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Aerotech A3200 Software-based Machine Controller

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Aerotech A3200 Software-based Machine Controller

Ground-breaking motion, vision, PLC, robotics and I/O platform


Aerotech™s ground-breaking motion, vision, PLC, robotics and I/O platform, the A3200 (or Automation 3200), is used in many applications in semiconductor, data storage, medical laser processing, automotive and machine tool industries. The system features a high-performance, software-only motion controller (Nmotion® SMC) that offers 32 axes of synchronized motion control.


  • Complete motion capabilities include: point-to-point; linear, circular, helical and spherical interpolation; velocity profiling; electronic gearing; on-the-fly trajectory modification; high speed I/O; camming
  • 1 to 32 axes of scalable, synchronised motion
  • Utilizes the power of the PC to eliminate the motion control card
  • Uses commercially available FireWire determinism for communications between drives and controller
  • Programmable in native RS-274 G-code, AeroBasic command set, C, C++, .NET, MATLAB, LabVIEW, or IEC61131-3 (LD, FBD, ST) for flexibility
  • Runs brushless servo, brush, stepper or voice coil

It is the successor to Aerotech’s performance-leading and widely utilised UNIDEX 500 and 600 PC-based motion controllers. The Nmotion® SMC retains the best features of these previous motion controllers and combines them with an advanced, high-performance distributed control architecture to produce a truly state-of-the-art motion, vision, PLC, robotics and I/O platform.

The A3200 digital automation platform represents a revolutionary advancement over traditional PC-bus-based motion controllers. The A3200 is software-based (no PC slots required) and marries a robust, high performance motion engine with vision, PLC, robotics and I/O in one unified programming environment. The A3200 utilises the industry standard FireWire® (IEEE-1394) network to provide from 1 to 32 axes of synchronised control with no degradation in performance as the axis count increases.

The integration of multiple common automation tools into a single platform provides users the ability to integrate, develop and maintain the system faster, with lower cost than ever before. For instance, coupling the vision module with the motion system that coordinates a cutting process (laser, drill, mill, etc.) provides the ability to identify the workpiece and its position, and to adjust the position and signal to the cutter all within one system. This integration dramatically reduces wiring and the necessary components, which not only lowers integration and setup cost but also increases reliability.

The Automation 3200 addresses a major shortcoming of today’s multi-axis controllers: as axes are added, performance markedly degrades as either the servo update time or program execution time increases. The Automation 3200 utilises a distributed control architecture that enables it to maintain performance independent of the number of axes being controlled. It accomplishes this by avoiding the processing bottleneck caused by today’s common single processor control architecture. Position, velocity and current loop closure are handled by Aerotech’s Intelligent Network Drive. Trajectory generation is done on the PC using a real-time operating system that runs with higher priority than Windows®. The PC executes programs and sends the position commands to the Ndrive via the FireWire® high-speed serial bus.

All of the external signals including encoder and I/O are fed directly into the drive, allowing one cable to be used between the PC and the drive. Drives are networked together with a single cable.

In designing the Automation 3200, Aerotech decided that its next generation controller had to overcome the shortcomings of the traditional ±10 V network interface. While still viable for many applications, ±10 V has shortcomings, particularly when complex motion control is involved such as is common in many Aerotech applications. For example, noise coupling onto the analog signals can cause instability in the servo loop that prevents high system bandwidth. Also, with the ±10 V command, the controller doesn't have knowledge of how well the current loops are tracking. With these and other shortcomings, it was decided that the next generation controller had to utilise a high-speed serial interface.

Digital networks, such as Ethernet and RS-232, are widely used in many different industries. Other newer networks such as FireWire® and USB are becoming increasingly popular. For example, nearly all new computers now have these interfaces as standard.

With a variety of digital networks available, Aerotech developed a list of criteria that the Automation 3200 network interface had to possess. The following list details the key criteria we used to ultimately select FireWire® and why those criteria were considered important.


A3200 datasheet                                                     Read more on Aerotech's website

Integrated Automation Solutions brochure