Detecting Fill Levels With Direct Contact and Non-contact Capacitive Sensors

Capacitive sensors are commonly used in level detection applications. Specific capacitive sensors can supply better solutions than others depending on the type of media you may be detecting and if the sensor will be in direct contact with that media. Keep reading to decide which type works best for different application solutions.

Non-contact capacitive sensors

Capacitive sensors are great for monitoring the fill level of non-conductive materials. In many cases, the capacitive sensor doesn’t need to physically touch the media it is detecting; rather, it can sit outside a thin, non-metal container or pipe. As the level rises or falls, the capacitive sensor can signal if the medium is there. Since non-contact capacitive sensors sit outside the medium, there shouldn’t be any interference or false readings from direct contact with the material.

Selecting the correct capacitive sensor for these applications is important. While you don’t have to risk contaminating the sensor face (and getting a false read) in non-contact applications, you need to keep in mind other factors that can cause a sensor to false trip. One thing that is important to keep in mind with externally mounted capacitive sensors is that viscous materials can still leave a layer of residue on the inside walls of tanks or basins. While the sensor face is not covered, if you select the wrong type of sensor this build up on the wall can cause a false reading (such as reading as reading the tank as full when it is actually half-empty).

Another thing to keep in mind when selecting the correct capacitive sensor for a non-contact application is foam. In applications such as bottling beer in glass bottles, most standard capacitive sensors will detect presence once that layer of foam reaches the sensor face. While the foam may be at the sensor face, the bottle could still be only half way full of actual liquid. Making sure you select a sensor that can account for things like foam is something to keep in mind as well.

There are many benefits when using non-contact capacitive sensors in fill level applications. Not every application requires direct contact with the medium, and not every application even allows for the medium to be touched directly. There are many capacitive sensors in many form factors that are used every day for fill level applications, but making sure the right sensor is selected is important.

Contact with media capacitive sensors

In certain applications, the capacitive sensor will only be able to detect the fill level of a container, pipe, or tank if it is in direct contact with the media it’s trying to sense.

For various reasons, a sensor must be in direct contact with a media like oil, paint, powder, or paste. You may need to place a sensor directly in a tank because the tank is made of metal, or possibly because the walls of the tank are too thick for a capacitive sensor to sense through. Direct contact applications can be difficult to find solutions for if you are not aware of what capacitive sensors are capable of.

There is a way to fix issues such as false tripping in sticky substances.

Advanced technologies allow for capacitive sensors that mask residual build-up or foam when sensing in direct media contact. These level-sensing capacitive sensors are great for applications in the food and beverage industry and for detecting practically all the same materials as non-contact capacitive sensors. In areas of detection where adhesive substances may stick to the sensor face is a perfect application for direct contact capacitive sensors. Some typical direct-contact applications include areas such as vegetable oil or ketchup container fill levels, hydraulic oil levels in a hydraulic cylinder, or even the amount of flour in a container.

For instance, if you stick a capacitive sensor inside a tank of oil to monitor the fill level, the sensor face will get covered in the oil. As the level in the tank drops below the sensor face, that oil will remain on the face. So, even if the tank is empty, the sensor will always detect something. With specialized capacitive sensors that ignore build-up, adhesive or viscous media that typically influence detection is no longer a concern.

Another use for capacitive sensors that allow for direct media contact is for leak detection. If a tank, pipe, or tub is known to leak, there are capacitive sensors that can be mounted to the ground in the area that puddles form. In some instances you know a machine could potentially leak, and puddles form in an area you can’t regularly see, which is where these sensors are perfect for application. Depending on the situation, some of these sensors can be mounted a couple millimeters to an inch off the ground waiting for a leak. As a puddle forms and reaches the sensor’s switching range, maintenance can be alerted of the issue and work to fix it.

Reduce time and costs associated with manual level-checking

Another application for a capacitive sensor with direct media contact capabilities is within the automotive industry. Inside the painting process of an assembly plant, for example, you must be able to monitor the fill levels of the e-coat, the primer, the base coat, and the clear-coat paint tanks. Without a sensor to determine the fill levels, the time and energy and dollars it can cost the workforce to manually check the fill levels can be high.. Luckily, these contact-capacitive sensors can monitor viscous media like paint, reducing the time and costs associated with manual level-checking.

While non-contact and contact capacitive sensors perform the similar functions, they are used in different applications. Some applications allow a sensor to sit outside a container or tank and detect through the walls, while others require direct contact. Now that you understand the differences and their strong points of application, you can determine which sensor is best for you.

