Why Use Ultrasonic Sensors?

by Nick Smith

When choosing what sensor to use in different applications, it is important to first look at how they operate. Capacitive sensors generate an electrical field that can detect various liquids or other materials, such as glass, wood, paper, ceramic, and more at a close. Photoelectric sensors emit a light beam that is either received by a light sensor or bounced back to the emitter to detect an object’s presence or measure the distance to an object. Ultrasonic sensors bounce a sound wave off objects to detect them, which can make them a good solution for a surprising variety of uses.

How ultrasonic sensors operate

Ultrasonic sensors operate by emitting an ultra-high frequency sound wave that ranges from 300 MHz to 3 GHz, which is well above the 15-17 kHz range that humans can hear that bounces off the target object. The sensor measures the amount of time that sound wave takes to return to calculate the distance to the object. Ultrasonic sensors send these sound waves in a wider beam than a photoelectric uses, so they can more easily detect objects in a dusty or dirty environment. And with a greater sensing distance than capacitive sensors, they can be installed at a safe distance and still function effectively

Common applications for ultrasonic sensors

These capabilities together make ultrasonic sensors a great choice for tasks like detecting fill level, stack height and object presence. Sound waves are unaffected by the color, transparency, or consistency of an object or liquid, which makes it an obvious contender in the packaging, food, and beverage industry and many other industries with similar manufacturing processes.

So to monitor glass bottles as they travel on a conveyor, an ultrasonic sensor could be a good choice. These sensors will consistently work well detecting clear or reflective materials such as water, paint, glass, etc., which can cause difficulties for photoelectric sensors. Another benefit of these sensors is the ability to mount them further away from their targets. For example, there are ultrasonics that can be mounted between 20 to 8000 mm away from the object. After tuning your setup, you can detect very small objects as easily as larger, more visible items.

Another common application for ultrasonic sensors is monitoring boxes. Properly implemented ultrasonic sensors can detect different sizes of boxes as they travel on a conveyor belt by constantly emitting and receiving sound waves. This means that each box or object will be measured by the sound wave. Different photoelectric and capacitive sensors may fail to detect the full presence of an object and may only be able to detect a specific point on an object.

When it comes to all types of different fill-level applications, there are many ways a sensor can monitor various liquids and solids. The width of an ultrasonic beam can be increased to detect a wider area of solid material in a hopper or decreased to give a precise measurement on liquid levels. This ability to detect a smaller or larger surface area gives the user more utility when deciding how to meet the requirements of an application. Although capacitive sensors can detect fill levels very precisely as well, factors like beam width and sensing distance might make ultrasonic a better choice.

With so many different sensor technologies available and factors like target material and sensing distance being such important factors, choosing the best sensor for an application can be demanding. A trusted expert who is familiar with these different technologies and the factors related to your applications and materials can help you confidently move toward the smart factory of the future.

Add Automation to Gain Safety and Control in Manufacturing

Industry automation not only has a positive effect on the improvement of production processes, it also significantly improves employee safety. New technologies can minimize the need for employees to work in dangerous situations by replacing them all together or by working cooperatively alongside them.

Overcoming fears of automation
Many workers fear technological progress due to the generally accepted view that robots will replace people in their workplaces. But their fears are conjecture. According to a study published in 2017 by scientists at the Universities of Oxford and Yale, AI experts predict a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans at all tasks within 45 years. But, instead of replacing all workers, there is a stronger chance AI will eliminate dangerous manual labor and evolve other roles. Following are a few examples.

    • Automation in palletizing systems
      Before automation-based solutions entered factories, laborers had to do most work by hand. A work system based on the strength of the human body, however, does not bring good results. Workers tire quickly, causing a decrease in their productivity. And with time, health problems related to regularly carrying heavy daily loads also begin to appear. Until recently, employees of the palletizing departments struggled with these problems. But today, robots are carrying out the work of moving, stacking, and transporting products on pallets.
    • Automation forging processes
      Also, until recently, forging processes in the metallurgical industry were performed with the help of human workers. There are still factories today in which blacksmiths are responsible for putting the hot metal element under the hammer to form the final shape of the product. Such a device hits with a force of several dozen tons, several times a minute. Being at the hammer is therefore extremely dangerous and may cause permanent damage to the worker’s health. Elevated temperatures in the workplace can also have negative effects on the body.

