Whether manufacturing packaging machines or components for airliners, companies must be able to guarantee all metal parts will remain durable and dependable throughout the product’s lifecycle. Recognising this challenge, LSP Technologies pioneered an effective method to increase the strength of metal parts: surface treatment with pulsed laser beams. One of its most recent laser peening systems relies on the flexibility of EtherCAT and PC-based control technology from Beckhoff to meet diverse customer requirements.
Peening is the processing of metal workpieces, for example with hammers or high powered lasers, to strengthen the metal and mitigate the effects of material fatigue. In laser peening, a pulsed laser beam is directed at the metal surface while a stream of water flows over the workpiece. This results in a small plasma explosion between the water and the surface, enabling the shock waves to travel deep into the metal, and making the material denser and stronger and increasing the fatigue life.
LSP Technologies (LSPT) provides laser peening services and equipment for many industries, such as aerospace, automotive and maritime. One of its most recent advances is the modular Procudo laser peening system – a self-contained turnkey system that can be tailor-made for each customer. For this high level of adaptability, LSPT relies on flexible control technology from Beckhoff.
The Procudo system uses diode-pumped YLF lasers that cover a total bandwidth of 1 to 200 Hz pulse frequency and operate at 20 Hz as standard. While the compact standard system measures 142 x 173 x 335 cm, some of the customers’ systems are so large that they can accommodate several articulated arm robots. In addition, it must be possible to design the equipment both for the processing of very large workpieces as well as others that focus on the smallest, most precise details.
Another problem is the synchronisation of workpiece and laser positioning. Metal parts, especially large or awkwardly shaped components, are often difficult to move within a machine cell when accommodating fixed-position lasers. This is particularly challenging with workpieces like massive ship hulls and anchors, for example. “In the past, we generally used part-to-beam processing by aiming the laser at a fixed point in the processing cell and then moving the parts with robotics,” says LSPT vice president, David Lahrman. “To process very large parts, however, we now use beam-to-part processing, which involves moving the laser with robotic arms from Kuka to peen areas that require treatment.”
Initially LSPT was drawn to EtherCAT and PC-based control technology from Beckhoff because of its many interface options, including HMI hardware. Now the built-in CP2912 multi-touch control panel and the pole-mounted CP3913 multi-touch control panel offer LSPT the options needed for unique client demands.
For control purposes, LSPT also uses the CX2040 embedded PC, featuring quad-core Intel Core i7 processors, to run HMI, connect to the cloud and communicate with higher-level systems. However, the Procudo system’s standard control hardware for robotics and other laser peening functions is the C5240 industrial PC. Electrical engineer, Avery Calhoun, sees additional benefits in the 48 cm rack-mount powerhouse, which also boasts Intel Core i7 processors: “The C5240 is very powerful and provides ample serial and Ethernet ports to connect with the EtherCAT I/O system.”
Precise motion control and EtherCAT communication are crucial for the Procudo laser peening system. LSPT implements multiple articulated Kuka robots to move lasers, and sometimes also workpieces, to ensure that the beams are positioned with high accuracy. LSPT also uses AM8000 servomotors from Beckhoff that offer a robust design with long lasting service life, and are equipped with One Cable Technology (OCT), which saves space and costs by combining feedback and power in a single cable. “We have used the AM8000 servomotors quite heavily in recent Procudo projects involving beam-to-part processing,” explains Portolese.
Based on EtherCAT, a wide range of I/O modules from Beckhoff provides scalable networking solutions for LSPT. Inside the machine cells where high moisture is present, LSPT uses IP67-rated EtherCAT Box modules and standard EtherCAT I/O terminals in electrical cabinets. LSPT also benefits from integrated safety through TwinSAFE.
LSPT achieved its goals for flexibility, enabling the Procudo system to suit the needs of a wide range of applications. As a result of the highly precise synchronisation possible with TwinCAT and EtherCAT, the system can process up to 187 cm2 of material per minute. Additionally, the ability to synchronise motion control for the workpieces with laser control is critical to the repeatability and quality of LSPT’s processes.
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