Capacitive, the Other Proximity Sensor

What is the first thing that comes to mind if someone says “proximity sensor?” My guess is the inductive sensor, and justly so because it is the most used sensor in automation today. There are other technologies that use the term proximity in describing the sensing mode, including diffuse or proximity photoelectric sensors that use the reflectivity of the object to change states and proximity mode of ultrasonic sensors that use high-frequency sound waves to detect objects. All these sensors detect objects that are in close proximity to the sensor without making physical contact. One of the most overlooked or forgotten proximity sensors on the market today is the capacitive sensor.

Capacitive sensors are suitable for solving numerous applications. These sensors can be used to detect objects, such as glass, wood, paper, plastic, or ceramic, regardless of material color, texture, or finish. The list goes on and on. Since capacitive sensors can detect virtually anything, they can detect levels of liquids including water, oil, glue, and so forth, and they can detect levels of solids like plastic granules, soap powder, sand, and just about anything else. Levels can be detected either directly, when the sensor touches the medium, or indirectly when it senses the medium through a non-metallic container wall.

Capacitive sensors overview

Like any other sensor, there are certain considerations to account for when applying capacitive, multipurpose sensors, including:

1 – Target

    • Capacitive sensors can detect virtually any material.
    • The target material’s dielectric constant determines the reduction factor of the sensor. Metal / Water > Wood > Plastic > Paper.
    • The target size must be equal to or larger than the sensor face.

2 – Sensing distance

    • The rated sensing distance, or what you see in a catalog, is based on a mild steel target that is the same size as the sensor face.
    • The effective sensing distance considers mounting, supply voltage, and temperature. It is adjusted by the integral potentiometer or other means.
    • Additional influences that affect the sensing distance are the sensor housing shape, sensor face size, and the mounting style of the sensor (flush, non-flush).

3 – Environment

    • Temperatures from 160 to 180°F require special considerations. The high-temperature version sensors should be used in applications above this value.
    • Wet or very humid applications can cause false positives if the dielectric strength of the target is low.
    • In most instances, dust or material buildup can be tuned out if the target dielectric is higher than the dust contamination.

4 – Mounting

    • Installing capacitive sensors is very similar to installing inductive sensors. Flush sensors can be installed flush to the surrounding material. The distance between the sensors is two times the diameter of the sensing distance.
    • Non-flush sensors must have a free area around the sensor at least one diameter of the sensor or the sensing distance.

5 – Connector

    • Quick disconnect – M8 or M12.
    • Potted cable.

6 – Sensor

    • The sensor sensing area or face must be smaller or equal to the target material.
    • Maximum sensing distance is measured on metal – reduction factor will influence all sensing distances.
    • Use flush versions to reduce the effects of the surrounding material. Some plastic sensors will have a reduced sensing range when embedded in metal. Use a flush stainless-steel body to get the full sensing range.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when applying capacitive sensors. There is not “a” capacitive sensor application – but there are many which can be solved cost-effectively and reliably with these sensors.

Choosing Between M18 and Flatpack Proxes

Both M18s and flatpacks are inductive or proximity sensors that are widely used in mechanical engineering and industrial automation applications. Generally, they are similar in that they produce an electromagnetic field that reacts to a metal target when it approaches the sensor head. And the coil in both sensors is roughly the same size, so they have the same sensing range – between 5 to 8 millimeters. They also both work well in harsh environments, such as welding.

There are, however, some specific differences between the M18 and flatpack sensors that are worth consideration when setting up production.

M18

One benefit of the M18 sensor is that it’s adjustable. It has threads around it that allow you to adjust it up or down one millimeter every time you turn it 360 degrees. The M18 can take up a lot of space in a fixture, however. It has a standard length of around two inches long and, when you add a connector, it can be a problem when space is an issue.

Flatpack

A flatpack, on the other hand, has a more compact style and format while offering the same sensing range. The mounting of the flatpack provides a fixed distance so it offers less adjustability of the M18, but its small size delivers flexibility in installation and allows use in much tighter fixes and positions.

The flatpack also comes with a ceramic face and a welding cable, especially suited for harsh and demanding applications. You can also get it with a special glass composite protective face, a stainless-steel face, or a steel face with special coatings on it.

Each housing has its place, based on your detection application, of course. But having them both in your portfolio can expand your ability to solve your applications with sensor specificity.

Check out this previous blog for more information on inductive sensors and their unlimited uses in automation.

Inductive Sensors and Their Unlimited Uses in Automation

Inductive sensors (also known as proximity sensors or proxes) are the most commonly used sensors in mechanical engineering and industrial automation. When they were invented in the 1960s, they marked a milestone in the development of control systems. In a nutshell, they generate an electromagnetic field that reacts to metal targets that approach the sensor head. They even work in harsh environments and can solve versatile applications.

There are hardly any industrial machines that work without inductive sensors. So, what can be solved with one, two, three, or more of them?

What can you do with one inductive sensor?

Inductive sensors are often used to detect an end position. This could be in a machine for end-of-travel detection, but also in a hydraulic cylinder or a linear direct drive as an end-of-stroke sensor. In machine control, they detect many positions and trigger other events. Another application is speed monitoring with a tooth wheel.

What can you do with two inductive sensors?

By just adding one more sensor you can get the direction of rotational motion and take the place of a more expensive encoder. In a case where you have a start and end position, this can also be solved with a second inductive sensor.

What can you do with three inductive sensors?

In case of the tooth wheel application, the third sensor can provide a reference signal and the solution turns into a multiturn rotary encoder.

What can I do with four inductive sensors and more?

For multi-point positioning, it may make sense to switch to a measurement solution, which can also be inductive. Beyond that, an array of inductive sensors can solve identification applications: In an array of 2 by 2 sensors, there are already 16 different unique combinations of holes in a hole plate. In an array of 3 by 3, it would be 512 combinations.

Avoid Downtime in Metal Forming With Inductive & Photoelectric Sensors

Industrial sensor technology revolutionized how part placement and object detection are performed in metal forming applications. Inductive proximity sensors came into standard use in the industry in the 1960s as the first non-contact sensor that could detect ferrous and nonferrous metals. Photoelectric sensors detect objects at greater distances. Used together in a stamping environment, these sensors can decrease the possibility of missing material or incorrect placement that can result in a die crash and expensive downtime.

Inductive sensors

In an industrial die press, inductive sensors are placed on the bottom and top of the dies to detect the sheet metal for stamping. The small sensing range of inductive sensors allows operators to confirm that the sheet metal is correctly in place and aligned to ensure that the stamping process creates as little scrap as possible.

In addition, installing barrel-style proximity sensors so that their sensing face is flush with the die structure will confirm the creation of the proper shape. The sensors in place at the correct angles within the die will trigger when the die presses the sheet metal into place. The information these sensors gather within the press effectively make the process visible to operators. Inductive sensors can also detect the direction of scrap material as it is being removed and the movement of finished products.

Photoelectric sensors

Photoelectric sensors in metal forming have two main functions. The first function is part presence, such as confirming that only a single sheet of metal loads into the die, also known as double-blank detection. Doing this requires placing a distance-sensing photoelectric sensor at the entry-way to the die. By measuring the distance to the sheet metal, the sensor can detect the accidental entry of two or more sheets in the press. Running the press with multiple metal sheets can damage the die form and the sensors installed in the die, resulting in expensive downtime while repairing or replacing the damaged parts.

The second typical function of photoelectric sensors verifies the movement of the part out of the press. A photoelectric light grid in place just outside the exit of the press can confirm the movement of material out before the next sheet enters into the press. Additionally, an optical window in place where parts move out will count the parts as they drop into a dunnage bin. These automated verification steps help ensure that stamping processes can move at high speeds with high accuracy.

These examples offer a brief overview of the sensors you mostly commonly find in use in a die press. The exact sensors are specific to the presses and the processes in use by different manufacturers, and the technology the stamping industry uses is constantly changing as it advances. So, as with all industrial automation, selecting the most suitable sensor comes down to the requirements of the individual application.

Non-Contact Inductive Couplers Provide Wiring Advantages, Added Flexibility and Cost Savings Over Industrial Multi-Pin Connectors

Today, engineers are adding more and more sensors to in-die sensing packages in stamping applications. They do so to gain more information and diagnostics from their dies as well as reduce downtime. However, the increased number of sensors also increases the number of electric connections required in the automation system. Previously, the most common technique to accommodate large numbers of sensor in these stamping applications was with large, multi-pin connectors. (Figure 1)

Figure 1
Figure 1: A large multi-pin connector has been traditionally used in the past to add more electronics to a die.

The multi-pin connector approach works in these applications but can create issues, causing unplanned downtime. These problems include:

    1. Increased cost to the system, not only in the hardware itself, but in the wiring labor. Each pin of the connector must be individually wired based on the sensor configuration of each particular die. Depending on the sensor layout of the die, potentially each connector could need to be wired differently internally.
    2. A shorter life span for the multi-pin connector due to the tough stamping environment. The oil and lubrication fluids constantly spraying on the die can deteriorate the connectors plastic housings. Figure 1 shows the housing starting to come apart. When the connector is unplugged, these devices are not rated for IP67 and dirt, oil, and/or other debris can build up inside the connector.
    3. Cable damage during typical die change out. Occasionally, users forget to unplug the connectors before pulling the die out and they tear apart the device. If the connector is unplugged and left hanging off the die, it can be run over by a fork truck. Either way, new connectors are required to replace the damaged ones.
    4. Bent or damaged pins. Being mechanical in nature, the pin and contact points will wear out over time by regular plugging and unplugging of these devices.
    5. A lack of flexibility. If an additional sensor for the die is required, additional wiring is needed. The new sensor input needs to be wired to a free pin in the connector and a spare pin may not be available.
Figure 2
Figure 2: Above is a typical set up using these multi-pin connectors hard-wired to junction boxes.

Inductive couplers (non-contact) are another solution for in-die sensors connecting to an automation system. With inductive couplers, power and data are transferred across an air gap contact free. The system is made up of a base (transmitter) and remote (receiver) units. The base unit is typically mounted to the press itself and the remote unit to the die. As the die is set in place, the remote receives power from the base when aligned and exchanges data over a small air gap.

The remote and base units of an inductive coupler pair are fully encapsulated and typically rated IP67 (use like rated cabling). Because of this high ingress protection rating, the couplers are not affected by coolant, die lubricants, and/or debris in a typical stamping application. Being inherently non-contact, there is no mechanical wear and less unplanned downtime.

When selecting an inductive coupler, there are many considerations, including physical form factors (barrel or block styles) and functionality types (power only, input only, analog, configurable I/O, IO-Link, etc…). IO-Link inductive couplers offer the most flexibility as they allow 32 bytes of bi-direction data and power. With the large data size, there is a lot of room for future expansion of additional sensors.

Adding inductive couplers can be an easy way to save on unexpected downtime due to a bad connector.

fig 3
Figure 3: A typical layout of an IO-Link system using inductive couplers in a stamping application.

Analog Inductive Sensors Enable Easy Double Blank Detection in Stamping

Double sheet detection, also known as double blank detection, is an essential step in stamping quality control processes, as failure to do so can cause costly damage and downtime. Analog inductive sensors can deliver a cost-effective and easy way to add this step to stamping processes.

Most people have experienced on a smaller scale what happens when the office printer accidentally feeds two sheets of paper; the machine jams and the clog must be manually removed. Beyond the annoyance of not getting the printout right away, this typically doesn’t cause any significant issues to the equipment. In the stamping world, two sheets being fed into a machine can severely affect productivity and quality.

When two metal sheets stick together and are fed into a machine together, the additional thickness can damage the stamping dies and other equipment like the robot loaders, which can cause the production line to shut down for repairs. Even if the tool fares better and does not get damaged, the stamped product will likely be defective. In today’s highly competitive and just-in-time market, machine downtime and rejected shipments due to quality can be very costly.

1
Image 1

A simple solution to detect multiple sheets of metal is analog inductive sensing. This kind of sensor offers non-contact sensing with a 0…10V analog output, which can be used to determine when the thickness of the metallic material changes. As the material gets thicker, or as multiple sheets of metal stack on top of one another, the analog output from the sensor varies proportionally. These sensors can be used with ferrous or non-ferrous metals, but the operating range will be reduced for non-ferrous metals. As shown in the graph (Image 1), as the distance with the metallic target changes, the analog output increases from 0 to 10V.