Reducing Assembly Line Mistakes With the Error Proofing Platform Station

About 18 months ago, one of the major automotive companies came to the Indicon Conference looking for a way to decrease mistakes on the assembly line. They found a solution in a concept named the Error Proofing Platform Station (EPP).

How it works

The EEP works by using a bar code reader, in this case a scanner, to verify that the correct parts are being used in the assembly process. The scanner connects to an RS232-to-digital-converter module, and from there to an IO-Link networking block which enables two-way communication of information with the PLC. IO-Link blocks can connect hundreds of devices, versus traditional blocks that can only connect eight to sixteen devices. This greatly simplifies the hardware, cabling and installation costs.

EEP station design

The overall design of this EPP station grabbed the automotive company’s attention for several reasons.  It is effective both in its simplicity as well as the small footprint that it takes up. The design of the components allows it to sit on the plant floor instead of having to be installed in a cabinet like previous designs. They especially liked the wiring design where a single cable goes from the IO-Link block at is managed by a single IP address back to the PLC. Should one of the devices fail, you simply replace a single cable or device and move on.

The old days of unwinding the cables and spending hours trying to decipher which cable goes to which device are gone.

The current roll-out has been at four separate plants with plans for 10 more in the next four years. Expansion of this innovation is being targeted toward the other major manufacturers.

Tire Industry Automation: When a Photo-Eye Is Failing, Try an Ultrasonic Sensor

Should you use a photo-eye or an ultrasonic sensor for your automation application? This is a great question for tire industry manufacturing.

I was recently at a tire manufacturing plant when a maintenance technician asked me to suggest a photoelectric sensor for a large upgrade project he had coming up. I asked him about the application, project, and what other sensors he was considering.

His reply was a little startling. He said he had always used photo-eyes, but he couldn’t find a dependable one, so he would continually try different brands. My experience in this industry, along with good sensor training and advice from my colleague Jack Moermond, Balluff Sensor Products Manager, immediately made me think that photo-eye sensors were not the right choice for this application.

As I asked more questions, the problem became clear. The tire material the technician was detecting was black and dull. This type of material absorbs light and does not reflect it reliably back to the sensor. Also, environmental factors, such as dust and residue, can diminish a photo-eye’s signal quality.

Ultrasonic sensors for non-reflective materials and harsh environments

The technician didn’t have much experience with ultrasonic sensors, so I went on to explain why these may be a better solution for his application.

While photoelectric sensors send light beams to detect the presence of or measure the distance to an object, ultrasonics bounce sound waves off a target. This means that ultrasonics can be used in applications where an object’s reflectivity isn’t predictable, like with liquids, clear glass or plastic, or other materials. Dust build up on the face of an ultrasonic sensor does not give a false output. Ultrasonic sensors actually have a dead zone a few millimeters from the face where they won’t detect an object until the wave clears the dead zone, so take this into consideration when planning where to install an ultrasonic sensor.

Tire detection for process reliability with BUS ultrasonic sensors

Tire industry applications

The following are some popular tire industry applications where it might be better to choose an ultrasonic sensor over a photo-eye sensor.

    • The tire building process requires a lot of winding and unwinding of material to build the different layers of a tire. As this material is fed through the machines it starts to sag and loop. An ultrasonic sensor in this location will monitor how much sag and loop is in the process.
    • When tires are being loaded into curing presses, the press needs to confirm that the correct size tire is in place. An ultrasonic sensor can measure the height or width of the tire from the sides or top for confirmation.
    • Ultrasonic sensors are great at detecting if a tire or material is in place before a process starts.
    • Hydraulic systems are common in tire manufacturing. Ultrasonic sensors are good for hydraulic fluid level monitoring. Tying them to a SmartLight offers a visual reference and alarm output if needed.
    • Everyone knows the term “wig-wag” in tire mixing and extrusion. The sheets of wig-wag require monitoring as they are fed through the process. When this material gets close to being used up, a new wig-wag must be used.
Wig-wag stacks

So, when there is an application for a photo-eye, especially in a tire manufacturing plant, keep in mind that, rather than a photoelectric sensor, an ultrasonic may be a better option.

The maintenance technician I spoke with is now looking at different options of ultrasonics to use. He said I gave him something new to think about for his machines and opened the door for adding this technology to his plant.

Happy hunting!

The 5 Most Common Types of Fixed Industrial Robots

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) defines five types of fixed industrial robots: Cartesian/Gantry, SCARA, Articulated, Parallel/Delta and Cylindrical (mobile robots are not included in the “fixed” robot category). These types are generally classified by their mechanical structure, which dictates the ways they can move.

