Alpha Laser, based in Puchheim, near Munich, Germany, specializes in laser-based processing technology, and Schneider Electric, headquartered in Andover, MA., is Alpha Laser’s automation partner for its semiautomatic and fully automatic machines, including a CNC-controlled universal machine for manufacturing sensors.
Alpha Laser produces stationary and mobile devices for joint and deposition welding, and is active in a wide range of industries. Its equipment not only replaces classic welding or soldering procedures in many cases, but is also often a key factor in the development of new processing techniques.
Motion controller speaks G-Code
To be able to convert design data into automated processing sequences, Alpha Laser’s machines have controllers that understand G-Code, also known as NC-Code. Equipping machines with NC-capable controllers initially raised some issues at Alpha Laser.
George Meyndt, CEO of Alpha Laser, notes that “in many of the scenarios where we wanted to employ our devices and machines, it was simply far too expensive to use classic CNC controllers.” This was a concern because “ultimately, our laser-based methods always have to be competitive with other methods in terms of price.”
The company found the solution to its dilemma through a collaboration with Schneider Electric, a global specialist for machine automation. Alpha Laser was impressed by the solution-oriented approach and engineering support offered by Schneider Electric. The guiding principle in the solution used by Alpha Laser, EcoStruxure Machine from Schneider Electric, is the consolidation of drive controllers, HMI controllers, PLC controllers, and programmable automation controllers in a multicontroller platform with a universally compatible engineering workbench.
NC Machine development
The EcoStruxure Machine multicontroller platform offers a motion controller that can synchronize servo drives, meeting the needs of equipment in the lower and middle performance range. Another benefit for a device in this performance and price range is that the controller can also handle standard NC programs, and can still carry out the necessary interpolations for two axes.
“This controller is the perfect control solution for machines, such as the fully automated versions of our AL-T series or the AL-RB series,” said Meyndt. “The controller understands standard DIN G-Code, and that is more than enough for our applications.”
Another advantage is that, like more expensive CNC controllers, this controller unifies motion-functionality, NC-functionality, and a full-fledged PLC in a shared hardware platform. It processes the NC program and generates the required axis movements of the stepping motor drives, and with its PLC functionality it also controls the entire machine based on an IEC 61131-3-compliant program.
NC programs via FTP
To ensure the efficient generation of NC programs compatible with the LMC controller, Alpha Laser uses a software postprocessor from a well-known software vendor for CNC-assisted pipe bending. The postprocessor runs on the same PC where the CAD software and/or the DXF or Step files are located. The NC programs generated from the files are transmitted via an FTP connection directly to the controller’s program memory.
Once the processing parameters are entered onto the operating panel, the program can be run. “A fast and easy way to get the job done,” as Meyndt sums it up.