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Stimac - Good Technical Support for Ever-changing Specifications

If the description for an automation project is clear from the start, it is easy for the industrial automation specialist to give it substance. In practice, however, specifications often change during the course of a project. This happened to Stimac/SNK when designing the control technology for a horticultural machine. For the problems that arose during the process, itsme quickly provided Stimac/SNK with a solution. “When a customer calls us, we respond immediately. So it’s nice to have a supplier like itsme who can also help immediately.”

Stimac in Deurne has been providing technical industrial maintenance and mechanical engineering services for many years. A few years ago, the company founded SNK Systems for industrial automation and panel building. With a staff of 35, they carry out projects in a range of sectors at home and abroad. For instance, they didn’t say no to a British customer who wanted to recondition machinery and relocate an entire factory. Stimac also provides training programmes, including at vocational colleges: practice and theory, assembly and maintenance technology, electrical and control technology.

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Changing specifications

A recent project focused on the control technology of a machine for processing a horticultural crop. The client was a machine builder whose end customer was an innovative grower. For Stimac/SNK, the challenge was in how the machine concept evolved during development. “As a result, there were constant adjustments to the specifications,” explains Joris Sleegers, who handles electrical and software engineering at SNK. “For instance, at first there were 10 variable speed drives and later on there were 18. For that, because of the delivery time, we had to quickly order a more advanced PLC.”

At one point, the customer came with a request to send all the machine’s signals - input, output, status, error messages - to its master control system. “It seemed like a simple request, but establishing the necessary connection to the central server was nevertheless much more complicated,” says Sleegers. “We already had a Modbus network in the machine, partly to connect to other machines in the line. However, Modbus proved unsuitable for communication with the higher control level.”

“Because of the delivery time, we had to quickly order a more advanced PLC."

Standard for data exchange

The solution was found in creating a subnet in the machine’s network infrastructure and communicating with the controller from there via OPC UA. OPC UA (Open Platform Communications - Unified Architecture) is a standard for data exchange between industrial automation systems. That should always work, but the data traffic did not pick up immediately. This prompted Sleegers to reach out to itsme for help. It turned out that the selected communication card was incompatible with OPC UA, noted Quinten Waegeman, Product Specialist at itsme Industrial Automation Technical Support. Sleegers: “Since we originally wanted to work with Modbus, we didn’t consider compatibility with OPC UA when selecting the card. That’s why we picked the CM (communication module, ed.); turns out, it should have been the CP (communication processor, ed.).” Waegeman: “That was the card that was compatible. I assisted in the commissioning and tested the attainability of the umbrella system; that went well.”

“If you also communicate with systems outside the machine, then you need OPC UA.”

“If it is strictly about controlling the process inside the machine, OPC UA is not necessarily needed,” explains Waegeman. “In this case, a real-time protocol such as PROFINET IO will do. However, nowadays in production, people want to collect a lot more data, which are not directly required for the process, but do provide insight into the course of production and the status of the machine. Such data include operating hours, product counts and so on. This type of data is interesting for process optimisation, for example. Then you also communicate with systems outside the machine, and for that you need OPC UA.”

Immediate support

“For about five years, Stimac/SNK has had a relationship with itsme,” says Sleegers. “We did not work with Siemens by default. We never used Siemens components and their TIA Portal to control variable speed drives, for example. But more and more customers requested it. We now order the components from itsme and if we have any questions, we give them a call.”

Sleegers is very satisfied about the cooperation. “The support is good. Every time we call some of our big suppliers, a ticket is created and we get an answer after two weeks, while we need support immediately. We prefer to get immediate advice over the phone. That’s how we work with our customers. We always have people on the case and the customer can call at any time. Practically no matter what, we can help immediately or someone from our team will visit the customer. We like working like that, so it’s nice to have a supplier like itsme who can also help immediately.”


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