improve efficiency, flexibility and connectivity while minimising costs. They found that solution in an Industrial (IPC) solution from Beckhoff.

The distribution centre was facing a challenge with its old system, consisting of 700 m of conveyor lines and 28 diverter stations, all of which had worked well for many years. But the controller boards started to fail one by one and it became clear that the system was reaching the end of its life. As it was a proprietary system and new parts were expensive, management decided something had to be done.

Lucky Thommadura of Layer Seven Automation found the solution to this challenge in a collaboration with Harry Mulder of Beckhoff Automation.

The solution utilised Beckhoff’s C6920 IPC, which was able to be linked to all the diverter stations via the company’s EtherCAT network and seamlessly merged Windows-based systems with a virtual PLC. This new set-up offered numerous benefits, including significantly faster operational processes, real-time program testing from multiple locations, cloud capabilities and third-party connectivity.

The project was executed in phases, starting with replacing the boards at each diverter station with Leuze scanners. The use of these advanced scanners with built-in I/O points streamlined wiring and simplified the design, while the EtherCAT network provided speed and reliability. The new system captured raw barcode data from the scanners, decoded it in real time and executed logic for each zone, ensuring efficient box routing and diversion.

Every box detection was recorded as an event in Beckhoff’s TwinCAT event log and Layer Seven’s event log. This was facilitated by RabbitMQ, a message queuing program, chosen for its suitability over MQTT for this specific application. Data from the Beckhoff controller was also extracted via the TwinCAT ADS protocol, allowing real-time visualisation of operations. This data can be sorted into databases and message queues, facilitating dynamic reporting and analysis.

Among the benefits provided by utilising an IPC were rapid deployment capabilities, including network updates (an essential feature for a logistics centre in a post-COVID environment), and the fact that employees with minimal industrial programming experience were able to quickly get up to speed with its user-friendly interface. The IPC’s Windows operating system also allows users to create their own programs and messaging systems to run concurrently with the control program.

The system enabled the distribution centre to manage peak occupancy zones effectively, thereby optimising resources and reducing operational bottlenecks. It also allowed for better reporting for management. The new architecture also proved to be highly cost-effective, replacing the need for multiple replacement boards with a single, efficient controller solution. It also provided enhanced security by isolating the EtherCAT network, limiting exposure to potential threats.

By leveraging Beckhoff’s IPC technologies and strategic planning, the distribution centre has been able to achieve enhanced operational efficiency, real-time data insights and a cost-effective solution for future scalability.

In the future, Layer Seven Automation plans to implement redundancy in the form of a hot standby CPU for increased system availability. Additionally, it intends to optimise the system execution load to accommodate web services for visualisation purposes. The use of ADS to extract data for further processing and integration into ERP systems like SAP and MS-Dynamics is a key part of these plans.

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