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CC-Link helps update Italian machines for American manufacturing

Rather than replace ageing machine tools, an American manufacturer of high quality precision machined parts has updated control systems with new PLCs, NC controllers and HMI terminals and then linked them together using an innovative high-speed CC-Link control network.

CC-Link is an open fieldbus that is configured as a single control loop, to which all switches and devices are now directly connected. This contrasts with the original system, where each device was individually wired back to the central controller. In fact, by using CC-Link’s network architecture, over 8000m of wiring was eliminated per machine.

The first revamped machining centre was run as a year-long trial.  During this time there was not a single control system failure, whereas the old control system experienced electrical problems on a weekly basis. As a result of this T&L Automatics proceeded to upgrade its other four lines and enjoyed productivity increases of up to 20%.

The project started when T&L Automatics Inc of Rochester, New York which makes high quality precision machined parts with complex features and intricate details for the automotive, aerospace and defence industries decided against moving production to the low-cost economies in Asia. Aware of increasing competition from offshore producers, management decided to review the company’s own onsite productivity with a view to improving efficiency, reducing losses and containing costs. The company is now reaping the benefits of re-creating a state of the art production facility with booming exports.

T&L has been in operation for over 30 years and some of its production equipment was no longer efficient by modern standards. The option of completely stripping out the plant and installing all-new equipment was seen as too expensive and disruptive. Instead it was realised that many of the machines, originally made in Italy, were good quality and in good order, but the control systems were dated in design and had started to become unreliable through age.

Much of T&L’s production is based on seven-station dial index machining centres originally designed and constructed in Milan, and it was soon realised that these machines could be effectively refitted, making the most of today’s automation and communication systems and operating costs reduced by tens of thousands of dollars a year.

T&L also understood that it could improve productivity significantly and also increase product quality with better control over precision processes. They called in solutions provider Unique Automation, from nearby Rochester, and decided to upgrade the indexing machines by replacing the problematic CNC controllers with state of the art alternatives, advanced PLCs and HMIs.

Previously, broken, loose and shorted wires that were the cause of significant downtime and problems have been totally replaced with one high-speed CC-Link wiring loop, reducing failures to an absolute minimum. Additionally, diagnosing mechanical problems is far easier with the CC-Link networking, and adding new I/O points is much faster because they are simply connected into the network wherever is physically convenient.

System Configuration
Each machining centre consists of seven machining stations with X, Y and Z-axes plus a spindle control. An eighth station is used by the operator for loading and unloading. Using CC-Link to network each machining centre, Unique Automation employed a high performance Mitsubishi PLC with two CC-Link Master stations to control two independent CC-Link networks.

The first CC-Link network includes four Mitsubishi CNC controllers to manage the seven machining stations within each centre. The CNCs work as local station devices and occupy four CC-Link network stations. Three CNCs manage six machining stations with a total of 24 axes of control. The fourth CNC manages the seventh machining station with four axes of control.

Therefore the first CC-Link network serves a total of 28 axes of movement. This network handles over 1000 I/O points for communicating status to four CNC controllers as well as transmitting commands to control other functions of the machine.

The second CC-Link network consists of 24 remote I/O modules to handle the various inputs and outputs on machining centre. This second network connects more than 600 inputs and outputs to manage the actions necessary to machine complex features and intricate part details.

These I/O consist of operator push buttons and selector switches for complete machine operation, pneumatic valve manifolds to control tool and part manipulations, tool changer inputs, over-travel / home switches, cooling pumps / valves, lubrication systems, hydraulic systems, swarf removal and filtration systems, as well as various outputs and indicators to assist the operator in managing the machining centre.

Using the PLC and the two CC-Link Master stations, the control programme is able to read all inputs and outputs on the second CC-Link network; execute the control program (which consists of over 15,000 steps of ladder code) within the PLC; set all outputs, and communicate necessary information to the CNCs on the first CC-Link network.

With each CNC executing 7,500 steps of ladder code for a total of 30,000 total steps of code within the CNC controller setup, the total number of ladder steps exceeds 45,000. The total processing time for this entire control loop is approximately 7.3ms – a significant improvement over the previous system.

In addition to the cost savings and increased productivity associated with the installation of the CC-Link network, quality of the machined parts has also vastly improved.

CC-Link is an integrated family of open automation fieldbus protocols offering comms rates up to 1Gbps (gigabit per second), it is administered and supported worldwide by the CC-Link Partners Association (CLPA). The CLPA has over 1200 members, including 200 automation hardware vendor companies. There are over 1 million CC-Link nodes sold per year and an installed base of over five million nodes. CC-Link is the dominant fieldbus protocol throughout the Asian economies and thanks to technology transfer in both directions; it is fast becoming a strong market force in both Europe and America.


Issued on behalf of:  CLPA-Europe, visit

Issued by:
CLPA press contact in Italy
Fulvio Giglio
DMA Europa Ltd.


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