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Manipulating control for integrated connectivity

To facilitate the move towards Industry 4.0 and to aid troubleshooting and maintenance, Clansman Dynamics has developed a PLC based control system for its manipulators that gives customers the option of purchasing machines that are controlled using the same PLCs that run most of the other equipment in their foundry. The global supplier has a proud history of developing manipulators, grinders and cannons that are known worldwide for their robustness and reliability. The manipulators have been designed to maximise uptime and reduce costly halts in production. Originally, one key design consideration was that the machine would be controlled by a single printed circuit board, which could be taken out and replaced with a spare in a matter of minutes in the event of a problem. This would either get the manipulator back up and running or rule out the control system as the source of the problem.

Increased connectivity for integrated production

Increasingly, however, manipulators are being viewed less as a stand-alone machine for moving heavy parts from place to place, and more as an integrated component of a production line with high demands for data and connectivity which can be used to drive decision making, optimise processes, develop preventative maintenance plans and aid in troubleshooting. Given these industry trends, Clansman identified the control architecture as a possible area of development and has committed to give customers the option of purchasing machines that are entirely controlled using the same PLCs that run the majority of other equipment in their plant. The new PLC control system is an option on new machines but can also be retrofitted to existing machines, offering a cost-effective upgrade on equipment that is notoriously long-lasting.

Improved use and preventative maintenance

“Retrofitting can extend the life of the equipment, as it offers a control system that is fit for today’s needs on equipment that may not mechanically be ready to be replaced,” says Clansman sales director Andrew Allan. “It also offers a big benefit in terms of preventative maintenance. A touchscreen panel inside the operator’s cabin, linked directly to the PLC, displays diagnostic information that can indicate to an operator if certain control parameters are outside allowable tolerances. Mechanical information such as oil temperature and pressure are also displayed. Early indications allow issues to be quickly resolved before they result in downtime of the equipment. The ability for machines to ‘talk’ to each other can also improve the productivity of the process. For example, if the manipulator knows exactly which casting lies in front of it, the closing force of the grippers can automatically be adjusted to ensure that the casting is not damaged, without relying on the operator to remember to do this manually.”

Clansman controls engineer, Richard Watson, concurs: “Many foundries have a road map for implementing Industry 4.0 concepts and these will vary from customer to customer. It would not be practical for Clansman to provide an out-of-the-box solution that will meet the data requirements of every customer, but it is possible to design the system so that all the available data from buttons, sensors, control loops and actuators is presented to the customer in an easy to access manner, which their higher level supervisory and controls systems can interface with.

“There is a huge demand for more data in the entire manufacturing industry, and we have a lot which until now was inaccessible to our customers. We felt that if we moved to a PLC-based architecture and opened up our controllers to our customers, they could completely see ‘under the hood’ with no black boxes or proprietary control boards. This will not only empower them to modify the behaviour of the manipulator in response to the evolving needs of their process and to use the data from the manipulator in whichever way they want, but it will also foster a deeper understanding of the machinery amongst engineers and technicians who can interrogate and troubleshoot the controls system using the software packages that they are already familiar and comfortable with”.

Andrew Allan adds: “This move offers the customer an unlimited ability to integrate the machine into the production process. Remote access also allows us to troubleshoot with the customer over the phone, without the need for a Clansman technician to visit site, which previously could have taken 24 hours or more depending on location.”

Tried and tested

Clansman is no stranger to the use of digital controlled hydraulic manipulators, having previous experience using them in their lines of robots, grinding machines and forging manipulators which all feature automatic and semi-automatic functions, but the challenge has been to implement similar technology into simple manually operated machines while keeping their price point competitive. Another design consideration was that the system should be designed so that it can be retrofitted to any Clansman manipulator with no mechanical or hydraulic changes and only minimal alterations to the electrical wiring.

While the benefits to customers are obvious, the new system also benefits Clansman: “Having our control system built from standard modular parts and being defined completely in software massively increases our speed of development. We can create new features, test them, and then roll them out immediately to new machines, and potentially to existing machines through our remote access system if it is installed or during service visits” explains Watson.


Initially, Clansman plans on basing their system on a Siemens S7 PLC and new machines with this system are already in production. The intention is for retrofit kits to be released by the middle of the year, followed by a system based on an Allen Bradley PLC in late 2022/early 2023 backed up by retrofit kits. The first integrated PLC controlled system is up and running in France where it has been retrofitted on a customer’s manipulator, following their desire to develop the data control aspect of their production.

Technical sales engineer at Clansman, Derek Muir, explains the wider implications in the future: “Greater control offers wider reaching benefits such as the opportunity for the customer to measure and minimise power usage. This is one of the greatest benefits with the need to be as efficient as possible. Our forging equipment and robots already have this function, and it makes sense for our foundry manipulators to have this too.”

Contact: Andrew Allan, sales director, Clansman Dynamics, Tel: +44 (0) 1355 579 900, email: [email protected] web: