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The Beckhoff MX-System: New automation construction kit replaces the control cabinet

The Beckhoff MX-System: New automation construction kit replaces the control cabinet
The Beckhoff MX-System: New automation construction kit replaces the control cabinet

For a long time, control cabinets have been an integral part of machines and systems and it is almost impossible to imagine machines and systems without them. However, the planning, development and wiring of control cabinets costs a lot of time and is also prone to errors. Approaches already exist to build automated control cabinets, thus increasing the resources required and also reliability. However, even then, the problem remains that control cabinets require valuable production space on the machine. These challenges are also met with solutions such as decentralized terminal boxes, drives or, for example, Beckhoff EtherCAT Box modules, which can be mounted directly on the machine outside the control cabinet. None of these concepts, however, claim to replace the complete control cabinet and integrate the entire world of automation technology into the machine in a compact and robust way. After all, almost every machine still requires one or more separate control cabinets.

Machine and plant concepts without control cabinet in IP67

With the new MX-System, Beckhoff Automation is rising to these challenges and starting a revolution in the automation environment. Control cabinets can be reduced to a minimum or even substituted with the holistic, modular and plug-in approach. This means that machines and systems can now be designed and controlled entirely without control cabinets.

The MX-System exemplifies system integration of all machine functionalities, as it harnesses all the advantages of PC- and EtherCAT-based control technology at the same time. The compact system made of metal is not only dust and waterproof due to its high quality workmanship, but also robust and resistant, which allows it to be placed directly at the machine.

The MX-System: The system architecture

With the holistically modular and pluggable MX-System solution, a wide variety of applications and machine concepts can be implemented. The extensive portfolio provides users with all the benefits of PC- and EtherCAT-based control technology.

The robust baseplate, consisting of an aluminum profile, forms the basis of the MX-System as a rear panel. It offers standardized plug-in connections onto which the various function modules of the MX-System can simply be plugged and then screwed in place using captive screws located in the modules.

The baseplate can vary in size and can contain up to three rows, each with a maximum of 24 slots. Behind each slot row there is a backplane that distributes different voltages and EtherCAT as communication bus among the slots, depending on the type. Thus, the baseplate can be adapted almost arbitrarily to the respective requirements of the machine.

A distinction is made between two types of backplanes and thus slots: Data backplanes with MX-C slots, via which the modules are supplied with 24 V DC or 48 V DC and EtherCAT, and power backplanes with MX-P slots, via which the mains voltage (3-phase + N 400 V…480 V) and the DC link bus (maximum 848 V DC) are distributed. An MX-P slot can be loaded with a maximum of 35 A, while the underlying power backplane can provide a maximum of 63 A.

The respective MX modules can also have different sizes depending on their function. For example, a simple MX I/O module will typically fit in a single MX-C slot to provide power and communications, while larger drive modules may go across multiple slot rows, as these modules require a plug-in connection to a MX-C slot for communications and MX-P slot for power. The function modules can also vary in width and can be up to 3 slots wide. For example, with large power modules, the power can be fed in parallel via two MX-P slots.

Since each function module plugged onto the MX baseplate is also an EtherCAT device, comprehensive diagnostics are available for the entire MX-System. Furthermore, the MX baseplate has a complete housekeeping system that permanently monitors environmental parameters such as temperature.

The MX baseplate can be easily attached directly to the machine using screw connections and can thus be integrated into the machine installation space both visually and functionally.

To supply the MX-System with power, power feed modules are provided for the mains connection. Each of these has its own fuse, which can be replaced when the system is in a de-energized state. To reach this state, the power supply modules have a load-break switch as a main switch, so that the MX-System can also be de-energized under load. The main switch can also be locked in the 0 position. This makes the MX-System easy and safe to maintain.

The power supply modules feed the three phases as well as the neutral conductor of the mains voltage into the backplane; the respective function modules are in turn supplied with the required voltage via the MX-P slots. The power supply modules are available in different sizes for 16 A, 32 A or 63 A.

If fed in, the three-phase mains voltage and the DC link voltage are distributed over the entire power backplane. The outgoing connectors of the respective MX slots can supply the plugged-in modules with both voltages and are loadable with up to 35 A. The entire backplane can be loaded with up to 63 A.

In addition, the 400 V AC and 600 V DC voltages can be fed out of the MX-System with the aid of power feeder modules and fed into other MX baseplate stations, for example. Cascaded decentralized systems can thus be set up without any problems. The power feeders record the currents and have appropriate fuses to reduce the conductor cross-sections.

All function modules that use the 400 V AC fuse the voltages within the respective module. The 600 V DC modules are protected by electronic monitoring in the corresponding backplane modules.

The extra-low voltages 24 V DC and 48 V DC are also fed into the modules via the corresponding backplane and the MX-C slots. For this purpose, the voltage can be fed directly into the backplane via a filter module or, alternatively, a power supply module can be plugged into the system, which generates the extra-low voltage directly from the 400 V AC or 600 V DC of the 2-row MX baseplate. In addition, the power supply modules and bus coupler modules directly contain a power supply unit and thus supply the data backplane with 24 V DC and 48 V DC respectively. A maximum of 20 A can be supplied to the backplane via an MX-C slot. By connecting power supplies in parallel, larger currents of up to 30 A can also be distributed across the backplane. The 24 V DC or 48 V DC are fused within the function modules to enable the cross-section of the outgoing lines to be reduced here as well.

