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Die casting company Enkei America has rolled out CC-Link communications technology for machine control across its facility in Columbus, Indiana, and a second works in Jacksonville, Florida.

The decision to roll out the technology was made after it withstood a year-long trial in a desperately harsh environment with no problems whatsoever.

In each of Enkei America’s casting machines, all control wires ran through a single conduit.

The content of this conduit built up over the years until it contained about 75 wires.

Significantly, the conduit was flexible, because it is required to repeatedly bend to accommodate the vertical movement of the casting machines.

Unfortunately, extended operation of the machines, coupled with the weight of the wires, would cause the conduit to break after a period of time.

This resulted in chafing of the wires and over time the wire insulation would be rubbed off, causing shorting of the wires.

This situation presented a continual maintenance problem.

In an attempt to eliminate the breaking of the conduit, a different style of conduit was tried.

It was supposedly able to handle the weight of the wires and the travel of the conduit.

However, this conduit also failed.

These repeated breakages meant that the machines had to be rewired, an operation that each time involved about 10-12 hours of downtime and lost production and more than 1,000ft (300m) of high-temperature wire.

Additional problems also arose, such as the junction boxes on all of the machines becoming cramped due to the numerous updates performed on the machines.

Looking for a solution beyond continuous repair, Enkei installed its first CC-Link networked machine as a trial run to prove out the technology.

This used a Mitsubishi controller and CC-Link remote I/O modules, plus an expansion rack and junction boxes to accommodate the remote I/O modules.

CC-Link is a fieldbus solution, which instead of needing separate wiring from each field device back to the controller, uses a single bus cable.

The bus cable provides both power and signals to all devices, the former being continuously supplied and the latter sequenced with addresses for the relevant device.

The signalling speed is such that there is no systems performance reduction compared with dedicated wiring.

CLPA said the benefits of the CC-Link system were seen immediately.

The junction boxes became much neater and more organised, while the single CC-Link communication cable that replaced much of the wiring previously required led to efficiency gains in maintenance.

Value was also seen in the fact that future updates can be accommodated by adding a remote I/O module without needing additional wiring back to the controller.

Even after CC-Link networking was employed, the casting machine still required some movable wiring and conduit.

A loom was added to help provide protection and more stable travel of the cable.

Pin connectors were added on both ends of the cable for quick ‘plug and play’ in the event that a cable needed to be replaced.

The pin connector has the CC-Link signal wires and 24V control voltage.

Pin connectors were also used for 120V wires for the valves on the machine.

The first machine using CC-Link networking and Mitsubishi controls operated during the initial year-long evaluation period and experienced no problems.

The die casting environment is harsh, with excessive heat, water, die coat, and dust – yet the system operated trouble-free.

When necessary, a casting machine can be rewired in about 30mins.

Spare cables have been constructed and are ready to be installed.

The cost of a rewire job is considerably less expensive than before, and that is not even factoring in the cost of only 30mins of downtime versus the 10-12 hours previously required.

After the success of the first machine, Enkei retrofitted seven more casting machines to CC-Link networking without problem.

Enkei was also pleased with the durability of the CC-Link communication cable.

The casting machines run a cycle time of three minutes, and on every cycle the loom travels down and then back up.

There have been no problems of cable chafing or broken wires.

With the ease of programming, simple and minimal amount of wiring, and the overall satisfaction of the CC-Link networking, Enkei plans in future to use CC-Link networking in all applications that it can.

CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA)

The CLPA is the organisation of manufacturers of CC-Link compatible products and users of CC-Link technology. The CLPA oversees and manages the CC-Link specifications, provides technical support and conformance testing and promotes the worldwide adoption of the CC-Link open automation network technologies. The CLPA was formed in November 2000. Global adoption of CC-Link is demonstrated by the following:

  • Over 12 million CC-Link devices have been installed
  • There are more than 2,100 members of the CC-Link Partner Association
  • There are more than 1,300 certified CC-Link products available from over 280 manufacturers

CC-Link is acknowledged by third party research to be the leading choice for open automation networks in Asia. By adding CC-Link to their portfolio, companies will be able to access up to 20% of the Asian market not accessible to Western technologies. To assist companies with this, the CLPA offers the “Gateway to Asia” (G2A) programme, G2A provides development and marketing assistance to companies who join the CLPA and develop CC-Link products.

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