      At
      most businesses, forging processes are now fully automated. Robots specially prepared for such work feed the elements to the automatic hammer with their grippers. And sensory solutions help make the job safer by detecting the presence of people or undesirable elements within the working machine. The quality control of manufactured products is also extremely important and more easily controlled with an automated system.
    • Automation in welding processes
      Welding processes are another dangerous activity in which automation is starting to play a key role. During welding work, toxic fumes are released from the gas lagging, which the welder regularly inhales. This can result in serious poisoning or chronic respiratory diseases. Welding also produces sparks which can lead to severe burns and worker blindness.

      Again, automation makes the process safer. High-class welding machines exist on the market that can work continuously, under human control. With such solutions, it is necessary to use appropriate protection systems to protect employees against possible contact with machines during work. Automation in this situation eliminates a dangerous role, and creates a new, safer, and, some would say, better work role.

Skillful design of automation systems
While factory automation eliminates some threats to workers, others often arise, creating the need for strict design plans prepared by specialists in this field. It is necessary to prepare the automation system in such a way that it not only ensures safety, it does so without reducing productivity or creating downtime which can cause the employee to bypass security systems. The systems blocking the working space of the machine should not interfere with the worker and the worker should not interfere with the system. Where possible, instead of a mechanical lock, an optical curtain at the feeding point should be used to stop the machine’s operation if a foreign object breaks the curtain’s beam of the light. Mechanical locks blocking access to the working space should be in places where it is not necessary to open the door frequently.

Successful human-machine collaboration
When designing automation systems in production companies, it is also necessary to remember that often a human is working alongside the robot. In palletizing systems, for example, a person is responsible for preparing the place for packing and cleaning the working area. For the work to go smoothly, it may be worth creating two positions next to each other. Mechanisms on the market today allow you to control the work of robots at a given position, assigning them to the workspace. Special security scanners prevent the robots from moving to positions where someone is working.

IO-Link Benefits in Robotic Weld Cell Tooling

By Scott Barhorst

Working previously as a controls engineering manager in robotic welding, I have seen some consistent challenges when designing robotic weld cell systems.

For example, the pre-engineered-style welding cells I’ve worked with use many types of tooling. At the same time, space for tooling and cabling is limited, and so is the automation on board, with some using PLC function and others using a robot controller to process data.

One approach that worked well was to use IO-Link in the systems I designed. With its simple open fieldbus communication interface and digital transmission, it brought a number of benefits.

    1.  IO-Link’s digital signals aren’t affected by noise, so I could use smart sensors and connect them with unshielded 4-pin cables.
    2.  Expandability was easy, either from the Master block or by adding discrete I/O modules.
    3.  IO-Link can use the ID of the block to identify the fixture it is associated with to make sure the correct fixture is in the correct location.
    4.  Cabling is simplified with IO-Link, since the IO-Link Master can control both inputs, outputs, and control valve packs. That means that the only cables needed will be 24V power, Ethernet, weld ground (depending on the system), and air.
    5.  Fewer cables means less cost for cables and installation, cable management is improved, and there are fewer cables to run through a tailstock or turntable access hole.

One system I designed used 1 IO-Link Master block, 3 discrete I/O modules, and 1 SMC valve manifold controlled via IO-Link. This tooling had 16 clamps and 10 sensors, requiring 42 total inputs and control of 16 valves. The system worked very well with this setup!

An additional note: It’s good to think beyond the process at hand to how it might be used in the future. A system built on IO-Link is much more adaptable to different tooling when a change-over is needed. Click here to read more about how to use IO-Link in welding environments.

