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At the preview event for HANNOVER MESSE 2023, automation specialist Beckhoff presented its MX system, a flexible, installation-space-optimised and intelligent system solution that can completely replace conventional control cabinets and thus open up completely new paths in plant automation. As a modular control cabinet replacement that can also be distributed decentrally on the machine if required, the MX system saves engineering, assembly, installation and maintenance effort, according to Beckhoff. This is intended to enable highly efficient processes for manufacturers and operators of machines and plants, starting with planning, through assembly and installation of the MX system, to maintenance of a machine equipped with the MX system.

Standardisation of interfaces

The basic idea of the MX system is to standardise the electrical and mechanical interfaces for all electronic and electromechanical components. The result of implementing this idea is two interfaces: The data interface integrates each functional unit into an EtherCAT network and at the same time supplies it with a DC voltage of 24 volts, or 48 volts if necessary. The second interface has been defined as a standard for the low-voltage range. It is used to distribute the mains voltage of up to 530 volts AC and a maximum DC voltage of 848 volts for the drive system.

Backplane and baseplate instead of control cabinet

This standardisation allows the entire functionality of the control cabinet to be mapped as a backplane system. Analogous to the interfaces, there are two different backplanes, which have the described interfaces in the form of connectors as essential features. The backplanes are installed in a robust aluminium housing. The combination of backplane and housing is called baseplate. In addition, there is a full range of function modules from the areas of IPC, bus coupler, I/O, motion, relay and system. These are simply plugged and screwed onto the baseplate. The combination of baseplate and function modules results in an IP67-protected unit that is optimised for installation space and can be mounted directly on the machine.

Advantages for engineering

The system of baseplate and function modules results in a modular system that can be used to solve a wide variety of automation tasks. A particular advantage is that the function modules of the MX system integrate individual functions such as line protection for outgoing lines. This simplifies project planning and significantly reduces the number of components. These advantages become visible through the up to 80 percent reduction in the number of pages of circuit diagrams and parts lists. Already in the engineering phase, the MX system's low installation space requirement proves to be another advantage. This facilitates coordination between departments, as there is usually no need to design special installation spaces and brackets for the MX system. Another important aspect is that the MX system complies with the requirements of the relevant control cabinet standards and, in contrast to the conventional control cabinet, is also IEC-, UL- and CSA-compliant. It thus represents a globally uniform solution.

Advantages for the construction of automation

The principle of plugging function modules onto a baseplate and fastening them with screws is not only intended to revolutionise control cabinet construction, but to completely replace it in its currently familiar form. The mechanical processing of the control cabinet and its mounting plate is eliminated, as is the time-consuming manual wiring. This is directly noticeable in the time required to assemble the MX system. Including the necessary tests and inspections, an MX system can be assembled in just one hour. With a comparable control cabinet, the assembly time is at least 24 hours. In this way, the MX system also counters the shortage of skilled workers, as individual employees are tied to a task for a much shorter period of time. In addition, wiring errors no longer occur. From a logistical point of view, there are also advantages for control cabinet construction, as the complete elimination of mechanical processing means that assembly requires considerably less space. Processes such as external control cabinet construction can be completely dispensed with.

Advantages in machine installation

In contrast to conventional solutions, the MX system can be visually and functionally integrated into the machine installation space due to its considerable compactness. This reduces the machine footprint many times over. Thanks to the possibility of cascading MX systems, modular machine concepts can be realised very easily. In addition, the cable paths to the sensor or actuator level are significantly shorter. The use of pre-assembled cables shortens the installation time and offers a high level of safety against cable connection errors. Due to the simple pluggability, the connection does not have to be carried out by special electricians.

Advantages for the machine user

For the machine user, there should also be clear advantages in terms of service and maintenance: The MX system consists of continuously networked EtherCAT components, so that comprehensive system diagnostics are possible at any time. In addition to classic status LEDs, each function module has a unique serial number in the form of a data matrix code. This can be scanned via a smartphone app, whereby the smartphone connects to the controller and outputs diagnostic data for the corresponding function module. A possible module exchange is also very simple, as the modules are hot-swappable and can thus be plugged in and unplugged during operation. Just like the machine manufacturer, the operator should also benefit from the fact that the MX system modular system covers the complete variety of automation technology with considerably fewer products and thus fewer modules need to be stocked as spare parts. Thanks to their simple basic principle, MX system modules can also be reused very easily beyond the life cycle of the machine.