Integrated and networked sensors at the heart of Industry 4.0

Advanced manufacturing systems, featuring state-of-the-art sensors and intelligent networking, are at the heart of the collection of big data and setting the pace for the achievements of Industry 4.0.

More information is being demanded from every level of the manufacturing process and the latest sensor technology and control devices are enabling this detailed level of information to be gathered.

This data is being provided in real-time for analysis and quick action to ensure that production facilities are working efficiently to capacity, that quality assurance is maintained, and that production quantities are manufactured according to schedule. Significant potential savings include lower throughput times, fewer rejects, faster setup times and timely maintenance.

Based in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater, Balluff specialises in industrial automation and the supply of advanced industrial sensing and networking devices.

The company’s marketing manager, Jim Wallace, said there continues to be enormous developments in distributed modular I/O technology. “Distributed I/O systems connected to an industrial network allow for I/O data to be spread across a machine and outside the cabinet, thus reducing the total component and hardware costs of the system,” he told PACE.

“The demand in the market for industrial networks is being driven by the need for more data from the factory floor with a view to increased productivity of equipment. Businesses are turning to distributed modular I/O solutions for improving their throughput and increasing their flexibility, while cutting costs in controls design and implementation.”

Wallace pointed out that with a centralised control cabinet strategy, while sensors, valves, and other electro-mechanical devices are out on the machine, the wires controlling their actions are routed back to the controls cabinet, which can be a long distance away, where the PLC or controller of the system resides.

“Alternatively, a distributed or machine-mount control strategy simplifies the overall machine design and build process. Central to the distributed architecture is the network or fieldbus system that allows for exchange of I/O amongst networked nodes.

Today’s distributed modular systems eliminate wiring and enable a simplified control cabinet,” he said.

Benefits of IO-Link

Wallace added that distributed architecture becomes even more attractive when combined with IO-Link technology, which is a vendor-neutral and fieldbus-neutral communications protocol for point-to-point communication.

“Specific benefits offered by IO-Link with a distributed controls strategy include modular machine design with increased I/O count and reduced cost per network node. Built-in flexibility for the future is offered plus the ability to handle any last minute change requirements more easily compared to the traditional cabinet-mount approach,” he said. “Significant labour savings can also be achieved by simplifying complex connections.

For example, with the traditional cabinet mount strategy, installing a single pneumatic valve bank could take 3-4 hours of labour, whereas with IO-Link valve connectors can be installed in a few minutes.

“IO-Link is the next generation of continuous improvement with flexible control architectures, easy and fast integration, diverse inspection options, visibility and traceability, and importantly, it can easily utilise your existing industrial network infrastructure.

“The plug and play nature of IO-Link means that devices can be used in one application, modified for another application, or moved to a better inspection location. “The flexibility to plug any device, including standard discrete sensors, into an IO-Link master gives you virtually unlimited possibilities for control of error proofing applications like colour detection, linear measurement with lasers, ultrasonic and position transducers.”

Smart sensors

Engineering design time can also be reduced with easy smart sensor integration utilising IO-Link.

Wallace said that smart measurement sensors such as for pressure, temperature, distance of inclination measurement, vision or colour sensors, and even RFID read-write heads, are increasingly being used in today’s automation.

“No matter which vendor supplies these devices, as long as they are IO-Link capable they can be easily integrated into the distributed controls architecture,” he said. “Industrial image processing using vision solutions meets the increasing demand in modern production facilities for maximum quality and greater flexibility.

Vision sensors, for example, offer extremely efficient functions that can be flexibly combined for reliable defect detection, precision quality inspection, or for reliable reading and verification of codes.”

According to Wallace, intelligent, comprehensive networking of sensors, systems and bus technology is the way forward in automation technology, and ever faster, more flexible, efficient, and variable production demands seamless communication from the sensor to the internet.

Balluff offers a wide range of sensors and systems for linear positioning and identification, object detection and fluid sensing, as well as network and connection technology.

In relation to safety and reliability, the company provides high pressure rated, temperature resistant, explosion protected, magnetic field resistant, and weld-immune sensors.

Integrated systems

Automation and Robotic Technologies (A&RT) in Bayswater specialises in high speed robotic picking and packing with a primary focus on the food and beverage sector, as well as servicing the pharmaceutical, plastics, printing, and general manufacturing industries.

The company offers standard solutions for robotic carton erecting, palletising and case packing, together with custom turnkey systems, from stand alone machines to full end-to-end production systems.

Controls Engineer at A&RT, Ben Maxwell, advises that many suppliers are now including IO-Link communication in base model sensors, enabling A&RT to provide systems with better diagnostic, troubleshooting, and performance indicators with their machines.

“Where analogue output sensors were previously used, A&RT is using the latest sensors with IO-Link to get direct digital measurements from the sensors without the need for scaling and calibration,” he told PACE.

“Although there have been many fieldbus capable sensors on the market for several years, IO-Link provides much of the basic functionality of these devices, without the additional cost that is normally associated.

“For example, our robotic carton erectors utilise laser distance measurement sensors to automatically control carton fill heights and check carton alignment. Previously, a sensor needed to be manually adjusted by an operator for each product range.”

Maxwell also emphasised that it is very important to choose the right sensor for the application.

“As sensor manufacturers target Industry 4.0 in their own production, the ability to have sensors made to suit an application, without significant increase in cost, will allow sensor integrators such as A&RT to provide machines with unprecedented accuracy and reliability,” he said.


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