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Increased efficiency with integrated safety technology

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article image Increased efficiency with integrated safety technology

Engine bearings are used for crankshafts and camshafts in combustion engines to minimize the friction that develops while the engine is running and to protect against engine damage and engine failure. Miba, based in Laakirchen Austria, is a leader in the production of these types of bearings, and also of sputter devices for their surface coatings. The current generation of these systems was completely automated, including the integrated safety technology, via POWERLINK in B&R Automation Studio. This results in shorter commissioning times and improved diagnostics.

Minimizing energy lost due to friction is crucial in order to ensure that transport systems such as trucks, buses, trains, airplanes and ships are economical, durable and environmentally friendly. This is guaranteed by selecting the right bearings for the rotating parts. While antifriction bearings have become generally accepted in the power transmission system between the engine and the wheels, combustion engines themselves are still a domain where engine bearings are used. They are mainly used for crankshafts and camshafts to minimize the friction that develops while the engine is running and to protect against engine damage and engine failure. Because of continually increasing requirements and stricter regulations, it's necessary to also continually increase bearing quality, durability and precision.

Strategic partner for the automotive industry

Miba, an international company based in Laakirchen that manufactures sintered components, engine bearings and friction materials with approximately 2,700 employees at eleven locations worldwide, is one of the main strategic partners for the international engine and automobile industry. Miba was founded in 1927 as a repair and production workshop for engine parts, and today their products can be found in automobiles, trains, ships, airplanes and power plants all over the world.

Engine bearings are manufactured by the Miba Bearing Group in McConnelsville, Ohio in the USA and by Miba Gleitlager at the Miba headquarters in Laakirchen in Austria. Engine bearings, including all engine bearing products such as half shells, bushings and thrust washers, have been manufactured there since 1949, primarily for large diesel engines.

The main parts of the engine bearings are made from non-alloy steel, but the antifriction linings are intelligently developed according to exact specifications using steel and non-ferrous metal alloys. Miba has its own metallurgical research lab where the alloys are developed as part of the company's core competence. The surface material is applied using a sputtering process (also known as cathode evaporation). Similar to the way picture tubes in older television sets were made, atoms are ejected from a cathode in a vacuum and then they condense on the target object to form a layer.

This is done using a large array of automated systems, which Miba developed in the 90s, all the way from lab testing to production. These systems are not only used in their own manufacturing plants, they are also supplied to other manufacturers with similar requirements. In addition to an extensive coating and temperature control unit, each of these machines has six vacuum chambers arranged around a central distribution station for the sequential surface treatment steps.

Automation of the sputter device has been the domain of B&R controllers for many years. Since the last redesign, a centralized X20 CPU controls the entire machine with over 20 servo drives and a large number of valve manifolds. Approximately two years ago, a new system needed to be developed for handling larger dimensions. At that time, a decision was made to develop an automation system that included safety technology. "Although the main features of the automation solution were already 10 years old, we were able to reuse the software with only minimal changes," states Miba software developer Gerald Hochmuth happily. Development was able to be completed within a few months, including an entirely new visualization system. "The most important change for us, however, is the seamless integration of the safety technology." This is critical because, for example, the extremely high voltage of the cathode must be switched off and grounded quickly and reliably if the vacuum seal is broken - for instance because of a leak.

Safety I/O modules are installed on the eight X20 I/O nodes, which are connected with the entire system via POWERLINK, and in particular with a centralized Safety CPU. In earlier versions of the sputter device, the safety system had to be connected with all relevant points in the system using discrete wiring, and now the amount of wiring required is reduced to a minimum by routing the safety signals over the fast Ethernet bus. "Above all, we were able to significantly reduce the commissioning time," Gerald Hochmuth is pleased to report. "Additionally, the change provides our customers and us with clear improvements for ongoing maintenance."

This includes simplification of the system because extensive wiring is no longer needed and also, just as importantly, additional possibilities for diagnostics and remote maintenance. Clear error messages can be accessed in the logbook for all modules from anywhere in the network, and of course also using long-distance data transmission. This makes the system easier to use and speeds up reaction times, which increases the availability of the system.

"The upgrade to Automation Studio 3.0 is a double advantage here," says Gerald Hochmuth. "Integration of safety technology means accelerated development for our technicians and our customers profit from the advanced diagnostics features." With the help of the integrated safety technology from B&R, Miba can further develop its leading role as a supplier of critical components for large combustion engines. 

DAANET is the Australian distributor of Bernecker & Rainer's products.

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