Beckhoff helps LSP Technologies increase flexibility in laser peening system

  • April 23, 2020
  • Beckhoff Automation
  • Case Study
Beckhoff helps LSP Technologies increase flexibility in laser peening system
Beckhoff helps LSP Technologies increase flexibility in laser peening system
April 23, 2020 - Whether manufacturing packaging machines or components for airliners, companies must be able to guarantee all metal parts will remain strong and dependable throughout the product’s lifecycle. Recognizing this challenge, LSP Technologies (LSPT) pioneered a method for engineers to increase the strength of metals in manufactured goods: laser peening. Peening describes the bombardment of metal workpieces with other objects, whether peening hammers, small pellets or high-powered lasers, to mitigate the effects of metal fatigue. The objects press the material into itself to make it denser and, as a result, stronger.

With laser peening, a high-powered beam is directed at the metal surface while a stream of water flows over the workpiece. The beam impacts the surface of the metal, creating a small explosion between the water and the surface of the part, which forces the shockwaves to travel deep into the metal, thus creating a material with a higher fatigue life.

Founded in 1995, LSPT builds laser peening systems and continues to develop more machinery. The Dublin, Ohio-area company provides laser peening services and equipment for many industries, such as aerospace, automotive and maritime. LSPT is the only company in the world that sells, installs and integrates custom laser peening systems in customer facilities. “We started the business by providing lasers for this process, and then we decided to provide laser peening as a service,” says David Lahrman, Vice President of Business Development at LSPT. “However, to make this a pervasive technology, we also needed to supply machines directly to companies that rely heavily on the laser peening process.”

One of LSPT’s most recent advances is the modular Procudo Laser Peening System — a self-contained turnkey system that offers installation and customization. The standard Procudo Laser Peening System fires its diode-pumped pulsed YLF lasers up to 20 hertz, and it measures 56 inches wide, 68 inches tall by 132 inches long. Because LSPT creates tailor-made Procudo Laser Peening Systems for use at customer facilities, the design for the system is never final, and some iterations of the system feature machine cells the size of large rooms to accommodate multiple articulated robots. No matter the custom requirements, laser peening is a complex process requiring effective machine control for motion and laser synchronization, and LSPT had to consider all components carefully when designing the Procudo Laser Peening System.

The Problem
With laser peening equipment, flexibility and customization are crucial. Metal parts, especially large or awkwardly shaped components, are often difficult to move within a machine cell when accommodating fixed-position lasers. This is particularly challenging with workpieces like massive ship hulls and anchors in the maritime industry, for example. “In the past, we generally used part-to-beam processing by aiming the laser at a fixed point in the processing cell and then moving the parts with robotics,” Lahrman says. “To process very large parts, however, we now use beam-to-part processing, which involves moving the laser with robotic arms from KUKA robots to peen areas that require treatment.”

Flexibility is key as well, since each customer has unique requirements. Whenever LSPT engineers install new systems or process new components in-house, they must make significant changes. It is not as simple as shipping out a pre-packaged product. For this reason, it is also critical that the automation and controls technology used in the Procudo Laser Peening Systems is highly scalable. The equipment must be able to handle workpieces that are very large, as well as others that focus on the smallest, most precise details.
Another important factor is the standardization and synchronization of the technology. Dynamic software and hardware systems must communicate and cooperate seamlessly even in multi-vendor applications. To meet these challenges, LSPT sought technologies that were reliable, accurate and fast. The system’s complex requirements made Beckhoff Automation a fit for LSPT.
The Solution
LSPT addresses each Procudo Laser Peening System’s technical requirements and challenges by incorporating scalable, flexible automation technology. The company was drawn to Beckhoff initially because of its interface options, including HMI hardware that is customizable for wide-ranging applications and features rugged design for industrial environments. Both the built-in CP2912 multi-touch Control Panel and the pole-mounted CP3913 multi-touch Control Panel offer LSPT the options needed for unique client demands, according to Controls Engineer Alex Portolese. “For smaller Procudo Laser Peening System designs that require stand-alone HMI panels, we implement the CP3913 to interface with the finer controls of the laser system. However, the CP2912 is the standard control panel for the Procudo Laser Peening System, as it works well for custom applications and mounts directly to electrical cabinets,” he says.

