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.

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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.

Enabling the Visibility Provided by the Industrial Internet of Things

One of the promises of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 is the visibility provided to the manufacturing plant floor. But what information is important and from what type of field devices? So we asked those two questions to our most progressive group of customers…IO-Link users. These customers have realized the benefits of IIoT and I4.0 through the enabling technology of IO-Link.

Visibility-of-things-whiteThe included Infographic displays the most valuable information from the most critical devices.  Not surprising that predictive maintenance information is viewed as the most critical. Examples of this would include sensors getting dirty or out of adjustment but still operational for the time being. Interestingly, firmware revision control made the top of the list. This appears to be a growing trend as more and more field devices have microprocessors creating revision control issues.

As for the devices, measurement products were on the top of the list. That’s understandable as these products tend to be more costly and complex with parameter and calibration information. Most interesting were the good-old power supplies. These hard working, often forgotten products are critical, but obviously few people are concerned about how they are functioning. This could also be due to the fact that there are not many viable products on the market.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional with IIoT and I4.0 or just looking at the possibilities, the enabling technology of IO-Link is here now. And better yet, it’s scalable to your needs. Have a look today at www.balluff.us/io-link.

 

5 Tips on Making End-of-Arm Tooling Smarter

Example of a Flexible EOA Tool with 8 sensors connected with an Inductive Coupling System.

Over the years I’ve interviewed many customers regarding End-Of-Arm (EOA) tooling. Most of the improvements revolve around making the EOA tooling smarter. Smarter tools mean more reliability, faster change out and more in-tool error proofing.

#5: Go Analog…in flexible manufacturing environments, discrete information just does not provide an adequate solution. Analog sensors can change set points based on the product currently being manufactured.

#4: Lose the weight…look at the connectors and cables. M8 and M5 connectorized sensors and cables are readily available. Use field installable connectors to help keep cable runs as short as possible. We see too many long cables simply bundled up.

#3: Go Small…use miniature, precision sensors that do not require separate amplifiers. These miniature sensors not only cut down on size but also have increased precision. With these sensors, you’ll know if a part is not completely seated in the gripper.

#2: Monitor those pneumatic cylinders…monitoring air pressure in one way, but as speeds increase and size is reduced, you really need to know cylinder end of travel position. The best technology for EOA tooling is magnetoresistive such as Balluff’s BMF line. Avoid hall-effects and definitely avoid reed switches. Also, consider dual sensor styles such as Balluff’s V-Twin line.

#1: Go with Couplers…with interchangeable tooling, sensors should be connected with a solid-state, inductive coupling system such as Balluff’s Inductive Coupler (BIC). Avoid the use of pin-based connector systems for low power sensors. They create reliability problems over time.

Asset Tracking – Top 10

The goal of plant-based asset tracking is to reduce non-productive time and asset losses, while increasing overall productivity and utilization by accurately tracking assets. Bar code and RFID technologies track changes to an asset’s location, condition, conformity status, and availability.

Balluff has been in this business for over 25 years. Based on that experience, we have compiled the top 10 list of commonly tracked plant-based assets:

1. Dunnage containers
2. Machine tools
3. Plant-floor Equipment
4. Stamping dies
5. Torque Wrenches
6. Plastic Molds
7. Storage tanks and vessels
8. IT equipment
9. Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV)
10. Modular automation sub-systems

If you are looking to gain tighter control of your assets, visit www.balluff.us

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