Groundwork for effective design


From specific applications for the packaging sector to the common sense - log them under Industry 4.0 - that guides the strategies of an automation supplier: at SPS, Vincenzo Tampellini (Branch Manager Packaging Beckhoff Automation) shared his thoughts on the possibilities for further enhancing the productivity and efficiency of industrial products and processes.

In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, Beckhoff Automation is right at home. Indeed, for 25 years, the concern has been creating open automation systems and offering solutions in which industrial automation and IT converge, resulting in systems that communicate with one another securely and transparently, for a factory that is always smarter and always more connected.

Vincenzo-Tampellini_web.pngIn particular, Vincenzo Tampellini focuses on a product innovation presented at the fair - the Hygienic Design version of the XTS eXtended Transport System - and shares his views on the role of automation today.

What are the advantages of the XTS system that you are offering in a new version?
The XTS Hygienic mechatronic drive system is designed to respond to the specific needs of the beverage, food and pharmaceutical sectors. Thanks to IP 69K protection and the construction materials used (stainless steel), the system offers excellent resistance to chemical agents and the now indispensable feature of having no sharp edges.
This XTS model offers an additional, particularly high potential for innovation in the sector.

As a matter of fact, the innovative features of XTS have turned the traditional approach to motion control on its head by making available completely new possibilities for OEMs, which can now count on unprecedented freedom in mechanical design... especially for creating machines that can be adapted in an easy, intuitive and immediate way to the many typical variables of food packaging and processing, including formats, box grouping and in-line product handling.

With its characteristics, this system can be considered no longer a separate automation module, but rather an integral component of the machine. The significant reduction in mechanical design made possible by the conveyance system enables building more compact and lightweight machines requiring fewer cables. Moreover, compared to conventional solutions, resulting installations are much more flexible, process cycles take less time, and maintenance requirements are reduced, increasing and enhancing productivity with quicker product changeover.

 XTS eXtended Transport System Hygienic Design

So XTS replaces traditional conveyance systems?
We could say that they don’t so much replace them as supplement and modernize them with smart functionalities. The nature of traditional systems is such that they can be belt- or chain-based, the formats are rigidly fixed, lengths preset, and the physical parameters must be readjusted for each machine. In our case, XTS is implemented as modules of various shapes, forming linear and curving tracks, but also different radii. Our mechatronic system is based on EtherCAT and enables conveying multiple trolleys independently on the same route, each one using autonomous acceleration/deceleration ramps, speeds and cams. The trolleys can be run with outstanding performance (and that’s putting it lightly), guaranteed by EtherCAT high speed communication.

In such a way, the operator is able to program each individual trolley, making it possible to configure variable formats on the fly or reset output in terms of step and speed.
This solution employs the full potential of two cornerstones of Beckhoff technology: EtherCAT for deterministic, high-speed data transmission, and TwinCAT, which, combined with Beckhoff CPUs, enables working with very high volumes of information in remarkably short time.
One need only consider that a complex system with many trolleys means managing an exceedingly high level of data traffic and processing it almost simultaneously: and when talking about loops, we’re talking about something that XTS can process in 250 microseconds.

In this case the software plays a very important role.
The system’s distinctive feature is this: Beckhoff has managed to build software that enables managing a technology able to coordinate acceleration and high speed, transmitting all data using a single, centralized standard unit, whereas in a conventional system data is distributed within a decentralized electronic system. This is the truly revolutionary aspect of this solution, in addition to the intelligence of the motion control software. In such a way, along with TwinCAT 3 automation software and PC-based motion control, Beckhoff offers a complete drive solution.


In light of these considerations, could one say that you have changed how automation is done?
Maybe we’ve simply changed how we communicate what it is that we do. We can say that we have expanded our product portfolio with industry 4.0-ready mechatronic solutions featuring enhanced performance, compactness and intuitive use, based on the needs of our customers, because in the end it is they that dictate the rules of the market. I believe the key is the software, which I like to describe as a comfort zone that the user requires in order to manage a system like XTS.

The real innovation of the XTS system lies in how our engineers have been able to create an ad hoc automation program that has made it possible to use with ease and flexibility an inherently complex system, one that is inextricably tied up with the mechanics itself. At root, XTS is a mechatronic system made up of simple elements: a modular linear motor that is fully integrated with power electronics and a motion sensor in a single installation, one or more movers with moving parts, a mechanical guide and an industrial PC with TwinCAT 3 control software.
Therefore, the move from programming XTS to programming the entire installation is a short, almost immediate one.


There was a time when an OEM’s skill was measured by machine’s design: complex mechanics required competencies not easily found on the market. Do you think the technologies available today have lowered the bar?
As I see it, the competencies are moving - in spite of the resistance of some - away from mechanics and electronics toward mechatronics. Today the machine is a complex organism combining the two technologies, and it’s no longer possible to do without a discipline governing both jointly and completely.

Our XTS system is a good example of that type of mechatronics, which is not only the subject of an innovative university course, but also a discrete element to be “inserted” into the machine, since the latter integrates both. But of course making the most of it depends on the intelligence and imagination of the designers. In fact, one of the worst mistakes when it comes to deciding how to use a system like XTS is seeing it and using it in the form in which it is offered by the supplier, without exploring its full potential.

I mean, in the case of XTS, those customers that have gotten the most out of it are those that went beyond the simple product technology. These operators studied it carefully, making it an integral part of their machine. In a certain sense, they molded it, adapting the product to the machine and not vice-versa.
There are even cases in which the customer surpassed our own imagination to develop advanced and exciting applications.

So you don’t see any leveling of the playing field?
No, not at all. On the contrary, in this case competencies and user requirements have been raised. We have built an extensive toolbox, because when you get down to brass tacks, automation suppliers still have the same goal as they did thirty years ago, when the locus of innovation was the PLC’s capacity for combining various basic logic functions. Today the job is simply a bit more complicated: we need to supply complex functions that, from the standpoint of the machine, are once again basic functions.

In other words, it’s the OEM that needs to combine these functions in an intelligent and innovative manner by engaging the market and resolving the issues raised by our customers.
And so, automation is making available many tools that were once only within reach of the few, but it’s still effective management of the functions that makes the difference. We’ve just provided more possibilities for that.

And finally... What does Industry 4.0 mean to you?
Industry 4.0 and the fourth industrial revolution will surely be remembered as one of the most important socio-economic developments of the early 21st century.
The impact of Internet technology on organizational models has been so profound that it has changed our thinking not only on automation, but on the factory itself. In this context, PC-based systems represent the perfect bridge between information and automation technology, and this is because it is the ideal driver for seamlessly extending the concepts of flexibility, adaptability and interconnection to the factory environment.