EtherCAT also runs as a fieldbus in the data backplane and is routed to the modules via the MX-C slots. Thanks to the proven, robust and fast EtherCAT communication, even the most complicated machines can be implemented using the MX-System and cycle times << 1 ms can be achieved. Furthermore, functions such as hot-swap are directly integrated, so that modules can be exchanged or additional subsystems or MX baseplate stations can be connected even during operation.

Since each function module is thus automatically an EtherCAT device, comprehensive diagnostic data is available for all modules and thus for the entire MX-System, which can be conveniently viewed and analyzed on the central controller.

The consistent use of EtherCAT in each MX-C slot also tends to make the proven and powerful TwinSAFE Safety functionalities available to each module. Accordingly, safe I/O and motion modules with well-known safety functions such as STO/SS1 or Safe Motion are available in the MX-System.

Furthermore, modules such as an IO-Link Class B master also have a safe disconnection of the supply voltages of the actuators.

Products

MBxxxx | Baseplates

Scalable baseplates form the basis for the automation system without control cabinets.

MCxxxx | IPC modules

Robust Industrial PCs of various performance classes as the basis for all automation applications.

MOxxxx | I/O modules

Comprehensive product range of pluggable I/O modules for all signals of the automation world.

MDxxxx | Motion modules

Innovative drive package for the realization of modular and safety-oriented machine concepts.

MRxxxx | Relay modules

Versatile relay modules enable switching of large currents and powers.

MSxxxx | System modules

System modules such as power supply, power supply unit, coupler and mains output modules round off the modular plug-in automation system.

Five system advantages for machine and plant construction

Machine and plant builders can use the MX-System to significantly reduce not only their engineering and installation costs, but also their machine footprint. In addition, system availability and flexibility are increased while maintenance is minimized. The five system advantages of this new automation approach without control cabinets are decisive for these user benefits.

The mechanical and electrical modularization of the system becomes the new engineering standard. The optimally coordinated product portfolio makes it possible to design the electrical equipment of machines and plants according to the modular principle. Since significantly fewer components are required than in classic control cabinet construction to implement the same requirements, the entire MX-System is consequently significantly more compact. With these advantages, the MX-System is convincing in the field of engineering:

  • minimal engineering effort
  • less components: no housing, no cable gland
  • decentralization and modularization
  • one solution for UL, CSA and IEC
  • integrated functions: safety, diagnostics, electronic fuse

Unlike a classic control cabinet, no time-consuming and error-prone installation in the form of individual wire connections is necessary. The standardized interfaces of the MX-System enable an effortless plug and play principle, as all function modules can be easily plugged onto the baseplate. Consequently, the following benefits result:

  • huge reduction of assembly time: from 24 h to 1 hour
  • cabinet assembly can be done in-house by nonelectrical workforces
  • no external cabinet construction and logistics necessary
  • high quality: no error in cabinet wiring
  • drastic reduction in supply chain complexity

The MX-System can be integrated visually and functionally into the machine room due to its considerable compactness in contrast to conventional solutions. This reduces the machine footprint many times over. In addition, there are significantly shorter cable routes to the process level and thus cost savings.

The MX-System, which is highly scalable thanks to its standardized interfaces, can be expanded in no time at all with additional MX-Systems or combined with existing machine concepts using existing control cabinet solutions.

  • easy mounting of preassembeld baseplate on the machine
  • plug and play installation of all cables due to EtherCAT P cables and connectors
  • no installation faults due to prefabricated cables
  • electrical installations may be done by mechanical workforces as part of the mechanical installation
  • no need for electrical technicans during assembly
  • shorter assembly time, less space consumption for electrical components and cables

In addition to the advantages for the end user for easy expansion of the MX-System, there are further advantages for the system user in the area of service and maintenance. The MX-System consists of intelligent EtherCAT components throughout, enabling comprehensive system diagnostics 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 code can be scanned via smartphone app, which causes the smartphone to connect to the controller and output diagnostic data to the corresponding function module.

The modular system and the simple plug and play principle make it possible to replace a defective module quickly and easily. This offers an enormous time advantage, especially for the end user/machine operator.

  • fully integrated, non-intrusive system diagnostics EtherCAT devices
  • diagnostics can be done by nonelectrical specialists – no electrical cabinet has to be opened
  • easy fault localization: module, cable or device
  • modules can be exchanged by nonprofessionals
  • easy replacement of defective modules due to hot swap function
  • unique part number diagnostics

Machine and plant builders can use the MX-System not only to simplify their entire engineering, but also to simplify the entire installation and wiring of the components on the machine itself. Thanks to the uncomplicated plug and play principle, the function modules can be mounted on the baseplate and the entire system can be put into operation in no time at all. The number of total user benefits is large:

  • huge reduction of system compexity, space requirements and in construction, assembly and installation time
  • huge reduction in machine cabling length and complexity
  • huge reduction in supply chain mangement
  • compatibility to all major world standards (CE, UL, CSA, IEC, …)
  • ruggedized metal housing with exceptional EMC stability
  • easy maintainance by end customer
  • easy application expansion
  • compatibility to all major device and communication standards
  • EtherCAT, EtherCAT G, EtherCAT P
  • coupler for ProfiNET, Ethernet/IP, …
  • communication controller for all major fieldbuses
  • high-level TwinCAT support
  • reuse of all components for new applications
  • lower costs