 

 

 

 

 

Manufacturing Insights: Top Blogs From 2021

While last year was filled with challenges and unexpected changes for many industries, including manufacturing, it was not without positive achievements and insights. As we look forward to 2022, let’s not forget some topics that shaped 2021, including our five most-read blogs.

1. 5 Manufacturing Trends to Consider as You Plan for 2022

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again where we all start to forget the current year (maybe that’s OK) and start thinking of plans for the next – strategy and budget season! 2022 is only a few weeks away! I thought I’d share 5 insights I’ve had about 2022 that you might benefit from as you start planning for next year.

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2. The Pros and Cons of Flush, Non-Flush and Semi-Flush Mounting


Inductive proximity sensors have been around for decades and have proven to be a groundbreaking invention for the world of automation. This type of technology detects the presence or absence of ferrous objects using electromagnetic fields. Manufacturers typically select which inductive sensor to use in their application based on their form factor and switching distance. Although, another important factor to consider is how the sensor will be mounted.

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3. IO-Link Wireless – IO-Link with Even Greater Flexibility



In a previous blog entry, I discussed IO-Link SPE (Single-Pair Ethernet). SPE, in my opinion, has two great strengths compared to standard IO-Link: cable length and speed. With cable lengths of up to 100 meters and speed of 10 Mbps, compared to 20 meters and max baud rate of 230.4 Kbps, what could be out of reach?

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4. How Condition Monitoring has Evolved and Its Role in IIoT

In recent years, as IIoT and Industry 4.0 have become part of our everyday vocabulary, we’ve also started hearing more about condition monitoring, predictive maintenance (PdM) and predictive analytics. Sometimes, we use these terms interchangeably as well. Strictly speaking, condition monitoring is a root that enables both predictive maintenance and predictive analytics. In today’s blog we will brush up a little on condition monitoring and explore its lineage.

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5. Lithium Ion Battery Manufacturing – RFID is on a Roll



With more and more consumers setting their sights on ‘Drive Electric,’ manufacturers must prepare themselves for alternative solutions to combustion engines. This change will no doubt require an alternative automation strategy for our electric futures.

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Honorable Mention: Top 5 Insights From 2020

And, finally, for the sake of comparison, we can’t help but honorably mention last year’s look-back blog. The top five insights from 2020 include buying a machine vision system; data provided by IO-Link; changes in electrostatic sensing field by capacitive sensors; reducing the number of ethernet nodes on your network using IO-Link; and adding a higher level of visibility to older automation machines.

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We appreciate your dedication to Automation Insights in 2021 and look forward to growth and innovation in 2022!

Factor 1 sensors make auto production more flexible

Have you ever climbed a mountain with a backpack? Then you understand that the lower the load, the less power is needed and the lower the energy consumption. The same is true for cars. And in regard to electric vehicles, this is even more important: The more weight that can be saved somewhere else, the larger the battery can be, thus increasing the range of the electric car.

Lightweight construction is key for weight reduction. By using a sensible mix of materials, weight can be saved without compromising functionality and safety or drastically increasing costs. High-strength steels or light metals are used for body parts or seat frames. However, this mix of materials has an impact on automotive production when it comes to selecting the sensor technology. Inductive sensors have become an indispensable part of automotive construction; however, they react to different metals. This would mean frequent adjustments during production. Fortunately, we have Factor 1 sensors.

Inductive sensors react to metals. Their task is to detect metal objects without contact. The distance at which the corresponding object can be detected by the respective sensor is called the switching distance. The switching distance for standard inductive sensors depends on the material of the metal. Steel, for example, is detected much better than aluminum or copper. The switching distance can be reduced by up to 70% for non-ferromagnetic materials.

 

To eliminate this problem, Factor 1 sensors were developed. They offer all of the advantages of inductive sensors with the added bonus of having the same switching distance for all metals. This makes them ideally suited for the detection of changing objects (steel, aluminum, brass, copper etc.) and a perfect fit for the production of electric cars or anywhere different types of metals need to be used and identified. And because Factor 1 sensors are magnetic-field resistant, they can be used in areas  with strong electromagnetic fields, such as welding plants.

