Improve Error Proofing with IO-Link and IoT-Enabled Sensors

Though error-proofing sensors and poka yoke have been around for decades, continuing advancements related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are making both more accessible and easier to maintain.

Balluff - The IO-Link Revolution!

Designed to eliminate product defects by preventing human errors or correcting them in real time, poka yoke has been a key to a lean manufacturing process since it was first applied to industrial applications in 1960. Today, error proofing relies far less on manual mechanisms and more on IoT-enabled error proofing sensors that connect devices and systems across the shop floor.

IoT is enabling immediate control of error-proofing devices such as sensors. This immediacy guards against error-proofing devices being bypassed, which has been a real problem for many years. Now, if a sensor needs adjustment it can be done remotely. A good example of this is with color sensors. When receiving sub-components from suppliers, colors can shift slightly. If the quality group identifies the color lot as acceptable but the sensor does not, often the color sensor is bypassed to keep production moving until someone can address it, creating a vulnerable situation. By using IoT-enabled sensors, the color sensor can be adjusted remotely at any time or from any location.

The detection of errors has been greatly improved by integrating sensors directly into the processes. This is a major trend in flexible manufacturing where poka yoke devices have to be adjusted on-the-fly based on the specific product version being manufactured. This means that buttons or potentiometers on discrete sensors are not adequate. Sensors must provide true data to the control system or offer a means to program them remotely. They must also connect into the traceability system, so they know the exact product version is being made. Connections like this are rapidly migrating to IO-Link. This technology is driving flexible manufacturing at an accelerated rate.

IO-Link enables sensors to process and produce enriched data sets. This data can then be used to optimize efficiencies in an automated process, increase productivity and minimize errors.

Additionally, the easily expandable architecture built around IO-Link allows for easy integrations of poka yoke and industrial identification devices. By keeping a few IO-Link ports open, future expansion is easy and cost effective. For poka yoke, it is important that the system can be easily expanded and that updates are cost-effective.

Using MicroSpot LEDs for Precise Evaluations in Life Science

Handling microfluidics and evaluating samples based on light is a precise science. And that precision comes from the light source, not the actual detection method. But too many times we see standard LEDs being used in these sensing and evaluation applications. Standard LEDs are typically developed for lighting and illumination applications and require too many ancillary components to achieve a minimum level of acceptability. Fortunately, there is an alternate technology.

First, let’s look at a standard LED. Figure 1 shows a typical red LED. You can see the light emission surface is cluttered with the anode pad (square in the middle) and its bond wire. These elements are fine for applications like long-range sensing, lighting and indications, but for precise, up-close applications they cause disturbances.

Figure 1: Typical red LED showing the intrusion of the anode and bond wire into the light emission

Most notable is the square hole in the middle of the emission pattern. There are two typical methods to reduce the effect of the hole: lensing and apertures. An aperture essentially restricts the emitted light to a corner of the die, substantially reducing the light energy causing difficulties with low-contrast detections. Using a lens only will maintain the light energy, but the beam will have a fixed focused point that is not acceptable for many applications. But even the bond wire produces reflections and causes spurious emissions. These cannot be tolerated with microfluidics as adjacent channels will become involved in the measurement. An additional aperture is typically used to suppress the spurious emissions.

Fortunately, there is an alternative with MicroSpot LEDs. Basically, the anode and emission areas are inverted as shown in the Figure 2 comparison.

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Figure 2: Comparison of the typical LED with the MicroSpot’s clean, powerful and collimated emission

This eliminates the need for the anode and bond wire to interfere with the emitted light. This produces a clean, powerful and collimated emission that will produce consistent results without additional components. This level of beam control is typically reserved for lasers. However, lasers also require more components, are much larger and cost more. The MicroSpot LED is the best choice for demanding life science applications.

Try the MicroSpot for yourself in select Balluff MICROmote miniature photoelectric sensors.

Learn more at www.balluff.com.

