IO-Link Simplifies Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

In my last two blogs, Rise of the Robots: IO-Link… and Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling , I shared how implementing IO-Link and incorporating pneumatic and electric smart grippers can help maximize your use of robotics in your applications. In this blog, I will discuss how you can get more from your robots through expanded use of end-effectors in your applications.

As pneumatic air and vacuum systems have been an integral part of automation projects of the past, these systems can also benefit from gains in intelligence moving forward. Smart vacuum generators can provide feedback on the operation of the system; for example, if cups are starting to wear or fail, the smart devices can be used to provide estimates on remaining service life through predictive maintenance calculations. Key components like process sensors, variable regulators, pneumatic grippers, and pneumatic valve manifolds are available with IO-Link technology at a reasonable price. More importantly, these devices dramatically simplify integration, installation, and maintenance with built-in diagnostics and parameterization tools. By utilizing smart pneumatics, we substantially reduce wiring complexity in new installations and expedite downtime repairs.

Easier I/O and Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

Figure 1 – An industrial robot with IO-Link I/O hubs and valve manifold control on the EoAT.

However, most people avoid adding these types of smart technologies to end-effectors due to cable management issues or the effort to put high-flex Ethernet or many conductors into the robot dress pack. With IO-Link and its use of standard conductors for communication, integrators and machine builders have been able to install already available conductors in the arm or use lower-cost high-flex sensor cables to communicate with IO-Link smart devices on the end of arm tooling (EoAT).

Smart I/O hubs allow for standard sensors to be used with simplified wiring and on large tooling, valve manifolds can be mounted and controlled on the EoAT (Figure 1). If tool change is needed for the application, non-contact wireless connectivity can send power and signal across an airgap, increasing application capabilities and functionality.

Manufacturers big and small have gained impressive intelligence at the robot’s end-effector using IO-Link electric grippers, smart pneumatics and tooling enabled with IO-Link sensors. As you look to your next robotic automation project, consider how you could reduce integration efforts, improve part quality, enhance production flexibility, gain more process visibility, and increase application capabilities of EoAT. To realize all the benefits of an industrial robot system and earn productivity gains in machine tending, assembly and material handling applications, smart grippers, smart sensors, and smart tooling (enabled by IO-Link) are a necessary part of your next smart factory project.

Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling

In my last blog post, I shared how implementing IO-Link can expand visibility into your robot implementations and secure a high ROI. In this blog, I will share how you can better capitalize on your robot utilization and gain productivity with pneumatic and electric smart grippers.

Using Pneumatic & Electric Smart Grippers

Figure 1 – Sensors used in grippers provide position and open/closed feedback of the jaw. Photo courtesy of Balluff Worldwide.

In traditional pneumatic gripper applications, sensors are often not utilized. Proper function is assumed, i.e., the jaw opened and closed properly based on the signal sent to the air valve. This can cause unnecessary collisions or process failures due to stuck/worn mechanical components, leaks in the pneumatic lines, or small variations in the process cycle. Adding sensors to the grippers (Figure 1), creates a closed loop and minimal discrete feedback, like open or closed jaw, is provided. With the addition of smart sensors, we can monitor exact gripper jaw position and provide application diagnostics improving the capabilities of the robot end-effector. And finally, gripper intelligence features are expanded even further with electric grippers, giving precise control over the motion profile of the tool and providing detailed condition data on the equipment.

Regularly for smart sensors and smart grippers, these commands and the data are handled via IO-Link communication, which allows for process data, parameter data, and event data to be shared with the PLC and monitored via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connections. By utilizing IO-Link, both electric and pneumatic grippers can be enabled with intelligence to improve robot implementations.

Part Quality, Inspection, Delicate Part Handling & Measurement

Some of the most common applications like bin-picking, part stacking, or blank de-stacking make assumptions about the part being handled. But the first assumption many people make is that the robot is holding a part. Without sensor verification that the part is in place, how can it be guaranteed that the process is running without defect? And a second assumption that the correct part was loaded into the machine by the operator can cause hundreds of part defects if continued without verification. It is vital that the right part is loaded into the equipment every time, and as many parts look very similar manual inspection isn’t always accurate.  A gripper is an excellent place to gauge and inspect parts as it is physically touching the part. This is done by utilizing an analog position measurement sensor to determine the distance change of the gripper jaw. In addition to this, the position measurement sensor also can provide feedback for tactile gripping applications when handling delicate or precise parts. By utilizing position sensing for inspection and handling of the part, we can improve part quality and reduce production defects.