Based on the current market situation and trends, we have modified this list by removing Cylindrical robots and adding Power & Force Limited Collaborative robots. Cylindrical robots have a small, declining share of the market and some industry analysts predict that they will be completely replaced by SCARA robots, which can cover similar applications at higher speed and performance. On the other hand, use of collaborative robots has grown rapidly since their first commercial sale by Universal Robots in 2008. This is why collaborative robots are on our list and cylindrical/spherical robots are not.

Therefore, our list of the top five industrial robot types includes:

    • Articulated
    • Cartesian/Gantry
    • Parallel/Delta
    • SCARA
    • Power & Force Limited Collaborative robots

These five common types of robots have emerged to address different applications, though there is now some overlap in the applications they serve. And range of industries where they are used is now very wide. The IFR’s 2021 report ranks electronics/electrical, automotive, metal & machinery, plastic and chemical products and food as the industries most commonly using fixed industrial robots. And the top applications identified in the report are material/parts handling and machine loading/unloading, welding, assembling, cleanrooms, dispensing/painting and processing/machining.

Articulated robots

Articulated robots most closely resemble a human arm and have multiple rotary joints–the most common versions have six axes. These can be large, powerful robots, capable of moving heavy loads precisely at moderate speeds. Smaller versions are available for precise movement of lighter loads. These robots have the largest market share (≈60%) and are growing between 5–10% per year.

Articulated robots are used across many industries and applications. Automotive has the biggest user base, but they are also used in other industries such as packaging, metalworking, plastics and electronics. Applications include material & parts handling (including machine loading & unloading, picking & placing and palletizing), assembling (ranging from small to large parts), welding, painting, and processing (machining, grinding, polishing).

SCARA robots

A SCARA robot is a “Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm,” also known as a “Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm.” They are compliant in the X-Y direction but rigid in the Z direction. These robots are fairly common, with around 15% market share and a 5-10% per year growth rate.

SCARA robots are most often applied in the Life Sciences, Semiconductor and Electronics industries. They are used in applications requiring high speed and high accuracy such as assembling, handling or picking & placing of lightweight parts, but also in 3D printing and dispensing.

Cartesian/Gantry robots

Cartesian robots, also known as gantry or linear robots, move along multiple linear axes. Since these axes are very rigid, they can precisely move heavy payloads, though this also means they require a lot of space. They have about 15% market share and a 5-10% per year growth rate.

Cartesian robots are often used in handling, loading/unloading, sorting & storing and picking & placing applications, but also in welding, assembling and machining. Industries using these robots include automotive, packaging, food & beverage, aerospace, heavy engineering and semiconductor.

Delta/Parallel robots

Delta robots (also known as parallel robots) are lightweight, high-speed robots, usually for fast handling of small and lightweight products or parts. They have a unique configuration with three or four lightweight arms arranged in parallelograms. These robots have 5% market share and a 3–5% growth rate.

They are often used in food or small part handling and/or packaging. Typical applications are assembling, picking & placing and packaging. Industries include food & beverage, cosmetics, packaging, electronics/ semiconductor, consumer goods, pharmaceutical and medical.

Power & Force Limiting Collaborative robots

We add the term “Power & Force Limiting” to our Collaborative robot category because the standards actually define four collaborative robot application modes, and we want to focus on this, the most well-known mode. Click here to read a blog on the different collaborative modes. Power & Force Limiting robots include models from Universal Robots, the FANUC CR green robots and the YuMi from ABB. Collaborative robots have become popular due to their ease of use, flexibility and “built-in” safety and ability to be used in close proximity to humans. They are most often an articulated robot with special features to limit power and force exerted by the axes to allow close, safe operation near humans or other machines. Larger, faster and stronger robots can also be used in collaborative applications with the addition of safety sensors and special programming.

Power & Force Limiting Collaborative robots have about 5% market share and sales are growing rapidly at 20%+ per year. They are a big success with small and mid-size enterprises, but also with more traditional robot users in a very broad range of industries including automotive and electronics. Typical applications include machine loading/unloading, assembling, handling, dispensing, picking & placing, palletizing, and welding.

Summary­

The robot market is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the industrial automation industry. The need for more automation and robots is driven by factors such as supply chain issues, changing workforce, cost pressures, digitalization and mass customization (highly flexible manufacturing). A broad range of robot types, capabilities and price points have emerged to address these factors and satisfy the needs of applications and industries ranging from automotive to food & beverage to life sciences.

Note: Market share and growth rate estimates in this blog are based on public data published by the International Federation of Robotics, Loup Ventures, NIST and Interact Analysis.