Improve Your Feeder Bowl System (and Other Standard Equipment) with IO-Link

One of the most common devices used in manufacturing is the tried and true feeder bowl system. Used for decades, feeder bowls take bulk parts, orients them correctly and then feeds them to the next operation, usually a pick-and-place robot. It can be an effective device, but far too often, the feeder bowl can be a source of cycle-time slowdowns. Alerts are commonly used to signal when a feed problem is occurring but lack the exact cause of the slow down.

feeder bowl

A feed system’s feed rate can be reduced my many factors. Some of these include:

  • Operators slow to add parts to the bowl or hopper
  • Hopper slow to feed the bowl
  • Speeds set incorrectly on hopper, bowl or feed track
  • Part tolerance drift or feeder tooling out of adjustment

With today’s Smart IO-Link sensors incorporating counting and timing functions, most of the slow-down factors can be easily seen through an IIoT connection. Sensors can now time how long critical functions take. As the times drift from ideal, this information can be collected and communicated upstream.

A common example of a feed system slow-down is a slow hopper feed to the bowl. When using Smart IO-Link sensors, operators can see specifically that the hopper feed time is too long. The sensor indicates a problem with the hopper but not the bowl or feed tracks. Without IO-Link, operators would simply be told the overall feed system is slow and not see the real problem. This example is also true for the hopper in-feed (potential operator problem), feed track speed and overall performance. All critical operations are now visible and known to all.

For examples of Balluff’s smart IO-Link sensors, check out our ADCAP sensor.

Stacklights deliver versatile multi-status indication in real time

With advanced communication technology, stacklights can provide valuable information to operators and floor managers.

Rainer3It’s a new world for real-time, point-of-use information. Stacklights and indicators can provide much more feedback to operators and plant floor managers than ever before.

Using colored lights, stacklights can convey a wide range of information. While red, yellow, green and blue are the standard stacklight colors, a variety of other colors can be used to indicate specific conditions and needs.  It is important to develop a communication plan to clearly identifies what each color and flashing pattern represents.

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Color overload can be a problem if not planned out properly. The best planning utilizes a dual color approach where colors are defined by personnel responsible and machine/process status at the point of use. An example would be yellow/blue indication wherein yellow = process slowdown and blue = line supervisor is responsible. This responsibility is clearly on the line supervisor to fix the slowdown at the point of indication. Flashing multiple colors is one method to dual color indication, but that has proven to be confusing. A much more intuitive approach is to segment the indicators based on your communication plan. Even small, point-of-use indicators can be segmented to exceed your goals.

OwnerWe have also seen customers mixing their own colors to achieve a level of differentiation. This differentiation could be simple appearance preference or adherence to their corporate color identity. All very achievable with the new class of smart, LED based stacklights and indicators.

By providing continuously variable information, also referred to as analog information, stacklights can be used to indicate current level status in tanks, hoppers, feeders, flow racks and so on. Continuously variable information is also ideal to use in pacing for operators in manual assembly areas. They can quickly see how much time each individual person has for their process step. If someone is struggling, others can visibly see the situation and step in and help.

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Another popular use is simply displaying that the machine is in idle state, like the spinning icon on computers. This would typically suspend all other forms of indication.  Basically, it indicates the machine is not ready. The color indicators can be used as part of a communication plan to indicate the reason for the idle time and call for specific personnel to respond. As soon as the machine is ready, the indicators and stacklights revert to normal operations, just like your computer.

Stacklights can additionally provide operational status such as flow rates, pressure values and process speed.

To learn more about stacklights and indicators, visit www.balluff.com.

Collaborative Automation…It’s Not Just for Robots

Manufacturing is made up of hundreds of discrete operations. Some are repetitive, while others are more diverse. Repetitive tasks are ideal for automation while diverse tasks require more flexibility. And while automation can be extremely flexible, that comes with a high initial investment costs and significant deployment time. The alternative? People!

Humans have the unrivaled ability to adapt to a diverse and flexible manufacturing environment. They can be productive relatively quickly with proper guidance without high initial cost investments.

But as we all know, “to err is human” and this is one of the biggest issues with manual operations. People need a little guidance from time to time. Collaboration is not just for robots; It’s for complete automation systems as well.