Production Flexibility, Format Change & Part Identification

In addition to quality inspection, by measuring the part, we can identify the part and make automation changes on-the-fly based upon this information, creating much higher levels of flexibility and making it possible for in-process format change. With one piece of equipment and the utilization of smart sensors on pneumatic grippers or smart electric grippers, more product can be produced. With higher efficiencies manufacturers can realize significant productivity gains.

Figure 2 – GEH6060IL-03-B servo electric gripper with delicate or elastic parts. Photo courtesy of Zimmer Group US, Inc.

In my next blog, I will discuss how expanding the use of end-effectors adds flexibility and are now easier than ever to include in your robotic applications.

Rise of the Robots: IO-Link Maximizes Utilization, Saves Time and Money

Manufacturers around the world are buying industrial robots at an incredible pace. In the April 2020 report from Tractia & Statista, “the global market for robots is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 26 percent to reach just under 210 billion US dollars by 2025.” But are we gaining everything we can to capitalize on this investment when the robots are applied? Robot utilization is a key metric for realizing return-on-investment (ROI). By adding smart devices on and around the robot, we can improve efficiencies, add flexibility, and expand visibility in our robot implementations. To maximize robot utilization and secure a real ROI there are key actions to follow beyond only enabling a robot; these are: embracing the open automation standard IO-Link, implementing smart grippers, and expanding end-effector application possibilities.

In this blog, I will discuss the benefits of implementing IO-Link. Future blog posts will concentrate on the other actions.

Why care about IO-Link?

First, a quick definition. IO-Link is an open standard (IEC 61131-9) that is more than ten years old and supported by close to 300 component suppliers in manufacturing, providing more than 70 automation technologies (figure 1). It works in a point-to-point architecture utilizing a central master with sub-devices that connect directly to the master, very similar to the way USB works in the PC environment. It was designed to be easy to integrate, simple to support, and fast to implement into manufacturing processes.

Figure 1 – The IO-Link consortium has close to 300 companies providing more than 70 automation technologies.

Using standard cordsets and 24Vdc power, IO-Link has been applied as a retrofit on current machines and designed into the newest robotic work cells. Available devices include pneumatic valve manifolds, grippers, smart sensors, I/O hubs, safety I/O, vacuum generators and more. Machine builders and equipment OEMs find that IO-Link saves them dramatically on engineering, building and the commissioning of new machines. Manufacturers find value in the flexibility and diagnostic capabilities of the devices, making it easier to troubleshoot problems and recover more quickly from downtime. With the ability to pre-program device parameters, troublesome complex-device setup can be automated, reducing new machine build times and reducing part replacement times during device failure on the production line.

Capture Data & Control Automation

Figure 2 – With IIoT-ready IO-Link sensors and masters, data can be captured without impacting the automation control.

The final point of value for robotic smart manufacturing is that IO-Link is set up to support applications for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IO-Link devices are IIoT ready, enabling Industry 4.0 projects and smart factory applications. This is important as predictive maintenance and big-data applications are only possible if we have the capabilities of collecting data from devices in, around and close to the production. As we look to gain more visibility into our processes, the ability to reach deep into your production systems will provide major new insights. By integrating IIoT-ready IO-Link devices into robotic automation applications, we can capture data for future analytics projects while not interrupting the control of the automation processes (figure 2).

Make 2020 the Year of Smart Manufacturing

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As we near the end of 2019, it is time to start thinking of New Year’s resolutions. Mostly, these are personal — a promise to eat better, to work out, or save money. But the clean slate of a fresh year on the calendar is also a good time to reevaluate business practices and look at how we can improve on the work floor. And as we enter a new decade, one of the areas every manufacturer needs to be considering is smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing uses real-time data and technology to help you meet the changing demands and conditions in the factory and supply chain to meet customer needs. This accurate, yet seemingly vague, definition means that the implementation of smart manufacturing into the workplace can help you meet an array of issues that negatively impact efficiency and the bottom line.