For more information, visit https://www.balluff.com/local/us/products/product-overview/sensors/inductive-sensors/#/inductive-factor-1-sensors

Top 5 Insights from 2020

With a new year comes new innovation, experience and insights. Before we jump into new topics for this year, let’s not forget some of the hottest topics from last year. Below are the five most popular blogs from our site in 2020.

1. Buying a Machine Vision System? Focus on Capabilities, Not Cost

Gone are the days when an industrial camera was used only to take a picture and send it to a control PC. Machine vision systems are a much more sophisticated solution. Projects are increasingly demanding image processing, speed, size, complexity, defect recognition and so much more…

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2. What data can IO-Link provide?

As an application engineer, one of the most frequent questions I get asked by the customers is “What is IO-Link and what data does it contain?”. Well, IO-Link is the first worldwide accepted sensor communication protocol to be adopted as an international standard IEC61131-9. It is an open standard, and not proprietary to one manufacturer. It uses bi-directional, single line serial communications to transfer data between the machine controller and sensors/actuators…

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3. Do Your Capacitive Sensors Ignore Foam & Condensation for True Level Detection?

Capacitive sensors detect any changes in their electrostatic sensing field. This includes not only the target material itself, but also application-induced influences such as condensation, foam, or temporary or permanent material build-up. High viscosity fluids can cause extensive delays in accurate point-level detection or cause complete failure due to the inability of a capacitive sensor to compensate for the material adhering to the container walls…

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4. Reduce the Number of Ethernet Nodes on Your Network Using IO-Link

Manufacturers have been using industrial Ethernet protocols as their controls network since the early 1990s. Industrial Ethernet protocols such as Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet, and Modbus TCP were preferred over fieldbus protocols because they offered the benefits of higher bandwidth, open connectivity and standardization, all while using the same Ethernet hardware as the office IT network. Being standard Ethernet also allows you to remotely monitor individual Ethernet devices over the network for diagnostics and alarms, delivering greater visibility of the manufacturing data…

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5. Adding a higher level of visibility to older automation machines

It’s never too late to add more visibility to an automation machine. In the past, when it came to IO-Link opportunities, if the PLC on the machine was a SLC 500, a PLC-5, or worse yet, a controller older than I, there wasn’t much to talk about. In most of these cases, the PLC could not handle another network communication card, or the PLC memory was maxed, or it used a older network like DeviceNet, Profibus or ASi that was maxed. Or it was just so worn out that it was already being held together with hope and prayer. But, today we can utilize IIoT and Industry 4.0 concepts to add more visibility to older machines…

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We appreciate your dedication to Automation Insights in 2020 and look forward to growth and innovation in 2021!

Continuous Improvement Shouldn’t Stop for a Crisis

In any given year, New Year’s resolutions have long gone out the window by April. But this year, we at least have an excuse. 

 

You might have heard about this pandemic we are experiencing. 

 

Our gyms are closed, our refrigerators are full, and we have more streaming options than ever to keep us happily disengaged. So, unless you resolved to wash your hands until they were raw or become a recluse, there is a good chance you are failing. 

 

But COVID-19 hasn’t only impacted our homes and our waistlines; it has made an even more significant impact on our workplaces and how we complete our tasks. Some are now working from home, while manufacturing lines that have been deemed essential have been updated to incorporate additional safety precautions, including increased separation between workers. 

 

Just staying operational can be a struggle with a reduced workforce and increased regulations. So, it is easy to use excuses to explain why we’ve strayed from our commitment to continuous improvement. But even in a crisis, those are just excuses. Continuous improvement must be continuous – even in times of trial. Now is a great time to examine your processes, review your needs, and implement more lean strategies. 

 

Take a Gemba walk to determine what challenges you are facing and determine what you can fix. Eliminate unnecessary processes or process waste that doesn’t add value to the customer. And it is as important as ever, as teams adjust to their new normal, to communicate plainly and make each department’s plan clear and visible.

