Alfa Elettronica works on electronics for industrial automation in Tuscany (Italy). It is a small Company with 20 employees, which designs and manufactures custom-made electronics to be used in automatic machines for packaging, mechanical and food industry.
Companys products, starting from simple electronic boards up to turn-key control cabinets, are currently based on discrete components and on micro-controller technology.
The Companys product named ATOMA 900 is a Programmable Logical Controller for industrial automation. It has been used in specific niches of industrial automation market, to automate and control simple machines; generally, no more than one axis movement is required to be controlled by ATOMA 900. The axis movement is usually managed counting the impulses supplied by encoders. The counting operation is performed directly by a subsystem, named positioner, which exploits capabilities of the microprocessor inside ATOMA 900 and is realised by SW techniques. This operational mode overloads the microcontroller and heavily slows the system, making it inadequate in both terms of performances and costs.
The product Programmable Logical Controller ATOMA 900 has been improved by adopting the new technology of FPGA Field programmable Gate Array - within its subsystem that manages the impulses by one encoder.
The new developed module substituted the conditioning interface and the counting function, making the whole system able to control two axes even faster than how the old one were, and leaving the micro-controller free for other functions. As a result, the new generation of ATOMA product is able to control two channels with better performances if compared with the old one, including system re-programmability, increase in maximum frequency of the whole system and better fitting to noisy environments.
The new adopted FPGA technology guarantees also lower costs per controlled channel thanks to simplification in the assembling process
Moreover, the FPGA technology seems to fit well with some other applications that Alfa Elettronica is currently developing.
This project started as Application Experiment on 15 October 1997 and ended on 15 March 1998. It was carried out in 5 months effective time with a total investment of 30 KECU. The payback period is foreseen in 18 months and a Return Of Investment (ROI) of 300% on a period of 5 years is expected.
The AE development needed an overall effort of 986 personhours (123 personday). A subcontractor got 6,9 KECU for transferring technology.
This experience from Alfa Elettronica demonstrates that hardware solutions, when backed up by innovative technologies, can successfully carry out functionalities produced via software. This has been done by replacing the usual counter, based on architecture with micro-controller, with one using the FPGA plus the micro-controller: the whole system improved its performances since the micro-controller core was relieved by the counting hard task.
This kind of solution, although it be applicable in many fields, can give the best results when applied on the Industrial Process Control Systems.
|You can also benefit from microelectronics
FPGA technology provided ALFA ELETTRONICA S.r.l. with the means of improving its products and enhancing its market position. You can also achieve significant benefits by acquiring the right microelectronics technology and utilising it in your product or manufacturing process. You can get help from FUSE to realise this.
FUSE is a technology transfer programme, funded by the European Commission to stimulate the wider use of microelectronics technologies by European enterprises to increase their competitiveness and enhance their economic growth. The demonstrator described here is one of many examples in the public FUSE portfolio covering the whole spectrum of microelectronics technologies and spanning a wide range of applications and industry sectors.
FUSE provides you with:
- Best practice in acquiring specific microelectronics technologies and conducting full development projects through the FUSE portfolio of real life demonstrator documents.
- Local training and expert support to plan your innovation realistically and help you conduct your project successfully.
Further information and support relating to this and other demonstrators can be obtained from the addresses below.