Implementation of smart manufacturing can:

  • Reduce manufacturing costs
  • Permit higher machine availability
  • Boost overall equipment effectiveness
  • Improve asset utilization
  • Allow for traceability of products and parts
  • Enhance supply chain
  • Ease new technology integration
  • Improve product quality
  • Reduce scrap rates
  • Minimize die crashes
  • Decrease unplanned downtime

These are big claims, but all achievable with the modernization of our systems, which is long overdue for most. According to the latest polls, 4 out of 10 manufacturers have little to no visibility into the real-time status of their manufacturing processes and an even higher percentage are utilizing at least some equipment that is far past its intended lifespan.

Half of manufacturers only become aware of system issues only after a breakdown occurs. This is unacceptable in 2020. Much like we expect our personal vehicles to alert us to upcoming issues — think of your service engine light or oil-life indicator —we need insight into the operation and performance of our manufacturing equipment.

Of course, joining the next industrial revolution comes at a cost, but if we put a dollar value on downtime and evaluate the cost benefit of the expected outcomes, it is hard to argue with the figures.

While we don’t need the start of a new year to make major changes, the flipping of the calendar page can give us the push we need to evaluate where we are and where we want to be. So, what are you waiting for?

Define your vision – Determine what you want to accomplish. Be clear and concise in articulating what you want to accomplish.

Set an objective for 2020 – You don’t have to change everything at once. Growth can come slower. What can you accomplish in the coming year?

Identify tactics and projects – Break down your vision into bite-size goals and projects. Prioritize realistic goals and set deadlines.

Link to KPIs – Make sure your smart manufacturing goals tie to key performance indicators. Having measurable results demonstrates just how effective the changes are and how they are improving business overall.

Assign responsibility – Designate owners to each step of the process. Make it someone’s responsibility to implement, track and report on the efforts. If it is everyone’s job, then it is no one’s job.

IO-Link — Enables Industry 4.0 and Reduces Costs

Where does IO-Link fit on the road to Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing?

IO-Link is a major enabling force for Industry 4.0 & smart manufacturing. Motivations for flexible manufacturing, efficient production and visibility require that we have more diagnostics and data available for analysis and monitoring. Lot-size-one flexible manufacturing requires that sensors and field devices be able to adapt to a rapidly changing set of requirements. With the parameterization feature of IO-Link slave devices, we can now send new parameters for production to the sensor on a part by part basis if required. For example, you could change a color sensor’s settings from red to green to orange to grey and back to red if necessary, allowing for significantly more flexible production. With efficient production, IO-Link slaves provide detailed diagnostics and condition monitoring information, allowing for trending of data, prediction of failure modes, and, thus, eliminating most downtime as we can act on the prediction data in a controlled & planned way. Trending of information like the current output of a power supply can give us new insights into changes in the machine over time or provide visibility into why a failure occurred.  For example, if a power supply reported a two amp jump in output three weeks ago, we can now ask, “what changed in our equipment 3 weeks ago that caused that?” This level of visibility can help management make better decisions about equipment health and production requirements.

Has IO-Link been widely accepted? Is anything still holding back its implementation?

In the last year IO-Link has become widely accepted. Major automation players like Balluff, Rockwell Automation, Festo, Siemens, SMC, Turck, Banner, Schmalz, Beckhoff, IFM and more than 100 other companies are engaged, promoting and, most importantly, building an installed base of functional IO-Link applications. We have seen installations in almost every industry segment: automotive OEMs, automotive tier suppliers, food & dairy machinery, primary packaging machinery, secondary packaging machinery, conveying systems, automated welding equipment, robot dress packs, on end-effectors of robots, automated assembly stations, palletized assembly lines, steel mills, wood mills, tire presses and more. The biggest roadblock to IO-Link becoming even further expanded in the market is typically a lack of skillset to support automation in the factory or a wariness of IO-Link as “another industrial network.”

What is the latest trend in IO-Link technology?