Leveraging PC-based control from Beckhoff, LSPT also uses the CX2040 Embedded PC, featuring quad-core, 2.1 GHz Intel Core i7 processors, to run HMI, connect to the cloud and communicate between the Procudo Laser Peening System and higher-level systems. “We like the power and small form factor of the CX2040. With the addition of SQL databases, this allows us to maintain compact electrical cabinet footprints,” Portolese explains. However, the Procudo Laser Peening System’s standard control hardware for robotics and other laser peening functions is the C5240 Industrial PC (IPC).

TwinCAT 3 automation software gives LSPT the flexibility to complete all programming in a standard engineering environment, according to Keith Glover, head of electrical engineering at LSPT. In addition, TwinCAT can scan and automatically configure third-party devices over ADS and EtherCAT, significantly reducing commissioning times for machines like the Procudo Laser Peening System that feature multi-vendor architectures. “Fast communication with third-party industrial devices or existing factory fieldbuses is a key advantage of TwinCAT,” Glover says. “Implementing special protocols in serial modules and TCP-IP modules, for example, is easier with the Beckhoff platform compared to others.” This helps when implementing complex systems with robotics.
Precise motion control and EtherCAT communication are crucial for the Procudo Laser Peening System. As a KUKA Gold partner, LSPT implements multiple articulated robots to move lasers, and sometimes also workpieces, to ensure that the beams strike parts with high accuracy. AM8000 Servomotors from Beckhoff offer a robust design with long lasting-life cycles and are equipped with One Cable Technology (OCT), which saves space and costs by combining feedback and power in a single cable. “We have used the AM8000 Servomotors quite heavily in recent Procudo Laser Peening System projects involving beam-to-part processing. The motors help move the beam closer to the target part to complete the laser peening process,” explains Portolese.

As the fastest fieldbus, EtherCAT provides communication for more than the robotics in the modular Procudo Laser Peening Systems. A  range of EtherCAT I/O modules from Beckhoff provides scalable networking solutions for LSPT. Inside the machine cells where high moisture is present, LSPT uses water-resistant, IP 67-rated EtherCAT Box modules. LSPT uses standard EL-series EtherCAT I/O terminals in electrical cabinets due to their compact form factors and numerous channels for all common sensors, actuators and other field devices. The Procudo Laser Peening System also implements integrated safety through TÜV-certified TwinSAFE options. Safety programs are created in TwinCAT and then transferred to devices throughout the Procudo Laser Peening System, including EL6900 TwinSAFE Logic terminals in standard I/O segments and EP1908 EtherCAT Box modules inside the peening cell.

The Procudo Laser Peening Systems take various forms depending on customer requirements, but each one receives significant advantages by leveraging PC Control from Beckhoff. LSPT achieved its goals for flexibility, enabling the Procudo Laser Peening System to emit an 8 to 16 nanosecond pulse containing 10 Joules of energy. While the laser has a standard repetition rate of 20 hertz, it can also achieve firing speeds ranging from 1-200 hertz. As a result of the high synchronization possible with TwinCAT and EtherCAT, the system can process up to 29 square inches (187 square centimeters) of material per minute. In addition, the Procudo Laser Peening System offers high levels of customization through open, scalable technologies, and this is a significant benefit, according to Lahrman. “We are always excited by the opportunity to create new solutions for our customers,” he says.

While flexibility and customization are major cornerstones of Beckhoff technology, another focus is synchronization. These benefits continue to be compelling reasons for LSPT to implement Beckhoff technologies, according to Glover. “What led us to choose Beckhoff from the technology side was the speed and real-time determinism of EtherCAT and TwinCAT. The ability to have the same networking and software combination on the same device with high-speed data sharing was critical,” he says. “Additionally, the ability to synchronize motion with the laser output is critical to the repeatability and quality of our processes, enabling us to reliably provide the benefits of laser peening to customers across many industries.”
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