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Retrofit of sheet metal warehouse
1st Quarter 2019, This Week's Editor's Pick, Electrical switching & drive systems & components

Peter Huber recently upgraded the sheet metal warehouse for a laser cutting system at its Bystronic headquarters in Niederönz, Switzerland. Through the use of PC-based control, the facility now meets current requirements with improved availability and enhanced remote maintenance capabilities.

Bystronic is one of the world’s leading providers of sheet metalworking solutions. The company’s portfolio includes laser cutting systems and press brakes, along with associated automation and software solutions. Mario Duppenthaler, head of solution and software management, explains: “The recently updated high-bay racking system is part of our plant’s processing platform for a wide range of sheet metal components used for our own laser cutting systems. It consists of two storage towers with a total of 83 bins. The maximum storage capacity is 249 tons. To remove items, a storage and retrieval device travels to the respective bin and transfers it to a Bystronic handling device, which removes the requested part and moves it via an automated transfer cart to the changeover table of the laser cutting machine.”

The modernisation project was handled by Peter Huber. The full service provider of control solutions for sheet metalworking, and a Beckhoff solution provider since 2010, employs PC-based control for new designs of machines and robotic systems as well as for retrofits. General manager Erich Schumacher confirms the role that a smart retrofit can play in increasing overall production efficiency: “As equipment ages, the availability of the entire facility depends to a large extent on the availability of the individual control components. This is where the long term availability of Beckhoff technology is essential. In this particular warehouse, PC-based control replaced 20-year-old technology where components were no longer available and Eprom-based software was no longer adaptable to today’s requirements. PC-based control technology finally enabled the use of modern remote maintenance capabilities. From an operator’s perspective, component availability and remote maintenance are even more important than the potential performance improvements that can be achieved by automating a legacy system.”

For Erich Schumacher, openness and modularity were the main arguments for deploying PC-based control technology from Beckhoff, especially in retrofit projects: “With PC-based control, you can design the control and I/O systems precisely in accordance with the individual machine requirements. For example, the modular system of I/O terminals allows you to place small control boxes exactly where you need them if you want to keep using existing cable harnesses. This means that there is no need for expensive machine rewiring. We also appreciate the consistency of the system, because all industrial PCs, from the smallest to the largest, run the same automation software. This simplifies our work considerably, particularly with retrofit projects, because the time to install these upgrades is often very limited since clients want to have their production up and running again as quickly as possible.”

At the centre of the upgraded system that controls all storage workflows and the handling device is a Beckhoff embedded PC running TwinCAT control software as well as TwinCAT PLC HMI software for visualising workflows on a 30 cm multi-touch control panel. The motors in the sheet metal storage system are controlled via two servo drives with integrated TwinSAFE cards for motion safety functions. The I/O system consists of four EtherCAT couplers, two EtherCAT junctions and 50 EtherCAT terminals, including extremely compact high density digital terminals as well as TwinSAFE input and output terminals.

Having system integrated safety technology is a particularly important aspect for Erich Schumacher: “The safety features must not be separate from the overall control system, because having a complete data-related overview of the total system is critical if problems arise. That’s why all safety functions – such as emergency stop, safety gates and light barriers, as well as position monitoring of the two transfer carts between the handling device and the changeover table – are implemented via TwinSAFE terminals and the TwinSAFE cards in the servo drives.” Mario Duppenthaler mentions yet another advantage of having an integrated system: “We plan to link the sheet storage facility more closely with the higher level ERP system in the future. For example, we want to integrate the warehouse into the so-called cockpit, a live monitoring solution that will visualise all of our production data. We are also working on a detailed systems analysis of the sheet warehouse, which is particularly important for preventive maintenance,” he concludes.

For more information contact Michelle Murphy, Beckhoff Automation, +27 11 795 2898,,

Supplied By: Beckhoff Automation
Tel: +27 11 795 2898
Fax: 086 603 6868
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