One of the biggest trends we are seeing with IO-Link technology is the reduction of analog on the machine.  With analog signals there are many “gotchas” that can ruin a good sensor application: electrical noise on the line, poor grounding design, more wiring, expensive analog input cards, and extra integration work. Analog signals cause a lot of extra math that we don’t need or want to do, for example: a linear position measurement sensor is 205mm long with a 4-20mA output tied into a 16bit input card. How many bits are there per mm?  A controls engineer needs to do a lot of mental gymnastics to integrate this into their machine. With IO-Link and a standard sensor cable, the wiring and grounding issues are typically eliminated and since IO-Link sensors report their measurements in the engineering units of the device, the mathematic gymnastics are also eliminated.  In our example, the 205mm long linear position sensor reports 205mm in the PLC, simple, faster to integrate and usually a much better overall application cost.

Connecting Fluid Power to the Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0

The next industrial revolution has already begun. To remain a viable business, it’s time to invest in IIoT and Industry 4.0 applications, regardless of whether you are a “mechanical-only” company or not.Industry 4.0 & Industrial IoT

Industrial Internet of Things

IIoT is simply about connecting devices on the plant floor to a network. These connections provide new ways to generate and collect useful data. This network can provide visibility down into the machine, enabling predictive maintenance and big data analytics. With IIoT, we are able to improve overall equipment effectiveness and provide new insights into our business.

Industry 4.0

On a grander scale, Industry 4.0 is a blend of digitalization, new technology and practical decisions to improve manufacturing. Industry 4.0 aims to achieve unprecedented flexibility, efficient production and visibility at every level of production. Industry 4.0 has impact throughout our processes and across the supply chain. Its philosophy blends lean initiatives, automation, technology, materials, downtime reduction upgrades, and investments in overall equipment effectiveness. This philosophy keeps the current generation of manufacturers competitive in a global market. While the German government set this precedent for Industry 4.0, the entire manufacturing world must now take on this challenge.

Implementing IIoT and Industry 4.0

Standard systems like hydraulic power units (HPUs) are receiving a major boost by becoming IIoT-ready. Traditional on/off flow or pressure switches are upgrading to provide information beyond the simple switch points. In addition, analog devices like temperature, pressure, flow, and level transducers can become IIoT-ready through open standard technologies like IO-Link. These technologies add additional value by incorporating easy-to-report parameters, diagnostics, events and warnings. A standard HPU can become a smart power unit with minimal modification.

The value of IIoT increases with predictive maintenance, remote monitoring and ease of troubleshooting. Imagine not having to climb down into the oil-drenched pit of a stamping press to trouble shoot an issue. With IIoT-ready technologies, we can connect to the devices and know exactly what needs fixing. In addition, we can possibly predict the failure before it occurs. This can dramatically reduce machine downtime as well as the time spent in hazardous locations.

Selecting IIoT-ready technologies is only one step of the program to fully leverage the value of Industry 4.0. We must also analyze processes and determine how to implement flexibility into production. After that, we must then discuss where automation technology makes sense to support lean processes. Manufacturers can see into every aspect of their production while manufacturing hundreds of variations of product in the same line, all while assuring quality standards with virtually zero machine downtime.

The difference between Industry 4.0 and IIoT

Industry 4.0 is a cultural philosophy about how we can use increased visibility, flexibility and efficiency to be more competitive. IIoT’s connectivity is an enabling force for Industry 4.0. IIoT connects our devices, our data, our machines and our people to the advantage of our company and customers.  By embracing both, it is easier to achieve positive results and sustain global competitiveness.

Article originally posted on Hydraulics & Pneumatics.

Everything You Need to Know to be Successful at IIoT

Do you need to quickly ramp up your IIoT knowledge? Do you want to know why manufacturers are investing in IIoT? For years this blog has shared many of the individual values that smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things can bring to manufacturers. I am going to quickly summarize the key findings and provide links to the full entries so you can easily have at your fingertips all of the advice you need to be successful at IIoT.

