Valve islands provide advantages for machine builders

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Dave Minors of ASCO Numatics explains how the latest fieldbus-enabled valve islands offer machine builders and system integrators substantial benefits in terms of installation, commissioning, performance and maintenance.

Valve islands provide advantages for machine buildersFieldbus-enabled pneumatic valve islands offer machine builders and system integrators a number of advantages over conventional valve islands, including reduced wiring costs and faster and easier commissioning and start-up. Built-in diagnostics also make it easy for users to troubleshoot problems, thereby reducing maintenance costs and minimising downtime. Typical fieldbus protocols include DeviceNet, DeviceLogix, Ethernet, Profibus-DP, Profinet and CANopen.

However, to realise the full benefits from this technology, there are a number of considerations when applying these devices - particularly in the areas of commissioning, distribution, modularity, diagnostics and recovery.

For example, following installation, fieldbus valve manifolds must be tested and commissioned. When many connections are involved, time and costs quickly add up. The latest generation of valve manifolds now offer Speedcon M12 connectors that only need a half-turn to gain a secure connection, which reduces commissioning time and costs.

Flexibility and modularity are also important. For example, if a particular I/O module is malfunctioning or a change is required during assembly, conventional non-modular designs force the user to dismantle the entire assembly to gain access. In contrast, some new fieldbus valve manifold systems offer modular designs that simply connect together via easily removable clips and screws.

With conventional valve manifolds, DIP switches are often used for configuration and these can be an exercise in frustration. A recent innovation is a small embedded graphic display on each module. This offers plain-language messaging that clearly identifies network addresses, baud rates and other data. Pushbuttons enable intuitive menus to be navigated and this simple system represents a revolution in pneumatic fieldbus manifold interfaces.

When there is a problem, diagnostic indicators play a key role in identifying its cause to get the machine up and running quickly. Options include sending data to a local or remote HMI, or interpretation of diagnostic LEDs on the manifold system itself. However this can be a time-consuming exercise. Fortunately, new designs offer more functional alternatives. Most innovative is the integrated graphic display with plain-language messaging. This arrangement places visual status and alarm indication away from tangled cables, in a clearly visible display area. It involves no programming or extra cost, and requires no training to use. Error messages are generated in plain language and are cleared automatically. The display's associated pushbuttons enable the user to navigate quickly through intuitive menus for easy and effective troubleshooting.

If a set of I/O cables turn out to be too short to reach their associated manifold, conventional systems require the user to order a whole new assembly. With the new modular designs, however, the I/O module is simply unclipped from the main pneumatic fieldbus valve manifold and positioned on the machine within reach of the cables, then connected to the main module via a sub-bus cable.

By applying proven technology in innovative yet simple ways, the latest valve manifolds, such as the G3 valve island from ASCO Numatics, are helping machine builders, system integrators and end users to achieve greater cost efficiency and benefit from wider application opportunities, while making considerable improvements to commissioning, use and maintenance.

For more information about the G3 valve island from ASCO Numatics go to

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