Collaborative automation is most important at the point-of-use, where humans are performing critical operations. Some of those common operations include:

  • Manual assembly for low volume or highly flexible operations
  • Delivery of raw materials to the point-of-use
  • Kit assembly for down-stream operation
  • Machine setup and change-over
  • Machine maintenance and calibration

All of these functions can be done error-free and with little training by simply guiding people within their current work envelope, also referred to as their point-of-use. This type of a lean function provides hands-free guidance in the form of indication devices connected directly to your automation system allowing workers to stay focused on the task at hand instead of looking elsewhere for instructions.

With the technology of IO-Link, smart indication devices can now show much more information to all the people involved in specific manufacturing tasks. Automation has an immediate and direct connection to the people that are so vital.

For example, in a manually-fed weld-cell, the smart indicators are capable of not only signaling that the part is loaded correctly, but also whether the part is out of alignment (shown here by the red indicator) or that something wrong with one of the automation components such as a stuck pneumatic clamp.

Figure 1
A manually-fed weld-cell with smart indicators is capable of not only signaling that the part is loaded correctly, but also if the part is out of alignment (shown by the red indicator) or that there is something wrong with one of the automation components such as a stuck pneumatic clamp.

Even better, with IIoT technology, trends can be analyzed to determine if the fixture/tool could be optimized for production or to identify common failure points. This all leads to tighter collaboration with operations, maintenance personnel and production supervisors.

A traditional kitting station, sometimes referred to as a supermarket, is another ideal application for smart indicators. Not only can they guide a single operator to the intended part to pull, they can guide multiple operators at the same time.  Also, smart indicators can inform of incorrect pulls, potential bin options (a physically closure bin), directional information, and inventory levels. And again, with IIoT technology, trends can be analyzed to determine proper layout, individual personnel performance and system throughput. The automation system collaborates with operations, forklift drivers and production supervisors.

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A traditional kitting station, sometimes referred to as a supermarket, with smart indicators to guide operators to the intended part to pull.

So, take a look and see what a collaborative automation system utilizing smart indicators can do for your manual operations. You might be surprised.

A Smarter SmartLight

Just when you thought the SmartLight was the most flexible Tower Indicator light ever, it gets even more flexible with the addition of a new mode. This new mode is appropriately named “Flexible Mode”. The new Flexible mode enables two new applications: User defined segments and Point-of-use indication.

User Defined Segments

For traditional tower light applications, it’s now Figure 1possible to define the segments as you see fit. It works by taking control of every LED element. Each SmartLight segment is comprised of four LED elements that can be controlled anyway you want (see Figure 1).  For example, with the 3-segment SmartLight, you actually have 12 LED elements that you can organize any way you want. In Figure 2, we only use three LED elements per SmartLight segment, making it a four segment SmartLight. By using two LED elements we create six segments. Figure 3 is even more interesting, in this example we can see the size of the segments are sized by the intended users. Forklift Drivers need a larger light due to the distance and the fact that they are moving. Operators are closer than the forklift drivers, so their segment can be smaller, and maintenance can use the smallest segments because they are closest to the SmartLight when working on the machine.

Point of Use Indication

In these types of applications, the SmartLight is usedSocket Tray App in close proximity, usually within the work envelope of the operators. In the example shown, the SmartLight is used in a socket tray application. The SmartLight indicates to the operator which socket is required for a specific task. Inductive proximity sensors connected to an IO-Link Hub verify the correct socket was pulled. The photo is showing an All-Call (all lights lit). Here you can see the unique LED element grouping only available with the new Flexible mode. Other applications for operator guidance are essentially endless. There are no technical limitations to your creativity.

The Flexible mode is available in all SmartLights with firmware version 3.0 or greater. So go have some fun!

Learn more about the SmartLight at www.balluff.com.

5 Ways Flexible Manufacturing has Never Been Easier

Flexible manufacturing has never been easier or more cost effective to implement, even down to lot-size-one, now that IO-Link has become an accepted standard. Fixed control and buried information is no longer acceptable. Driven by the needs of IIoT and Industry 4.0, IO-Link provides the additional data that unlocks the flexibility in modern automation equipment, and it’s here now!  As evidence, here are the top five examples of IO-Link enabled flexibility:

#5. Quick Change Tooling: The technology of inductive coupling connects standard IO-Link devices through an airgap. Change parts and End of Arm (EOA) tooling can quickly and reliably be changed and verified while maintaining connection with sensors and pneumatic valves. This is really cool technology…power through the air!

