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Up to the Challenge of Russian Railways

Flexible multi-processor Mitsubishi iQ Platform automation system controls an entire production line

Russian Railways have decided to comprehensively automate the processes at their rolling stock service facilities to achieve a significant increase in productivity, starting with the works in Magnitogorsk. After completion of the modernisation project the works can now maintain and repair 3,000 more rail cars per year than in the past. State-of-the-art controller technology from Mitsubishi Electric has been installed to keep the maintenance line running smoothly. The recently-introduced iQ Platform system controls all the processes on the line, including the milling machines, the welding robots, the conveyor belts, the handling systems and component tracking with wireless RFID tags.

The Russian Railways corporation was converted into a government owned public company in 2003. It is one of the world’s three biggest railway companies, transporting more than 1.3 billion passengers and 1.3 billion tons of freight every year. Its 85,500-kilometre network is the second-largest in the world, extending across eleven time zones from the Black Sea to the Pacific. Almost everything in Russia depends on the railways. Around 80 percent of all goods and 40 percent of all passengers in the giant country are carried by rail. Huge distances and some of the most extreme environ-mental conditions in the world place a very heavy burden on the rolling stock, which includes around 20,000 locomotives, 25,000 passenger cars and 630,000 freight cars. Maintenance of this huge fleet is a very challenging task. In 2003 Russian Railways initiated an ambitious investment and modernisation programme. Among other things, the company is significantly stepping up use of modern manufacturing and automation systems to improve efficiency and productivity at the rolling stock maintenance facili-ties.

The first facility to be modernised was the works at Magnitogorsk, a city that is known mainly as a centre of the Russian steel industry. Magnitogorsk has a population of 400,000 and lies around 1,400 kilometres south-east of Moscow in the southern Urals, near the Kazakhstan border. This is where Russian Railways placed its first contract for the modernisation and automation of a complete bogie refurbishment line, and the participating companies completed the task in the space of just 15 months. The facility is now regarded as a model for the successful modernisation of Russian Railways, which generate 3.6 percent of the entire Russian GDP according to their own figures. Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and boss of the company’s 1.2 million employees, travelled to the works this July in person to attend the official re-opening and congratulate all the participants on the successful completion of the project. During the ceremony he confirmed Russian Railways’ plans to invest in the modernisation of further rail depots. Two similar modern refurbishment lines are due to go into operation in 2009 and another twenty will follow in the course of the next five to seven years.

Technological challenges
Baranovichevskiy Automated Lines Factory, the White Russian company entrusted with the technical side of the modernisation project, drew up a challenging set of speci-fications to be implemented by factory automation specialists Technikon Limited, a long-standing sales and systems integration partner of Mitsubishi Electric from Minsk, also in White Russia. All operations involved in the maintenance and refurbishment of the bogie components were to be automated and efficiently integrated in the entire process. The controller systems of the new, highly-automated repair facility had to be both easy to operate and extremely robust and reliable. This was essential because of the severe skilled labour shortage in Magnitogorsk, a result of the city’s location and the economic boom of the last few years. Both automation engineers and well-trained workers to operate and service the systems are in very short supply in the region.

Universal platform
Technikon opted for the new iQ Platform system recently launched by Mitsubishi Elec-tric. This unique multi-processor system unites four different controller types – conventional programmable logic controllers (PLC), motion controllers, computerised numeri-cal controllers (CNC) and robot controllers – on a single common backplane. In multi-processor mode the control and communications tasks are shared by one PLC CPU and up to three additional high-performance processors, which can be combined very flexibly. For the first time ever, this new system enables seamless integration of CNC machine tools and robots in plant and machinery configurations with a single automation platform. Data and signals are exchanged between the controllers via a common, high-speed backplane bus synchronised with the processing cycles of the processor, which has a cycle time of just 0.88 milliseconds.

The new high-performance controller system can be configured for specific needs with expansion and special function modules from the successful MELSEC System Q modular controller system. Nearly a hundred different I/O, special function and com-munications modules are already available, including intelligent MES modules (Manufacturing Execution System) for direct connection of iQ Platform to the management level. Other components that can be integrated in the controller system include open networks, HMI control terminals, PC modules and special process CPU modules, for example for redundant architectures and direct programming in high-level languages.

