EtherCAT is for everyone – SMC changing perceptions
EtherCAT is for everyone – SMC changing perceptions

A project which highlights that seemingly complex technology, previously only reserved for high tech environments, can be implemented in most applications. 

“EtherCAT has a reputation as a very high end networking system best reserved for highly automated environments. This often leaves smaller customers using older techniques to solve application problems. These methods are often inefficient and antiquated,” comments Jozef Ceh, Business Development Manager for Electronic Platforms at SMC Pneumatics Australia|New Zealand. “The idea that EtherCAT can quite comfortably fit into a local abattoir, blows this theory out of the water.” 

A solution for waste water in an abattoir 

SMC in conjunction with a leading Victorian based OEM specializing in waste water processing equipment have teamed up to provide a solution for the treatment of waste water in a large Victorian abattoir. The requirements for the project were a rendering plant with a large capacity to receive, store and process waste effluent with an integrated system redundancy that provides significant technological features which in turn directly benefit the end user in terms of ensuring continuous 24/7 operation from operational and maintenance point of view, increased volume of throughput resulting in a more efficient and lean process. In addition to the up-scaled mechanical equipment that facilitates the physical sequential rendering process, the electro-pneumatic system employed for the job has significantly enhanced the functional and operational features of the system. 

A project overview 

“This system sets a new benchmark within the Australian process industry by challenging the perceptions that a leading edge networking system EtherCAT is only suitable for very high speed, complex and demanding applications within the industrial automation sector and successfully demonstrates the benefits of its application over the traditional system design” explains Ceh. The objective was to provide a system with an increased capacity in volume of effluent processed per day by improving the receiving, storing and processing efficiency of the waste water to accommodate for the plants current production schedule and take into consideration future demands due to increased productivity.   The system was set up to return higher quality water back into the environment and to reduce the impact on the environment while exceeding the minimal specifications of the water authorities. The recycle of water back into the plant for repeat usage also reduced the water consumption and running costs of the plant. 

The result was a rendering process plant with capacity to receive one mega litres with up to 1.5 mega litres of effluent, on a daily basis.  

Fieldbus technology 

EtherCAT is by and large the fastest Industrial Ethernet technology, but it also synchronizes with nanosecond accuracy. This is a huge benefit for all applications in which the target system is controlled or measured via the bus system. The rapid reaction times work to reduce the wait times during the transitions between process steps, which significantly improves application efficiency. Lastly, the EtherCAT system architecture typically reduces the load on the CPU by 25 – 30 percent in comparison to other bus systems (given the same cycle time). When optimally applied, EtherCAT’s performance leads to improved accuracy, greater throughput, and thus to lowered costs. 

Major challenges

Accommodating the current effluent requirements and allowing for about 35 percent more capacity for future expansion was quite a challenge. Safety and hygiene requirements as well as the refining of the process that deals with extracting the suspended solids more efficiently was another obstacle that the technical team had to overcome as well as the measuring and dosing process of the required chemicals. All of these elements hade to be incorporated into one throughput. In the end water with the right PH balance had to be put back into the system and this had to be done all in one cycle of the process. The whole SMC EtherCAT solution was designed, manufactured and delivered in an integrated control panel solution, ready for plug and play, in two weeks. 

“This project successfully demonstrates the value in challenging the traditional approach to solving problems and looking outside of the comfort zones of historically specified legacy systems that were significant in their time but may impose limitations when encountered by demands of the modern plants. It went outside of status quo and broken the barrier to look at progressive technologies. EtherCAT is for everyone!” concludes Ceh.  

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