Modular connectors for modular automation

20th April 2021
Alex Lynn

Modular automation is changing the way plants operate. Sectors including pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and food and beverage have seen an increase in the demand for customisation and smaller batch sizes. Processing plants, for example, while efficient, are less agile. Here Jonathan Parry, Senior VP and MD Europe at electrical connector supplier PEI-Genesis, has discussed how modular automation will benefit from the advent of modular connectors.

As consumers, we love to have choices, but don’t always realise the implications this will have on the ability of plants to adapt accordingly. Large-scale plants are typically at their most efficient when they’re producing items with less variation and at scale.

When customers require factories to scale production up or down, or completely change their final product, the whole production line may need to be reconfigured. Configuration of equipment is time consuming, inefficient and complex. 

Modular automation: the basics

Modular automation works like building blocks, where plants can replicate modules and use them to scale production to meet consumer needs. According to an in-depth analysis on modular automation by ABB, ‘By changing a few modules, a completely new product can be produced’. Not only does this simplify engineering, it speeds up time-to-market. The company also explains that, ‘A module type package (MTP) standardises the interface between the control level and module’, so that different process equipment can interact with other systems quickly and without errors. 

Because recipes in the food industry need to be regularly changed, modular automation can be used to modify recipes from a function library without production stoppages.

Why modular connectors?

Throughout a plant, each point of power, sensor data and control communication is transferred via a connector into a control or power panel. The result is hundreds of fixed point-to-point contacts that cannot be easily moved around should production requirements change. A modular connector is a multipurpose connector that can simultaneously provide multiple sources of connectivity.

Modular connectors work with open automation to make plants more flexible to consumer demands. For example, PEI-Genesis supplies the Harting Han-modular connector series, a modular connector that combines power and signal circuits into one connector. The connector can be customised with over one hundred off-the-shelf modules, combining various multi-media types into a singular rectangular connector. For engineers, this means they can take advantage of modular automation without the hassle of extra cabling and the complexity of manually wiring each module.  

Open automation and modular connectors prove that customer choice doesn’t have to be a headache for automation environments. This type of flexibility allows manufacturers to easily reconfigure their plant to meet changing consumer demands, without the prospect of extensive downtime and significant complexity.

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