Protecting photoelectric and capacitive sensors

Supply chain and labor shortages are putting extra pressure on automation solutions to keep manufacturing lines running. Even though sensors are designed to work in harsh environments, one good knock can put a sensor out of alignment or even out of condition. Keep reading for tips on ways to protect photoelectric and capacitive sensors.

Mounting solutions for photoelectric sensors

Photoelectric sensors are sensitive to environmental factors that can cloud their view, like dust, debris, and splashing liquids, or damage them with physical impact. One of the best things to do from the beginning is to protect them by mounting them in locations that keep them out of harm’s way. Adjustable mounting solutions make it easier to set up sensors a little further away from the action. Mounts that can be adjusted on three axes like ball joints or rod-and-mount combinations should lock firmly into position so that vibration or weight will not cause sensors to move out of alignment. And mounting materials like stainless steel or plastic can be chosen to meet factors like temperature, accessibility, susceptibility to impact, and contact with other materials.

When using retroreflective sensors, reflectors and reflective foils need similar attention. Consider whether the application involves heat or chemicals that might contact reflectors. Reflectors come in versions, especially for use with red, white, infrared, and laser lights, or especially for polarized or non-polarized light. And there are mounting solutions for reflectors as well.

Considering the material and design of capacitive sensors

Capacitive sensors must also be protected based on their working environment, the material they detect, and where they are installed. Particularly, is the sensor in contact with the material it is sensing or not?

If there is contact, pay special attention to the sensor’s material and design. Foods, beverages, chemicals, viscous substances, powders, or bulk materials can degrade a sensor constructed of the wrong material. And to switch perspectives, a sensor can affect the quality of the material it contacts, like changing the taste of a food product. If resistance to chemicals is needed, housings made of stainless steel, PTFE, and PEEK are available.

While the sensor’s material is important to its functionality, the physical design of the sensor is also important. A working environment can involve washdown processes or hygienic requirements. If that is the case, the sensor’s design should allow water and cleaning agents to easily run off, while hygienic requirements demand that the sensor not have gaps or crevices where material may accumulate and harbor bacteria. Consider capacitive sensors that hold FDA, Ecolab, and CIP certifications to work safely in these conditions.

Non-contact capacitive sensors can have their own special set of requirements. They can detect material through the walls of a tank, depending on the tank wall’s material type and thickness. Plastic walls and non-metallic packaging present a smaller challenge. Different housing styles – flat cylindrical, discs, and block styles – have different sensing capabilities.

Newer capacitive technology is designed as an adhesive tape to measure the material inside a tank or vessel continuously. Available with stainless steel, plastic, or PTFF housing, it works particularly well when there is little space available to detect through a plastic or glass wall of 8mm or less. When installing the tape, the user can cut it with scissors to adjust the length.

Whatever the setting, environmental factors and installation factors can affect the functionality of photoelectric and capacitive sensors, sometimes bringing them to an untimely end. Details like mounting systems and sensor materials may not be the first requirements you look for, but they are important features that can extend the life of your sensors.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Add Depth to Your Processes With 3D Machine Vision

What comes to mind first when you think of 3D? Cheap red and blue glasses? Paying extra at a movie theater? Or maybe the awkward top screen on a Nintendo 3DS? Neither industrial machine vision nor robot guidance likely come to mind, but they should.

Advancements in 3D machine vision have taken the old method of 2D image processing and added literal depth. You become emerged into the application with true definition of the target—far from what you get looking at a flat image.

See For Yourself

Let’s do an exercise: Close one eye and try to pick up an object on your desk by pinching it. Did you miss it on the first try? Did things look foreign or off? This is because your depth perception is skewed with only one vision source. It takes both eyes to paint an accurate picture of your surroundings.

Now, imagine what you can do with two cameras side by side looking at an application. This is 3D machine vision; this is human.

How 3D Saves the Day

Robot guidance. The goal of robotics is to emulate human movements while allowing them to work more safely and reliably. So, why not give them the same vision we possess? When a robot is sent in to do a job it needs to know the x, y and z coordinates of its target to best control its approach and handle the item(s). 3D does this.

Part sorting. If you are anything like me, you have your favorite parts of Chex mix. Whether it’s the pretzels or the Chex pieces themselves, picking one out of the bowl takes coordination. Finding the right shape and the ideal place to grab it takes depth perception. You wouldn’t use a robot to sort your snacks, of course, but if you need to select specific parts in a bin of various shapes and sizes, 3D vision can give you the detail you need to select the right part every time.

