Drives and machines are getting smarter in the Industrie 4.0 era

Intelligent drive systems play a large role in optimizing machine configuration and performance and aid companies looking to adopt Industrie 4.0 in their operations.


Advances in drives allow manufacturers to allocate functions to the drive via in-built technologies that remove the need for an external programmable logic controller (PLC), which represents a change from the minimal functionality offered by previous drives. Courtesy: Bosch RexrothMachine manufacturers are under pressure to provide shorter development times for highly advanced machines with less manpower as Industrie 4.0 adoption gains momentum. The requirement for real-time data to inform operational decision-making is growing. The keyword with Industrie 4.0 is connectivity—between all participants in the production process—even in facilities where Industrie 4.0 adoption may not have happened yet. It is important that components or systems are at least compatible with Industrie 4.0 requirements and have the ability to connect and communicate with internal and external networks.

While this is easy to achieve with new components, replacing all existing systems to ensure compatibility is unrealistic. This has led to the development of a variety of devices that offer at least basic connectivity to Industrie 4.0 systems without impacting the automation logic.

Enhanced functionality is a particular requirement with drives. Modern drive systems now have sufficient intelligence to perform position movements and velocity control. These functions are expected in the same way as accessing email via a mobile phone. Another expectation with Industrie 4.0 is drive systems will be able to acquire data on machine functionality and performance and then configure and present this data externally. 

Advances in drives allow manufacturers to allocate functions to the drive via in-built technologies that remove the need for an external programmable logic controller (PLC). The latest servo drives, for example, now include a IEC61131-3 PLC operating system, which represents a change from the minimal functionality offered by previous drives. 

It will take time for the implications of these advanced to be fully understood, but drives now have the ability to solve control challenges in real time—a key facet of Industrie 4.0. Removing the PLC and going straight to the drive eradicates any time lapse, and so optimizes cycle time and production consistency.

Staying in sync

Even if a drive system does contain the appropriate problem-solving tools or function blocks, the challenge of synchronizing multiple movements on the machine remains. Where the bus system in use is not deterministic, the solution is for the drives to communicate between themselves, without having to refer back to a central control system. This is where technologies such as SERCOS III—one of the first deterministic bus systems—come into their own. A deterministic system is not necessarily a prerequisite for Industrie 4.0 adoption. Drives can store real-time data and send it in a non-deterministic way to upward systems.

With such a range of function tools available within the drive, it is important to select the right tool. The goal should be that a machine builder programmer with no previous experience of the particular challenge can access and use these functions.

The solution lies in employing tried and tested PLC function blocks that can be used in IEC 61131-3 PLCs and even incorporated within ladder logic programming.

A variety of function blocks now are available and can be selected depending on the individual application requirements. Their capabilities range from correcting the positions of products on conveyor belts, and the control of winders, to closed loop register control and even the creation of a complete motion profile for cross-cutters and cross sealers. 

Creating a machine HMI

Creating an interface between the machine and operator—another vital component of Industrie 4.0—previously required central PLC involvement along with a bus system to convey key machine set-up information and variables to the drives. Diagnostics and machine status information is redirected to the PLC before being displayed on the human-machine interface (HMI).

Although modern bus systems can achieve this, it can require a great deal of programming effort and may be unnecessary when all the required information is contained within the drive system. To address this, many drive systems contain all the tools needed to create a HMI. In some instances, a central PLC may not even be required as the drives are capable of using a full range of inputs and outputs which would normally be connected to the PLC.

A key factor that must be kept under control is the time taken to set up and commission the machine. Intelligent drives now offer a number of tools to reduce start-up time through optimized axis movements and process synchronization. 

These rapid start-up tools have been designed to enable the drives to be moved at an early stage of the machine commissioning, even before the machine control software is installed on the system. This results in rapid and easy testing of machine mechanics with only basic IT tools, such as mobile phones or tablets, needed to gather information.

Help with maintenance

Modern drives now can play a part in a proactive maintenance regime as they can be supplied with a fully integrated series of software tools capable of performing key predictive maintenance functions, with minimal additional programming effort. This software can be set up to continuously monitor the condition of the machine mechanics and process conditions in real time. This includes waveform analysis through analyzing the rate of temperature change, as well as checking for backlash, increased friction, or process overload. If a fault condition arises, a code is generated and passed to the machine HMI. If a critical issue is identified that requires the machine to cease operating, this decision can be made inside the drive, which minimizes lost production and the risk of machine damage. 

Industrie 4.0 provides enhanced processing power and improved functionality for intelligent drives. This presents many opportunities for companies to optimize programming, production, and maintenance. With the need for central PLCs eliminated or reduced in many situations, more advanced machines can be created in much shorter timeframes. 

Mike Lomax is electrification manager at Bosch Rexroth. This appeared October 22 on the Control Engineering Europe website. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, keywords: Industrie 4.0


  • Machine manufacturers are turning to Industrie 4.0 to improve connectivity and provide real-time data.
  • Another expectation with Industrie 4.0 is that drive systems are able to acquire data on machine functionality and performance and then configure and present this data externally. 
  • Industrie 4.0 provides enhanced processing power and improved functionality for intelligent drives and the opportunity to optimize programming, production, and maintenance.

Key Concepts

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What other benefits can Industrie 4.0 provide for machine manufacturers?

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