  • Industry 4.0 & IIoT, who cares?!?! You should. Even in 2016, IIoT investments were rapidly growing and more than a fifth of technology budgets were being invested in data analytics, IIoT and Industry 4.0. This has not slowed down in 2018!
  • 5 Common IIoT Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. The first point is the best point, every IIoT project that ignores the IT department is doomed for failure. IT & OT must work closely together for a successful data project in the factory.
  • Capture vs Control – The Hidden Value of True IIoT Solutions. In automation, everything seems to revolve around the PLC. This is very much an Industry 3.0 way of thinking. As we take on the next industrial revolution, devices can talk to each other in new and incredible ways, and we can capture data without impacting a working production line or modifying PLC code.
  • JSON Objects and How They Can Streamline an IIoT Application. How the data is captured is important to understand when you are ready to take action and implement your first project. By utilizing web tools like JSON, we can effectively capture data for IIoT applications.
  • What does that “Ready for IIoT” tag really mean? But how do I select a device that is going to be actually ready for IIoT? Features like condition monitoring, automatic configuration and scalability make for robust IIoT projects that can stand the test of time.

When you are convinced and ready to take action on an IIoT project kickoff for an Industry 4.0 team, take a look at the blogs below which can help you make an action plan for success and get buy-in from management.

  • How to Balance the IIoT Success Equation. What should you and your team be focusing on? How do we set a strategy, manage data, and take action to run a successful project? All of these need to be in balance and planned for to have long term vitality in your IIoT investments.
  • How do I justify an IIoT investment to my boss? We can show ROI through reduced downtime, by tying our project to corporate goals of productivity or utilization and you can point out that your competitors are heavily investing in this topic.
  • Enabling the Visibility Provided by the Industrial Internet of Things. And last but not least, there is a seriously strong technology available on the market from virtually every automation vendor that enables and scales IIoT like no other. That technology is IO-Link. With IO-Link you can create visibility down to every sensor in the plant and gain the flexibility and reliability that you need for sustainable competitiveness in the global market.

To learn more about IO-Link and how it enables machine builders and manufacturers to be successful with IIoT, check out this interactive infographic.

How do I justify an IIoT investment to my boss?

Many engineers and managers I meet with when presenting at conferences on Smart Manufacturing ask some version of the question: “How can we justify the extra cost of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?” or “How do I convince management that we need an Industry 4.0 project?” This is absolutely a fair and tough question that needs to be answered; without buy-in from management and proper budget allocation, you can’t move forward. While an investment in IIoT can deliver major payoffs, the best justification really depends on your boss.

I have seen three strong arguments that can be adapted to a variety of management styles and motivations.

1) Showing a ROI through Reducing Downtime

“Show me the money!” I think everyone has a manager with this expectation. It may seem like a daunting task to calculate or capture this information, but by using a team, knowing your KPIs and applying anecdotal feedback, you can get a good initial picture of the ROI that an IIoT project will bring to the organization. Many people have shared with me that their initial project’s ROI has “funded the next project.” There is a really great article from MetalForming Magazine that discusses how exactly to do this with the tables and forms they used at ODM Tool & Manufacturing.

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2) Corporate Goals for Productivity and Utilization

We can be successful getting support for a project when we link corporate goals to project goals. Smart Industry publishes a research project each year that investigates trends in the manufacturing space in regards to digital transformation initiatives. This report cites that the three top benefits manufacturers are seeing are: improving worker productivity (3rd 2016), reducing costs (1st 2016) and optimizing asset utilization (2nd 2016). These goals are driving investments and showing actual results for manufacturers both large and small. However, the report also revealed that more than half of manufacturers cite workforce skills-gap issues as their largest roadblock and this is, I believe, why we saw improving worker productivity move to the top spot. We must bring efficiency and effectiveness to the people we have.

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3) Your Competitors are Investing in IIoT!

If you have a boss that worries about falling behind, this can be a motivating argument. Control Engineering recently published a study of manufacturers and how they are investing in IIoT technologies. The largest investments are coming with sensors, connectivity and data analytics. But what is most shocking is that on average IIoT budgets are $328,160, with 18% budgeting more than a half-million dollars. If you want to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the global market, an investment in IIoT is a requirement to remain competitive.

If you are looking for support and partnership on your IIoT projects, we are experienced at utilizing IO-Link, smart sensors and RFID to enable Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing projects.

