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PC-based control for efficient and flexible warehouse and distribution logistics

High demands are placed on modern warehouse and distribution systems: They must ensure fast availability with maximum individualization, high efficiency and reliability. One of the biggest challenges that manufacturers of conveying equipment and logistics systems face is flexible adaptation to changing market trends, new products and individual customer requirements. PC- and EtherCAT-based control technology from Beckhoff offers the solution. High-performance, modular in structure, and precisely scalable with regard to performance and design, it supports the implementation of efficient and flexible warehouse and distribution logistics of different orders of magnitude and with different tasks: from the control of an individual machine to the automation of complete systems.

Due to its openness, PC-based control is ideally suited to the optimization of logistics processes through the networking of production, intralogistics and retail. Standardized interfaces in hardware and software enable the easy integration of control technology into new or existing system structures. This allows a quick reaction to new requirements and ensures the reliable processing of orders. Due to the high performance of multi- and many-core processors, in addition to the core machine and system functions, the warehouse management can be realized both centrally or decentrally distributed.

Since all control functions are mapped in software, any requirements can be implemented with little engineering effort. TwinCAT is the universal toolbox for controlling all functions: from PLC, motion control, HMI and vision, and from safety and measurement technology to cloud communication and analysis functions. On the one hand, this ensures the efficient interaction of all system components and thus maximum productivity. On the other hand, special devices can be omitted due to the consistent implementation of all functionalities as software modules. This reduces not only the initial hardware costs, but also the engineering work and the lifecycle costs.

Our automation solution for warehouse and distribution logistics is based on a uniform hardware and software platform consisting of Industrial and Embedded PCs, EtherCAT as the communication system and decentralized I/Os and drives. TwinCAT is the universal automation software for engineering, runtime and diagnostics of all control functions.
Our automation solution for warehouse and distribution logistics is based on a uniform hardware and software platform consisting of Industrial and Embedded PCs, EtherCAT as the communication system and decentralized I/Os and drives. TwinCAT is the universal automation software for engineering, runtime and diagnostics of all control functions.

Beckhoff technology highlights for warehouse and distribution logistics

Our product range covers the main areas of Industrial PC, I/O and fieldbus components, drive technology, and automation software. Product ranges that can be used as separate components or integrated into a complete and mutually compatible control system are available for all sectors.
Our product range covers the main areas of Industrial PC, I/O and fieldbus components, drive technology, and automation software. Product ranges that can be used as separate components or integrated into a complete and mutually compatible control system are available for all sectors.

PC-based control meets the requirements of demanding warehouse environments

Traditional PLCs cannot keep pace with the technological advances of today's intelligent systems for warehouse and distribution logistics, as they can only be extended with a lot of expenditure through additional gateways and the interplay of various black box controllers. This leads to additional hardware, software and engineering costs and to cost-intensive service and maintenance of the systems. The development towards intelligent and modern warehouse technologies requires the use of PC-based control technology.

The bases of the Beckhoff control system are powerful Industrial PCs, EtherCAT as a high-performance fieldbus connection, together with the connected devices for sensor and actuator systems, as well as the TwinCAT automation software. The control platform is supplemented by an extensive portfolio of drive components. Precisely scalable and modular, our control and drive technology can be optimally adapted to a wide range of applications. You can assemble a suitable control solution for your system or plant type and dimension it according to performance requirements.

The Industrial PC portfolio ranges from entry-level controllers with ARM processors to multi-core industrial servers with Intel® Xeon® processors. A large selection of multi-touch panels guarantees optimum functionality and operating comfort on the machine. More than 100 signal types and 1,000 different I/Os serve the entire spectrum of sensors and actuators. TwinSAFE provides an integrated, standardized and modular safety concept. The drive technology product portfolio ranges from the compact drive amplifiers in terminal format to the high-performance high-end drives for highly dynamic servo applications. TwinCAT is the core of the Beckhoff control system: It combines all required machine funcions in a single software tool. This results in a high functional benefit and allows the realization of cutting-edge technology while keeping costs low at the same time.