 

Every crisis can be an opportunity in disguise. (If that isn’t already on a poster with a kitten stuck in a tree, it should be.) Crises can provide a perspective that you didn’t previously have and the motivation you need to make changes to improve your processes. Good management includes optimizing the current situation: What can you do now that you couldn’t before? What doors does this open? How could you be better prepared if this happened again?

 

So, stop with the excuses and get lean.  

Photoelectric Methods of Operation

Photoelectric sensors vary in their operating principles and can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the application. They can be used to detect whether an object is present, determine its position, measure level, and more. With so many types, it can be hard to narrow down the right sensor for your application while accounting for any environmental conditions. Below will give a brief overview of the different operating principles used in photoelectric sensors and where they can be best used.

Diffuse

Diffuse sensors are the most basic type of photoelectric sensor as they only require the sensor and the object being detected. The sensor has a built-in emitter and receiver, so as light is sent out from the emitter and reaches an object, the light will then bounce off the object and enter the receiver. This sends a discrete signal that an object is within the sensing range. Due to the reflectivity being target-dependent, diffuse sensors have the shortest range of the three main discrete operating principles. Background suppression sensors work under the same principle but can be taught to ignore objects in the background using triangulation to ensure any light beyond a certain angle does not trigger an output. While diffuse sensors can be affected by the color of the target object,  the use of a background suppression sensor can limit the effect color has on reliability. Foreground suppression sensors work in the same manner as background suppression but will ignore anything in the foreground of the taught distance.

diffuse

Retro-reflective

Retro-reflective sensors also have the emitter and receiver in a single housing but require a reflector or reflective tape be mounted opposite the sensor for it to be triggered by the received light. As an object passes in front of the reflector, the sensor no longer receives the light back, thus triggering an output. Due to the nature of the reflector, these sensors can operate over much larger distances than a diffuse sensor. These sensors come with non-polarized or polarizing filters. The polarizing filter allows for the sensor to detect shiny objects and not see it as a reflector and prevents any stray ambient light from triggering the sensor.

retroreflective

Through-beam

Through-beam sensors have a separate body for the emitter and receiver and are placed opposite each other. The output is triggered once the beam has been broken. Due to the separate emitter and receiver, the sensor can operate at the longest range of the aforementioned types. At these long ranges and depending on the light type used, the emitter and receiver can be troublesome to set up compared to the diffuse and retro-reflective.

throughbeam

Distance

The previous three types of photoelectric sensors give discrete outputs stating whether an object is present or not. With photoelectric distance sensors, you can get a continuous readout on the position of the object being measured. There are two main ways the distance of the object is measured, time of flight, which calculates how long it takes the light to return to the receiver, and triangulation, which uses the angle of the incoming reflected light to determine distance. Triangulation is the more accurate option, but time of flight can be more cost-effective while still providing good accuracy.

Light type and environment

With each operating principle, there are three light types used in photoelectric sensors: red light, laser red light, and infrared. Depending on the environmental conditions and application, certain light types will fare better than others. Red light is the standard light type and can be used in most applications. Laser red light is used for more precise detection as it has a smaller light spot. Infrared is used in lower-visibility environments as it can pass through more dirt and dust than the other two types. Although infrared can work better in these dirtier environments, photoelectric sensors should mainly be used where build-up is less likely. Mounting should also be considered as these sensors are usually not as heavy duty as some proximity switches and break/fail more easily.

As you can see, photoelectric sensors have many different methods of operation and flexibility with light type to help in a wide range of applications. When considering using these sensors, it is important to account for the environmental conditions surrounding the sensor, as well as mounting restrictions/positioning, when choosing which is right for your application.

For more information on photoelectric sensors, visit this page for more information.

Top 5 Insights from 2019

With a new year comes new innovation and insights. Before we jump into new topics for 2020, let’s not forget some of the hottest topics from last year. Below are the five most popular blogs from our site in 2019.