Back to the Basics: What is the Value of IO-Link?

IO-Link

With the demands for flexible manufacturing, efficient production & visibility in our factories, smart manufacturing is driving the way we work today.  Analytics and diagnostics are becoming critical to our ability to perform predictive maintenance, improve equipment effectiveness and monitor the condition of the machine as well as the components inside the machine.  Typically, our first reaction is to put these devices onto Ethernet.  However, the implementation of Ethernet requires a high skill set that is scarce in our traditional manufacturers today.  Due to the simple control architecture of IO-Link devices, it allows for many Smart devices to provide the data we need for analytics with a reduction in the Ethernet skill set that has become a roadblock for many manufacturers.

Many people think IO-Link is a new industrial network to compete with EtherNet/IP or Profinet, but this is a common misconception. IO-Link is complementary to those networks and typically enables those networks to do even more than previously thought.

Standard IO-Link Setup_01_preview

Open Standard

IO-Link is an open standard designed with the idea to act like USB for industrial automation.  IO-Link is meant to simplify the smart sensor & intelligent device connectivity on the factory floor in a similar way that USB simplified connectivity to computers for auxiliary devices.  IO-Link is not an industrial network or fieldbus; it is an industrial network and industrial controller agnostic. Designed with a master to slave configuration, addressing of the devices is point-to-point, similar to USB.  Compatible IO-Link masters can act as slaves or nodes on a variety of industrial protocols and act complementary to the network of the user’s choosing.  Eliminating the need for serial communication configuration or network addressing simplifies the connection and integration of devices.

Value in Machine Builds

IO-Link has advantages for both machine io-link master_18x18_300dpibuilders and discrete manufacturers.  For machine builders, the biggest advantage comes from the simplified wiring scheme of IO-Link devices.  We have seen machine builder users of IO-Link reduce their wiring hardware & labor costs by 30%-60% for sensors,
outputs & controls.  This is realized with the simple sensor tool cords used for connections, quick-disconnect connectors on the cables and machine mount Ethernet masters devices.  It is also realized for machine builders in an increase of turns on their floor, a reduction in build labor and significantly faster commissioning time.

Value on the Production Floor

For discrete manufacturers, the biggest advantages have come from the parameterization and diagnostic features on the IO-Link devices.  With the ability to store & send parameters between the master & slave, IO-Link devices can be automatically configured. Hot-swapping a complex smart device like a pressure sensor can go from a stressful ordeal including 14-plus setpoints to literally a push of one button.  Combining this functionality with multiple diagnostics both in the master & slaves eliminates human error and dramatically reduces downtime & troubleshooting for manufacturers.

To learn more about market leading IO-Link technologies, visit www.balluff.com.

Capture vs Control – The Hidden Value of True IIoT Solutions

A few months ago a customer and I met to discuss their Industry 4.0 & IIoT pilot project.  We discussed technology options and ways to collect data from the existing manufacturing process.  Options like reading the data directly from the PLC or setting up an OPC service to request machine data were discussed; however these weren’t preferable as it required modifying the existing PLC code to make the solution effective.  “What I really want is the ability to capture the data from the devices directly and not impact the control of my existing automation equipment.”  Whether his reason was because of machine warranty conflicts or the old adage, “don’t fix what ain’t broke” the general opinion makes sense.

Capture versus Control.

This concept really stuck with me months after our visit that day.  This is really one of the core demands we have from the data generation part of the IIoT equation; how can we get information without negatively impacting our automated production systems?  This is where the convergence of the operational OT and network IT becomes critical.  I’ve now had to build an IT understanding of the fundamentals of how data is transferred in Ethernet; and build an understanding of new-to-me data protocols like JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and MQTT.  The value of these protocols allows for a direct request from the device-that-has-the-data to the device-that-needs-the-data without a middleman.  These IT based protocols eliminate the need for a control-based data-transport solution!

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So then truly connected IIoT automation solutions that are “Ready for IIoT” need to support this basic concept of “Capture versus Control.”  We have a strong portfolio of products with Industrial Internet of Things capabilities, check them out at www.balluff.com.