Palletization and/or depalletization. Like in a game of Jenga, the careful and accurate stacking and removing of parts is paramount. Whether it’s for speed, quality or damage control, palletization/ depalletization of material needs 3D vision to position material accurately and efficiently.

I hope these 3D examples inspire you to seek more from your machine vision solution and look to the technology of the day to automate your processes. A picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine what a 3D image can tell you.

Fork Sensors, the Best Choice for Range, Reliability, Ease of Installation

Photoelectric sensors are a staple within many industries when it comes to automation thanks to their non-contact detection over longer ranges than many other sensing types. Also available in a variety of housing types and protection classes to meet the specific demands of an application, they offer manufacturers many different variants and models. The range of styles can make selecting the perfect photoelectric sensor for your specific application challenging. This post highlights the benefits of through-beam sensors and why fork sensors specifically, are often the ideal sensor for the job.

Through-beam sensors can detect anything, regardless of color, texture or reflectivity. This makes them highly efficient in any application where material or parts need to be detected during the process. They require an emitter and receiver. The emitter sends a light beam toward the receiver. When this light beam is blocked, the sensor will trigger. A common example of this is the sensor system on a garage door that detects obstructions and keeps the door from closing. (The software can also inverse this, so the sensor triggers when the light beam is not obstructed. Read more about these light-on/dark-on modes).

Traditional Through-Beams vs. Fork Sensors

Through-beam photoelectric sensors are simple technology that are non-contact, reliable and can operate over distances up to 100 meters, making them a go-to for many applications. But they aren’t without fault. Because the emitter and receiver are typically in separate housings, the two parts must line up perfectly to work. This alignment takes extra time during assembly and is prone to problems in the future if the emitter or receiver move,  even slightly. Machine vibrations can cause a misalignment.

Fork sensors, also called C slot or U slot sensors, incorporate both the emitter and the receiver into a single body, providing the benefits of a through-beam sensor without the installation issues.

This allows for reduced installation and maintenance time of the sensor in several ways:

    • Mounting a single sensor instead of two
    • Half as many cables needed for networking
    • No touchy alignment needed when installing the sensor
    • No maintenance needed re-aligning the sensors in the future

Photoelectric fork sensors come with sensing windows widths up to 220 mm and a range of light sources to accommodate many application needs. Check them out the next time you are considering a photoelectric sensor and see if they’re the best choice for your application.

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.

The battery

The driving force behind these new electric vehicles is, of course, the battery. With this new wave of electric vehicles, the lithium ion battery manufacturing sector is growing exponentially, creating a significant need for traceability and tracking throughout the manufacturing processes.

Battery manufacturing is classified into three major production areas:

    1. Electrode manufacturing
    2. Cell assembly
    3. Finishing formation, aging and testing

These processes require flexible and efficient automation solutions to produce high quality batteries effectively. As such, there are numerous areas that can benefit from RFID and/or code reading solutions. One of the biggest of these is the electrode manufacturing process, specifically on the individual mother and daughter electrode rolls. This is a great application for UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) RFID.

The Need for RFID

The electrode formation process involves numerous production steps, including mixing, coating, calendaring, drying, slitting and vacuum drying. Each machine process generally begins with unwinding turrets and ends with winding ones. A roll-to-roll process.

Two of the three primary components of the lithium ion battery, both the anode and cathode electrode, are produced on rolls and require identification, process step validation and full traceability all the way through the plant.

During the slitting process both larger mother rolls are unwound and sliced into multiple, smaller daughter rolls. These mother and daughter rolls must also be tracked and traced through the remaining processes, into storage and ultimately, into a battery cell.

Solution

Working with our battery customers and understanding their process needs, a UHF RFID tag was developed specifically to withstand the electrode production environment. Having a tag that can withstand a high temperature range is crucial, particularly in the vacuum drying lines. This tag is capable of surviving cycling applications with temperatures up to 235 °C. Its small form factor is ideal for recess mounting in the anode and cathode roll cores with an operating range reaching 4 meters.

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The tag embedded in the roll core paired with an RFID processor and UHF antenna provides all the necessary hardware in supporting battery plants to achieve their desired objective of tracking all production steps. Customers not only have the option of obtaining read/writes, via fixed antennas at the turrets, but also handheld ones for all storage locations — from goods receiving to daughter coil storage racks within a plant.

This UHF RFID system allows for tracking from the initial electrode coils from goods received in the warehouse, through the multiple machines in the electrode manufacturing process, into the storage areas, and to the battery cell assembly going in the electric vehicle — ultimately linking all battery cells back to a particular daughter roll, and back to its initial mother roll. RFID is on a Roll!