With EtherCAT, EtherCAT G and EtherCAT G10, Beckhoff is already able today to offer fieldbus technology for intelligent, modern and networked systems in distribution centers of the future.
With EtherCAT, EtherCAT G and EtherCAT G10, Beckhoff is already able today to offer fieldbus technology for intelligent, modern and networked systems in distribution centers of the future.

Fast, open and ideally suited as a fieldbus for intralogistics: EtherCAT

Efficient handling of large amounts of data, such as those generated by fully automated warehouse and distribution logistics, requires the efficient and structured acquisition, storage and use of these data. The high-performance data acquisition at machine and plant level is ensured by EtherCAT. With outstanding performance, flexible topology selection, extensive diagnostics and simple configuration, EtherCAT meets all requirements for intelligent warehouse and distribution logistics. EtherCAT offers virtually unlimited network expansion and optimal vertical and horizontal integration via standard Ethernet and Internet technologies. In particular in the area of high-speed applications in material transport, significantly higher-performance systems can be realized by means of EtherCAT:

  • communication with 12,000 digital I/Os in 350 µs
  • communication with 200 analog I/Os (16 bit) in 50 µs, corresponds to a 20 kHz sampling rate
  • communication with 100 servo axes every 100 µs
  • up to 65,535 devices

EtherCAT uses low-cost Ethernet cables and supports flexible cabling topologies. In addition, EtherCAT devices do not require switches, special fieldbus cards or IP addresses. Existing network and fieldbus technologies as well as devices can be fully integrated into an EtherCAT-based system.

More than 6,000 companies worldwide, which have joined forces to form the EtherCAT Technology Group, now support the technology developed by us. Due to its widespread use around the world, a large number of EtherCAT-compatible devices, sensors and actuators are available on the market, which guarantees high investment security. For the modernization of existing plants we offer numerous gateway solutions that enable older or third-party technologies to be integrated into the new EtherCAT world.

While EtherCAT meets the vast majority of current requirements with a communication speed of 100 Mbit/s , EtherCAT G and EtherCAT G10 are already available for the future with bandwidths of 1 Gbit/s and 10 Gbit/s respectively, which can be seamlessly integrated into the existing EtherCAT system. With increasing demands on industrial image processing, complex motion controllers, IoT functions, high-end measurements and the associated increasing volume of data, these technologies will become increasingly important in order to realize future intralogistics systems.

EtherCAT P reduces the wiring work and saves space in the control cabinet.
EtherCAT P reduces the wiring work and saves space in the control cabinet.

EtherCAT P minimizes cable and mounting costs

Each cable is one too many, provided there is a technologically better alternative to it. Cables are a not inconsiderable cost factor in mechanical engineering: They have to be procured, configured, connected and – in the worst case – assembled. EtherCAT P significantly reduces this expenditure. It combines EtherCAT communication with the power supply for the connected consumers in a 4-wire standard Ethernet cable. In addition, EtherCAT P enables energy forwarding directly via the devices. The advantages of EtherCAT are retained, such as free topology selection, high speed, integration of safety functions and extensive diagnostics. This makes EtherCAT P the ideal bus system for sensors, actuators, drive and measurement technology in intralogistics systems.

Control cabinets can thus be partly or completely dispensed with, so that complexity and costs as well as the footprint of the systems are reduced. Thanks to EtherCAT P, it is possible to implement modular machines and system concepts with high flexibility and considerably reduced installation and commissioning effort. Material costs, assembly and time are saved without loss of functionality, and the frequency of errors during installation is reduced.

TwinSAFE integrates all safety functions into the control platform.
TwinSAFE integrates all safety functions into the control platform.

TwinSAFE: the scalable safety solution in software and hardware

A feature of storage and retrieval systems, e.g., in high-bay warehouses, is the connection of numerous standard and safety I/Os, which may be combined with various drive technologies. The integrated safety solution from Beckhoff ensures continuous safety. In TwinSAFE, we have implemented a universal safety concept that integrates safe functionalities into the standard control platform: from the PLC to the I/Os to the drive technology. All safety functions, such as emergency stop, safety door monitoring, two-hand operation, muting, safe position and safely limited speed, are programmable or configurable with TwinCAT. The safety technology is seamlessly integrated into the terminal segment via the TwinSAFE I/O modules in protection rating IP20 and IP67; the safe signals can be mixed with the standard signals as desired.