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#4. On-the-fly Sensors Programming: Many sensor applications require new settings when the target changes, and the targets seem to always change. IO-Link enables this at minimal cost and very little time investment. It’s just built in.

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#3. Flexible Indicator Lights: Detailed communication with the operators no long requires a traditional HMI. In our flexible world, information such as variable process data, timing indication, machine status, run states and change over verification can be displayed at the point of use. This represents endless creativity possibilities.

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#2. Low cost RFID: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has been around for a while. But with the cost point of IO-Link, the applications have been rapidly climbing. From traditional manufacturing pallets to change-part tracking, the ease and cost effectiveness of RFID is at a record level. If you have ever thought about RFID, now is the time.

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#1. Move Away from Discrete to Continuously Variable Sensors: Moving from discrete, on-off sensors to continuously variable sensors (like analog but better) opens up tremendous flexibility. This eliminates multiple discrete sensors or re-positioning of sensors. One sensor can handle multiple types and sizes of products with no cost penalty. IO-Link makes this more economical than traditional analog with much more information available. This could be the best technology shift since the move to Ethernet based I/O networks.

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So #1 was the move to Continuously Variable sensors using IO-Link. But the term, “Continuously Variable” doesn’t just roll off the tongue. We have discrete and analog sensors, but what should we call these sensors? Let me know your thoughts!

To learn more about RFID and IO-Link technology, visit www.balluff.com.

 

 

 

Kicking Off Summer With a Big Announcement

Since 2010 we have been sharing best practices, technology and industry trends. Occasionally we have even gotten back to basics with how the products we use to automate actually work. As you know, we are dedicated to the successful implementation of sensor technology by the automation community. With the inevitable evolution of technology and the birth of the 4th Industrial Revolution or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) we are excited to announce a few changes to the SensorTech blog. As summer kicks off we have decided to update our blog with a new look, and a new name.

Introducing, Automation Insights. We are here to act as a resource for the industry as it navigates through the impending IIoT technology revolution, sharing information about emerging trends and standards, current best practices, success stories, technology fundamentals, and advanced implementation concepts. And we are here to offer expertise, ideas, guidance, and support for industrial identification and industrial sensor specifiers, installers, and users to help them get the most out of their automation technology investments. One thing that will not change, though, is our dedication to the successful implementation of industrial control technology by the automation community at large.

We look forward to sharing many new posts with you and are excited for you to get to know a few new contributors from around the globe.

The promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Things to Avoid and Pursue

There is a long list of activities Control Engineers and Plant Managers avoid like the plague…

  • Modifying PLC code
  • Adding an HMI
  • Modifying HMI screens
  • Adding additional Indicators

On the other side, there is a list of activities they need to do to keep their plant on the forefront of lean manufacturing…

  • Providing real-time operational visibility
  • Adding new manufacturing/process functions
  • Adding/updating Error Proofing devices
  • Providing preventative and predictive maintenance information
Scaling up to IIoT with IO-Link and Balluff's Virtual IP Address Concept
Scaling up to IIoT with IO-Link and Balluff’s Virtual IP Address Concept

Fortunately, the IIoT can help you avoid what you want to avoid and do more of what you need to do. The promise of IIoT can be realized with an IO-Link Architecture featuring Balluff’s Virtual IP address concept. This scalable architecture allows the PLC to do its thing while an independent PC (the one on your desk for example) can access the IO devices directly to get at operational and process data not always available in the PLC.

Learn more at www.balluff.us/io-link.

Liquid Handling Solutions in Action

On Sensortech, we have posted several entries about the trend toward miniature sensors including, Let’s Get Small: The Drive Toward Miniaturization and Trending Now: Miniature Sensors. At the end of January Balluff attended SLAS in San Diego, CA and saw this trend firsthand. Automation in the clinical lab is growing by leaps and bounds. Bioscience engineers are facing pressure to reduce cost, increase the number of samples run, and improve the speed at which lab tests are performed.

As an exhibitor at the event, we were able to showcase our solutions with a great functional demo. Below is a brief video of the demo with our Life Science Industry Manager, Blake DeFrance explaining the technology.

For more information on solutions for the Life Science Industry visit www.balluff.us.