With near real-time collation, analysis, disbursement and deployment of operational data becoming commonplace in today’s manufacturing, the performance limitations of mechanical assets can often be the bottleneck on capacity. Libby White asks three leading innovators in smart track technologies to break down the features and benefits of their solutions: Mitsubishi Electric’s Linear Transfer System, Rockwell Automation’s iTRAK, and Beckhoff Automation’s XTS. 

The basics

Klaus Peterson, director of marketing, Factory Automation – European Business Group, introduces Mitsubishi Electric’s Linear Transfer Systems with Smart Carriage technology:

The Linear Transfer System is an intelligent conveying system with independently powered Smart Carriages that move around on a rigid monorail track system. The Smart Carriages have on-board intelligence and their own sensors, so based on their individual work schedules they can autonomously choose the best route around various workstations, including changing tracks. 

The rail network can be set-up to fit almost every factory floor situation, which enables users to connect machines in a very flexible way allowing production and manufacturing processes to be performed in any sequence.


Mitsubishi Electric's Linear Transfer System

Uwe Prüßmeier, product manager fieldbus systems, drive technology, XTS, Beckhoff Automation, explains Beckhoff’s XTS (eXtended Transport System):

Our system combines the advantages of rotary and linear drive technologies within a single system, thus opening up entirely new approaches to implementing compact and highly dynamic machine concepts. 

Using software it is also possible to conveniently and flexibly carry out motion tasks that would be difficult or impossible to solve by mechanical means. Creativity and mechanical engineering come together to create potential for innovation – whether it’s leveraged in the easy-to-control linear movements of the carriage movers or in an intelligent transport system at the core of an Industry 4.0 application.


Beckhoff's XTS

Rockwell Automation shares the technology behind its iTRAK Intelligent Track System:

This is a modular, scalable, and linear motor system. It allows for independent control of multiple movers on straight or curvilinear paths. Gone are the rotary driven chains, belts, and gears of the past. iTRAK replaces hardware with simple, effective software profiles that redefine speed and flexibility in automation.

Revolutionising the design and build of track-based industrial motion control for packaging and materials handling, iTRAK® combines linear and rotary motion. The result is a flexible, fully integrated motion solution that helps you get more from your machines.


Rockwell's iTRAK

Distinguishing features


By offering on-board intelligence and data memory, as well as integrated power for on-carriage devices such as sensors, the Smart Carriage can store unique product information and production data. It can then communicate information from one station to the next which also allows the carriage to detect different products and then decide on optimum routes and destinations.

This is supported by a high maximum speed of 4m/sec, plus, acceleration / deceleration of 3g and a positioning accuracy of ±0.01mm, all from a maintenance free drive system. With active power management, each Smart Carriage notice battery status and visit an exchange station to automatically swap battery packs for a freshly charged one in less than five seconds.

Our solution offers very high levels of speed and accuracy for a packaging conveyor system. Quicker processing means a faster time to market for new and existing product lines. Integrating newly developed types of packages is also far faster as changes to the conveying sequence for a new product can simply be downloaded to the carriages. Together, these features considerably increase the efficiency and flexibility of the packaging process, to the point where a production batch size of one is both practical and economically possible.


The XTS is a linear drive system that can move in a circular pattern. The motor, power electronics and electronic position sensors are fully integrated into a single module, which combine to form tracks. 

One or more cable-free ‘movers’ travel along a modular and flexible track configuration in a highly dynamic manner and at speeds of up to four metres per second. As the movers are simply mapped as conventional servo axes, they can be controlled individually. If necessary, however, they can be easily synchronised with each other as well. Sophisticated functions like automatic accumulation, collision avoidance and soft stop/start are directly integrated into the TwinCAT automation software platform.

The system – which is also available in a fully encapsulated stainless steel version, the XTS Hygienic for food and pharmaceutical applications – offers finely scalable customisation options to meet a wide range of application requirements such as different track geometries, number of movers and range of functions. These begin with simple applications, such as purely linear carriage movements, to be extended by a second mover to give an XY table.


The iTRAK system is designed to increase production rates- at 50 per cent or more. The mixture of continuous and intermittent motion, direct drive motion control, and high-performance servo control can combine to increase throughput, reduce changeover time, reduce overall machine size, lower periodic maintenance, and offer the ability of shorter runs that can still be profitable.Independent cart technology gives OEMs and end users the capabilities to keep pace with data-driven manufacturing paradigm.

Independent cart technology is, without a doubt, the future of high-agility manufacturing systems. Able to exploit the almost constant levels of change required for modern manufacturing, processing and packaging operations, its agility is complemented by a raft of additional benefits, including higher throughput, OEE and uptime and lower energy costs, wear and floor space.

Transformative potential


Manufacturing companies that adopt this new highly flexible technology will have an advantage when it comes to responding to the current market trend for individual product customisation. A batch size of one is far easier to achieve, and this will enable manufacturing organisations to rethink their approach to conveying items on the shop floor in response to customer demand for more highly personalised goods.

General production speed and efficiency will also be increased, in addition to other cost benefits such as reducing TCO and allowing for easier integration of other advanced technologies such as smarter packaging machines and robots. 


By using our modular geometry of motor modules and guide rails to form a circle, we finally have an endless linear system in which you can modify the number of movers to suit individual requirements. 

The functionality can be increased still further by combining a number of XTS systems, using comprehensive TwinCAT function blocks and integrating robotics. If this rich feature set is used consistently and together with condition monitoring and object-oriented PLC programming, the result will be a highly intelligent machine or production module that is entirely compliant with Industrie 4.0.


iTRAK presents an opportunity to revolutionise machine design in a way that has not been seen in decades. Machine designs have changed from mechanical line shafts to electronic line shafts and finally to independent mover technology.

Applications of the iTRAK technology have showcased independent cart technology’s capabilities not only in terms of the levels of flexibility it can deliver, but also in terms of higher throughput, lower energy costs, decreased floor space and quicker time to market. Indeed, a variety of real-world applications in operation right now have demonstrated 90 per cent changeover time reductions, 100 per cent increases in throughput and 50 per cent less floor space requirements.