With the TwinSAFE SC technology, it is possible to make use of standard signals for safety tasks in any network or fieldbus. Corresponding EtherCAT Terminals are available for the acquisition and secure transport of the signals via EtherCAT. The typical safety functions can be programmed and configured on the EL6900, EL6910 TwinSAFE Logic or the compact EK1960 safety controller. The required safety functions can be executed centrally or decentrally in almost all TwinSAFE devices to support modular system concepts.

TwinCAT Vision integrates image processing into the automation platform.
TwinCAT Vision integrates image processing into the automation platform.

Advantage through TwinCAT Vision

One of the biggest challenges in the field of warehouse and distribution logistics is the sorting and further processing of different goods. Due to the different shapes, sizes and packaging materials, the detection and sorting of individual packages is very complex. The consequences are high costs and often slow and error-prone sorting procedures. With TwinCAT Vision, we offer a real-time image processing solution integrated into the TwinCAT world. Costly, time-consuming and error-prone sorting procedures are now a thing of the past.

The approach of PC-based control technology offers the ideal solution: In addition to PLC, motion control, measurement technology, IoT and HMI, TwinCAT Vision now also integrates image processing on a uniform control platform. This makes engineering much simpler, because the configuration or programming takes place in the familiar environment. At the same time, all control functions derived from the image processing can be synchronized in real time. This shows the enormous quality advantage over conventional vision solutions: with TwinCAT Vision, you can integrate all image processing tasks directly into the master controller. The result is modern machine concepts for intralogistics that meet future market requirements and increase your competitiveness.

Beckhoff product highlights for warehouse and distribution logistics

The fieldbus, IO-Link, and EtherCAT Box and EtherCAT P Box modules with an IP67 protection rating are suitable for direct installation on the machine.
The fieldbus, IO-Link, and EtherCAT Box and EtherCAT P Box modules with an IP67 protection rating are suitable for direct installation on the machine.

EtherCAT integrated availability into the IP67 world

With a variety of signal variants, the EtherCAT Box modules open up numerous fields of application in the IP67 world. Industrial housings in compact, fully encapsulated design enable them to be used directly on the machine. The EtherCAT Box modules have a direct EtherCAT interface, i.e. each box has an EtherCAT input and output, so that the high performance is maintained right down to every single module. Housing designs in stainless steel and zinc die-cast also enable use in particularly demanding conditions, such as those found in deep-freeze logistics. The modules offer very high shock and vibration resistance to enable direct use on the machine. Additional terminal boxes or other protective measures can be omitted, thus reducing the complexity, cost, and footprint of intralogistics systems.

The devices of the EtherCAT P Box series represent a further development of the EtherCAT Box series and combine communication signals and power supply on a 4-wire standard Ethernet cable. This can further simplify the wiring effort and offers additional cost advantages.

The EP7402-0057 motor controller box takes over the complete control of the roller motor, independently of the manufacturer of the conveyor or motor.
The EP7402-0057 motor controller box takes over the complete control of the roller motor, independently of the manufacturer of the conveyor or motor.

Improved efficiency, communication and cabling for motor-driven roller conveyor systems

The EP7402 EtherCAT Box is the optimal controller for conveyor systems in intralogistics, distribution centers and warehousing. The EP7402 offers two outputs with integrated motion controller for direct connection of 24 V DC roller motors or other BLDC motors (up to 3.5 A). For example, light barriers can be connected or communication between different modules can be realized without the central controller via eight additional digital inputs/outputs. The EP7402 takes over the complete control of the roller motor irrespective of the manufacturer of the conveyor or the motor. The motor control is sensorless. Maximum rated current, start-up or deceleration ramps as well as various other parameters can be configured, which allows optimal adaptation to different applications.