An economical all-in solution
One of the key criteria leading to the selection of this robust and compact controller system was its ability to control all the components to be integrated in the production line from a single platform, including machine tools, welding robots, conveyor and han-dling systems and an RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tag system for component tracking. The standardised technology speeds up planning, installation and commis-sioning, simplifies troubleshooting and maintenance and reduces programming and training overheads. In turn, all this cuts installation and operating costs and increases the overall reliability and efficiency of the production systems, among other things thanks to the comprehensive vertical and horizontal integration. Working hand in hand with specialists from Mitsubishi Electric’s Mechatronics CNC and Industrial Automation divisions in Germany, the Technikon engineers developed a comprehensive solution that includes a fieldbus network and GOT1000 control terminals. In addition to fast and secure communications, the new system also provides full transparency for all the plant and machinery.

Automated processes
Before the worn bogie components can be refurbished on the new production line they must first be removed from the rail cars and measured. The measurement data are then used to determine the operations that need to be performed and the specific parameters for welding and so on. An RFID transponder tag containing all the data for the transport route and the scheduled machining operations is applied to every component. Receivers installed at every machining and transport station on the production line read the data from the tags as the components arrive. In the course of their journey along the line the bogie components are gradually reconditioned and brought back to their original specifications. For example, excess material is milled away at two sta-tions by two different CNC-controlled milling machines. The transportation of the com-ponents is also fully automated, with conveyor belts and portal systems that move an average of three bogie components through the system per hour.

A flexible controller system
The plant is controlled by a total of seven high-performance controllers, which are connected via a MELSECNET/H network that is geared to the precise requirements of Mitsubishi Electric’s products. Every iQ Platform unit is fitted with two processor mod-ules: a PLC CPU to handle sequential control and a CNC CPU for the numerical control tasks. The controller architecture enables parallel processing of analog and digital signals. The C70 series, as the dual-processor CNC controller configuration developed specially for production lines is known, builds on tried and tested Mitsubishi controllers for machine tools. However, it is also optimised for even faster communication with other automation components via the system’s common backplane bus. Together with the wide range of I/O, special function and network modules, this enables Mitsubishi Electric to deliver precisely-tailored and highly-efficient controller solutions.

Two C70 CNC controllers coordinate the movements of the milling machines, one of which has two spindles and six servo axes, the other one spindle and seven servo axes. The other five controllers are responsible for the handling systems, which have a total of 28 axes, the conveyor belts, which also serve as temporary storage for the components during the machining process, and the welding robots. The milling machines’ servo and spindle drives and the identification system communicate via serial RS-232 interfaces, the welding robots via serial RS-485 interfaces. iQ Platform’s sup-port for a large number of communication protocols was a major benefit for the tasks involved in this project.

Modern processor technology
The seamless integration of all components and the controller system’s high process-ing speed have helped to optimise the performance of the entire production line at the Magnitogorsk works. To achieve the best possible productivity the Technikon engineers first had to replace the existing controllers in the machine tools with C70 units with modern processor technology.

The C70 CNC CPU is installed in a slot in the controller backplane. It is one of the world’s smallest and most powerful CNC processors, measuring just 98 x 27.4 x 119.3mm. All CNC functions are integrated in the compact unit. Its combination of high power and small size is the result of a number of new developments by Mitsubishi Electric, such as a high-speed RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processor with two integrated cache memories and an equally fast ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) chip. Other technical highlights include DDR (Double Data Rate) memory and high-speed access to peripheral data buses with the help of four-layer read/write protocols integrated in the ASIC. Overheating is impossible, despite the module’s high performance and the small size: The main processors operate with a very low core voltage (between 1.2 and 2.5V) and the other chips in the system also have an energy-efficient design for minimum power consumption.

A transparent network
All the controllers in the system are connected via a Mitsubishi Electric MELSECNET/H network with a redundant architecture. This network supports high-speed cyclical data transfers and uses fibre-optics cabling for interference-free communications and a “floating master” system that guarantees reliable network operation, even if the  field-bus manager fails. The optical network is immune to electromagnetic interference; this is important because of the high-powered electrical welding machines used at the works, the switching operations of which could easily cause interference in nearby con-trol cables. Only a single cable that also carries the power supply is required for com-munication at rates of up to 25 megabits per second. Connections are simple, further reducing the installation overheads and the wiring costs.