1. How to Select the Best Lighting Techniques for Your Machine Vision Application

How to select the best vision_LI.jpgThe key to deploying a robust machine vision application in a factory automation setting is ensuring that you create the necessary environment for a stable image.  The three areas you must focus on to ensure image stability are: lighting, lensing and material handling.  For this blog, I will focus on the seven main lighting techniques that are used in machine vision applications.

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2. M12 Connector Coding

blog 7.10_LI.jpgNew automation products hit the market every day and each device requires the correct cable to operate. Even in standard cables sizes, there are a variety of connector types that correspond with different applications.

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3. When to use optical filtering in a machine vision application

blog 7.3_LI.jpgIndustrial image processing is essentially a requirement in modern manufacturing. Vision solutions can deliver visual quality control, identification and positioning. While vision systems have gotten easier to install and use, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Knowing how and when you should use optical filtering in a machine vision application is a vital part of making sure your system delivers everything you need.

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4. The Difference Between Intrinsically Safe and Explosion Proof

5.14_LIThe difference between a product being ‘explosion proof’ and ‘intrinsically safe’ can be confusing but it is vital to select the proper one for your application. Both approvals are meant to prevent a potential electrical equipment malfunction from initiating an explosion or ignition through gases that may be present in the surrounding area. This is accomplished in both cases by keeping the potential energy level below what is necessary to start ignition process in an open atmosphere.

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5. Smart choices deliver leaner processes in Packaging, Food and Beverage industry

Smart choices deliver leaner processes in PFB_LI.jpgIn all industries, there is a need for more flexible and individualized production as well as increased transparency and documentable processes. Overall equipment efficiency, zero downtime and the demand for shorter production runs have created the need for smart machines and ultimately the smart factory. Now more than ever, this is important in the Packaging, Food and Beverage (PFB) industry to ensure that the products and processes are clean, safe and efficient.

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We appreciate your dedication to Automation Insights in 2019 and look forward to growth and innovation in 2020!

 

 

The Benefits of Guided Changeover in Packaging

Today’s consumer packaged goods (CPG) market is driving the need for greater agility and flexibility in packaging machinery.  Shorter, more customized runs create more frequent machine changeover.  Consequently, reducing planned and unplanned downtime at changeover is one of the key challenges CPG companies are working to improve.

Many packaging machine builders are now providing fully automated changeover, where motors move pieces into the correct position upon recipe change.  This has proven to be a winning solution, however, not every application can accommodate motors, especially those on older machines.

Guided changeover represents an opportunity to modify or retrofit existing equipment to improve agility and flexibility on older machines that are not yet ready to be replaced.

An affordable intermediate step between fully manual and fully automated changeover: 

A measurement sensor can be added to provide position feedback on parts that require repositioning for changeover.  By using indicator lights, counters or displays at the point of use, the operator is provided with visual guidance to reposition the moving part.  Only once all parts are in the correct position can the machine start up and run.

By utilizing this concept, CPG companies can realize several key benefits:

  • Reduced planned downtime: Adding guidance reduces the amount of time it takes to move parts into the correct position.
  • Reduced unplanned downtime: Providing operator guidance minimizes mistakes, avoiding jams and other problems caused by misalignment.
  • Reduced waste: Operators can “dial in” moving parts quickly and precisely.  This allows the machine to be fully operational sooner, minimizing runoff and scrap.
  • Improved operator training: Providing operator guidance helps CPG companies deal with inevitable workforce attrition.  New operators can be quickly trained on changeover procedures.

Selecting the correct sensor

A variety of sensor technologies can be used to create guide changeover; it’s really a matter of fit, form and function.  Common technologies used in changeover position applications include linear positioning transducers  and encoders.  Other devices like inductive and photoelectric distance sensors can be used with some creativity to solve challenging applications.

Available mounting space and environmental conditions should be taken into consideration when selecting the correct device.  Sensors with enhanced IP ratings are available for harsh environmental conditions and washdown.

Analog devices are commonly used to retrofit machines with older PLCs, while IO-Link can be used in place of analog for a fully digital solution, enabling bi-directional communication between the sensor and controller for condition monitoring, automatic device replacement and parameter changes.