The EP7402 can also be operated without a PLC in pure conveying mode. It provides functions such as Zero Pressure Accumulation (ZPA) as well as single or block removal. Additional EtherCAT devices such as digital and analog I/Os, barcode readers or safety devices can be connected to the additional EtherCAT junction. The compact EtherCAT Box can be mounted on the conveyor frame in any installation position in standard lateral profiles. It does not require any additional protective cover, which saves additional mounting space. Power supply and EtherCAT communication run through just one cable with a B23 ENP hybrid connector (28 A/45 °C current carrying capacity).

The C7015 ultra-compact Industrial PC in IP65 is suitable for direct integration on the machine.
The C7015 ultra-compact Industrial PC in IP65 is suitable for direct integration on the machine.

IP65 Industrial PC for direct installation on the machine

The space-saving IP65 Industrial PC C7015 can be mounted directly on machines and systems from the outside. This makes it ideally suited for reducing distributed control cabinet solutions and, as an edge device, enables the implementation of modern Industrie 4.0 concepts for intelligent warehouse and distribution logistics. A wide variety of onboard interfaces enables the networking of machine or plant sections right into the cloud or into other networks.

Moreover, the integrated EtherCAT P connection offers opportunities for the direct connection of actuators and sensors via EtherCAT P Box modules with IP67 protection. Decentralized solutions of sophisticated diagnostic or condition monitoring tasks are thus also made possible.

Floating movers enable intelligent 2D product transport

XPlanar combines the advantages of conventional transport systems and supplements them with a unique magnetic levitation technology. The floating 2D product transport leads to completely new possibilities for handling products.

The individual freedom of movement of the driverless transport system enables maximum flexibility: Individual goods can be transported to any location along any route. XPlanar combines this flexibility with the dynamics of a linear motor and thus enables the cycle-time-optimized linking of individual process steps. In addition, XPlanar significantly simplifies the individual steps: the degrees of freedom and positioning accuracies familiar from robotics are available for 6D product processing. For the first time ever, the positioning of a product during processing becomes the task of the transport system. The levitation effect replaces any and all mechanical guide components and enables abrasion-free transport. Cleaning and maintenance requirements are drastically reduced.

Intelligent product transport with XTS: software replaces mechanics in conveyor technology

With the XTS linear transport system, Beckhoff offers an intelligent drive solution in which magnetically powered movers move along a travel path of fully integrated motor modules. The TwinCAT automation software enables the independent control of the movers with individual motion profiles. Due to different geometries of the motor modules, both an open and a closed travel path can be created, and the machine footprint can be minimized thanks to individual track layouts. The XTS is thereby not only able to replace conventional conveyor belts, but even more importantly, it enables innovative design for the entire machine. The flexible motion profiles can be used to implement simple to highly sophisticated processes, thus optimizing product flow in a wide variety of warehouse and logistics centers.

The addition of No Cable Technology (NCT) to the XTS system creates the basis for a further step towards maximum machine flexibility. NCT provides a power supply and synchronous real-time data communication on the moving XTS movers, with which the individual movers can be expanded into mobile handling and processing stations. In addition to the previous pure product transport, NCT enables process sequences directly on the mover itself.

PC-based control: optimum basic technology for the realization of IoT and Industrie 4.0 concepts in warehouse and distribution logistics.
PC-based control: optimum basic technology for the realization of IoT and Industrie 4.0 concepts in warehouse and distribution logistics.

IoT and Industrie 4.0 in the smart warehouse

PC-based control provides the basis for the realization of Industrie 4.0 concepts in warehouse and distribution logistics with TwinCAT IoT and standardized interfaces and protocols such as OPC UA. In intelligent warehouses, all systems involved are continuously networked, from the control level to warehouse management and the retailer's e-commerce software. Regardless of their shape, size and weight, products are automatically removed, packaged and shipped quickly and seamlessly in order to meet the tight lead times from the receipt of order to the delivery of the package. In addition to the classic tasks of control technology, vision applications, e.g., for determining the position and orientation of goods, can also be realized with TwinCAT.