This network plays a key role on the production line. Together with the iQ Platform system it enables control and monitoring of all machines and processes, and it also makes the entire controller system transparent. Integrated diagnostics and monitoring functions identify communications problems automatically and enable the works ser-vice staff to troubleshoot all connected components without additional software or pro-gramming units. The network makes it possible to program and monitor every controller from any station, and remote access via the Internet is also supported. This too is crucial: Failsafe performance was one of the top priorities in the engineering specifications, and in this remote location the company needs to be able to ensure continuing smooth operation even when no highly-qualified automation specialists are at hand.

Intuitive operation
Operation of the system is just as simple and intuitive. The entire production line is controlled from a single central GOT1000 series control terminal from Mitsubishi Elec-tric. This graphical unit has a 15” display with touchscreen controls and is also con-nected to the MELSECNET/H network, giving it direct access to all the production line data. Special screens customised for the individual process steps provide a clear view of what is going on in the systems. Every machine on the bogie refurbishment line is also fitted with its own smaller GOT control terminal with a 10.4” screen. These units, which are also connected directly to the network, function as human-machine inter-faces for local operations, such as service tasks. They also display machine operations and processes with clear screens designed specifically for the tasks.

This uninterrupted flow of information does not end on the production line. Mitsubishi Electric produces a number of options for integration with higher-level management systems, for example the MES Interface Module for the company’s modular controllers, which is the solution that was chosen for the bogie refurbishment line. This module completely replaces expensive and unreliable gateway computers and their costly pro-gramming requirements. It provides a standardised interface that enables direct com-munication with an Oracle database, bi-directionally and in real time.

User-friendly local diagnostics and operation are complemented by efficient network access via the Internet without any need for a separate host controller to aggregate the data. These features make a major contribution to the high system availability at the modernised Magnitogorsk works. The distributed architecture and the modular control-ler technology made it possible to upgrade the plant one step at a time without having to interrupt operation.

A successful project
Following completion of the project Technikon’s head engineer Eugene Klebanov is now very satisfied with the results: “The iQ Platform with powerful PLC and CNC proc-essors connected by the high-performance backplane bus was the only way to meet all the client’s requirements for this automation solution in the shortest possible time,” he says. “The production line went into operation just 15 months after starting the development work. Modernisation of the line has enabled Russian Railways to reduce their refurbishment costs and increase reliability, and the productivity of this process has been increased very significantly.”

Before modernisation of the line around 4,300 rail cars were refurbished at the Magnitogorsk works every year. Following completion of the project and installation of the new technology the capacity of the works has increased to around 7,500 rail cars per year. This success is due in no small part to the efficient integrated automation solution based on the new iQ Platform from Mitsubishi Electric.

Eugene Klebanov is optimistic about prospects for the future: “The successful mod-ernisation of this maintenance facility is a model project that we hope will be followed by many others like it,” he adds. After all, there are thousands of passenger and freight cars that need to be serviced regularly in Russia and elsewhere, and the factory auto-mation specialist is now confident that he has found the best possible solution for this task.

Photo Captions:

Picture 1: Increased productivity: Automation of a production line with the iQ Platform system from Mitsubishi Electric has nearly doubled the repair capacity of Russian Railways’ Magnitogorsk bogie refurbishment facility.

Picture 2: Sharing the load: Seven high-performance modular controllers, each with one CNC processor and one PLC processor, control the milling machines, welding robots, conveyor belts and handling systems, and also the wireless RFID component identification system.

Picture 3: Reliable identification: The bogie components are removed from the rail cars and measured before being processed on the production line. At every station receivers read the job data from the wireless RFID tags attached to the components.

Picture 4: Programmed operations: The welding robot begins its work as soon as the PLC gives the start signal.

Picture 5: User-friendly operation: Graphical control terminals from Mitsubishi Electric’s GOT1000 series display the processes on the production line at every work station. In addition to the central terminal with a 15” display there are also seven local units with 10.4” displays.

Picture 6: Flexible modular system: iQ Platform combines a variety of controller types, including CNC (Computerised Numerical Control) on a single backplane and integrates MES functionality directly in the automation platform.


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