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‘Revolutionary’ system turns controls into cabinets

23 November, 2021

UPDATED:  Beckhoff has announced “a revolution in control cabinet construction” in which an industrial controller becomes, in effect, a modular control cabinet, avoiding the need for conventional enclosures. The company believes that its “flexible, space-optimised and intelligent” MX system will change the way we design and build both control cabinets and automation systems in general.

Beckhoff says the system will save time and money for machine-builders, especially during the planning and installation stages. It could cut typical assembly times from 24 hours to just one hour, as well as saving space and needing far fewer components and connections. It will also allow “cabinets” to be assembled on a plug-and-play basis by personnel who are not electrical experts. And, by using prefabricated cables, the risk of wiring errors will be greatly reduced. There is no need for cable glands.

The system is based on a combination of an aluminium baseplate and control and power modules that together offer IP67 protection and can be mounted directly onto machines without needing additional protective housings. Available modules include industrial PCs, I/Os, motion modules, and system modules such as power supplies, couplers and mains output devices.

The baseplates provide standardised connections for the function modules which are simply plugged in and then screwed into place. The baseplates can contain up to three rows, each with up to 24 slots. Behind each row of slots, a backplane distributes power and EtherCat communications.

There are two types of backplane. Data backplanes with MX-C slots supply the modules with 24V or 48V DC supplies and EtherCat, while power backplanes with MX-P slots distribute mains voltages and DC links (up to 848V DC). An MX-P slot can supply up to 35A, while a power backplane can carry up to 63A. The integrated power supplies can provide safety extra-low voltages as well as 400V AC and 600V DC.

Beckhoff’s MX system combines a robust baseplate with plug-in modules for functions such as IPCs, I/O, motion and relays.

The MX modules come in different sizes depending on their function. For example, a simple I/O module will typically fit into a single slot providing power and communications, while drive modules may go across several slots.

Because every function module plugged onto the MX baseplate is also an EtherCat device, comprehensive diagnostics are available without needing to open a cabinet. Each module has a data matrix code that can be scanned via a smartphone app, linking the phone to the controller to gather diagnostic data. Any defective modules can be hot-swapped. The baseplates also monitor environmental parameters such as temperature.

The modules support the TwinSafe safety system, offering safe I/O and motion capabilities with STO/SS1 or Safe Motion functions. Modules such as an IO-Link Class B masters allow safe disconnection of supply voltages to actuators.

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