With TwinCAT Analytics, condition monitoring, power monitoring and the real-time TwinCAT Scope, tools are available that enable predictive maintenance, improved diagnostics and extensive remote maintenance options to increase uptime. TwinCAT Machine Learning is available for the autonomous optimization of plants, systems and robots via neural networks. Integrated into the real-time automation platform, these tools ensure that intralogistics systems or centers can meet the growing demand of consumers for shorter delivery times with high adherence to delivery deadlines and can handle returns quickly. With TwinCAT and EtherCAT, we are already a leader in the automation of intralogistics systems.

The automation software TwinCAT integrates all control functions on a single platform.
The automation software TwinCAT integrates all control functions on a single platform.

TwinCAT: the universal engineering and control platform

As a universal automation software, TwinCAT bundles all direct control functions such as PLC, motion control, safety functions and visualization on a single platform. Extensive tools are available for the integration of image processing, measurement technology or condition monitoring, which improve the quality of processes and increase plant availability through predictive maintenance. All functions run as software modules on an Industrial PC. TwinCAT also supports a variety of established and new protocol standards. Together with the open interfaces of our Industrial PCs, they guarantee the seamless integration of all system parts as well as communication with the material flow computer and the warehouse management system.

Functions and protocols that are tipped to be the new standards for cloud-based systems in the Smart Connected Warehouse already exist in TwinCAT. The TwinCAT IoT product family combines a variety of software packages for sending collected or pre-processed data to higher-level systems, such as cloud services, via standardized interfaces and protocols such as OPC UA or MQTT.

EtherCAT drives for highly dynamic positioning tasks

Warehouse and distribution logistics require a high degree of flexibility and scalability. Automated storage and retrieval systems, high sorting speed, robotics and handling for the transportation of crates and pallets as well as automated guided vehicle systems each place different demands on the control and drive technology. With our extensive drive technology portfolio we support all drive technologies, from the control of simple and inexpensive three-phase asynchronous machines to highly dynamic servo drives.

Our scalable drive solutions cover a broad range of applications: from the compact servo terminal to the AX8000 and AX5000 EtherCAT servo drives. The integrated control technology of the AX series supports fast and dynamic positioning tasks. EtherCAT enables the connection of the drive technology to the PC-based controller and supports coupling to other communication systems. The AM8000 servomotor series is characterized by the One Cable Technology, in which power and feedback system are combined in a standard cable. In the lower performance range, the EtherCAT terminals for compact drive technology are an inexpensive and space-saving alternative for conveying applications.

The AMP8000 distributed servo drive system, on the other hand, opens up new possibilities for modular machine concepts in intralogistics: The AMP8000 integrates the servo drive directly into the servomotor. By relocating the power electronics into the machine, the space requirement in the control cabinet is reduced to a single coupling module, which supplies several distributed servo drives with only one cable via a distribution module. The result is significant savings in terms of material, installation space, costs and installation work.

The CX2000 Embedded PC series offers more options on the DIN rail with multi-core CPUs and PCI express.
The CX2000 Embedded PC series offers more options on the DIN rail with multi-core CPUs and PCI express.

Scalable and modularly expandable CX2000 Embedded PCs

With the CX2000 Embedded PC series, we offer modular Industrial PCs for DIN rail mounting that are scalable in performance and enable the direct connection of Bus Terminals or EtherCAT Terminals. Depending on the performance requirements, the CX2000 series offers a choice between different basic CPU modules with Intel® Celeron®, Core™, Xeon® or AMD Ryzen™ processors that can be combined and modularly extended with various power supply units, some with integrated UPS functionality, and other components of the CX2000 product family.

The operating system can be either a Windows-based system or alternatively TwinCAT BSD can be used in order to be able to react flexibly to the requirements of the intralogistics industry. TwinCAT/BSD is based on FreeBSD, an industry-proven and reliable Unix-compatible open source operating system.

The Embedded PCs were developed with a view to optimized interaction with EtherCAT. Due to the separate Gigabit-Ethernet interfaces, it is possible to use EtherCAT with cable redundancy by using one of the Ethernet interfaces as a redundancy port. In addition, devices with EtherCAT slave interface can be operated such that several intelligent controllers can be synchronized via an EtherCAT network.