 

2

3

 

The pictures above, shows the technology in action. With a single sheet of aluminum, the output from the sensor is 2.946V, and for two sheets, the output is 5.67V. The user can establish these values as a reference for when there is more than one sheet of metal being fed into the machine and stop the equipment from attempting to process the material before it is damaged. These sensors can be placed perpendicular or inline with the target material and are offered in various form factors so they can be integrated into a wide range of applications.

 

 

 

Palletized Automation with Inductive Coupling

RFID is an excellent way to track material on a pallet through a warehouse. A data tag is placed on the pallet and is read by a read/write head when it comes in range. Commonly used to identify when the pallet goes through the different stages of its scheduled process, RFID provides an easy way to know where material is throughout a process and learn how long it takes for product to go through each stage. But what if you need I/O on the pallet itself or an interchangeable end-of-arm tool?

Inductive Coupling

1

Inductive coupling delivers reliable transmission of data without contact. It is the same technology used to charge a cell phone wirelessly. There is a base and a remote, and when they are aligned within a certain distance, power and signal can be transferred between them as if it was a standard wire connection.

2

When a robot is changing end-of-arm tooling, inductive couplers can be used to power the end of arm tool without the worry of the maintenance that comes with a physical connection wearing out over time.

For another example of how inductive couplers can be used in a process like this, let’s say your process requires a robot to place parts on a metal product and weld them together. You want I/O on the pallet to tell the robot that the parts are in the right place before it welds them to the product. This requires the sensors to be powered on the pallet while also communicating back to the robot. Inductive couplers are a great solution because by communicating over an air gap, they do not need to be connected and disconnected when the pallet arrives or leaves the station. When the pallet comes into the station, the base and remote align, and all the I/O on the pallet is powered and can communicate to the robot so it can perform the task.

Additionally, Inductive couplers can act as a unique identifier, much like an RFID system. For example,  when a pallet filled with product A comes within range of the robot, the base and remote align telling the robot to perform action A. Conversely, when a pallet loaded with product B comes into range, the robot communicates with the pallet and knows to perform a different task. This allows multiple products to go down the same line without as much changeover, thereby reducing errors and downtime.

Inductive Coupling: A Simple Solution for Replacing Slip Rings

1
Figure 1: Inductive coupling for power and data exchange

In the industrial automation space, inductive sensors have grown very popular , most commonly used for detecting the proximity of metal objects such as food cans, or machine parts. Inductive coupling, also known as non-contact connectors, uses magnetic induction to transfer power and data over an air gap.

2.png
Figure 2: Slip ring example

While inductive couplers have many uses, one of the most beneficial is for replacing a traditional slip-ring mechanism. Slip-rings, also known as rotary connectors, are typically used in areas of a machine where one part rotates, and another part of the machine remains stationary, such as a turn table where stations on the indexing table need power and I/O, but the table rotates a full 360°. This set up makes standard cable solutions ineffective.

3
Figure 3: Inductive coupling replacing the slip-ring

A slip ring could be installed at the base of the table, but since they are electromechanical devices, they are subject to wear out. And unfortunately, the signs for wearing are not evident and often it is only a lack of power that alerts workers to an issue.

An inductive coupling solution eliminates all the hassle of the mechanical parts. With non-contact inductive coupling, the base of a coupler could be mounted at the base of the table and the remote end could be mounted on the rotating part of the table.

Additionally, slip rings are susceptible to noise and vibration, but because inductive couplers do not have contact between the base and the remote, they do not have this problem.

Inductive couplers are typically IP67-rated, meaning they are not affected by dirt or water, or  vibrations, and most importantly, they are contact free so no maintenance is necessary.

Learn more about Balluff inductive couplers www.balluff.us.

Industrial sensors with diagnostic functionality

Self-Awareness
For monitoring functionality in industrial processes two aspects are relevant: Environmental awareness and self-awareness. Environmental awareness analyzes impacts which are provided by the environment (e.g. ambient temperature). Self-awareness collects information about the internal statuses of (sub)systems. The diagnostic monitoring of industrial processes, which are typically dynamic, is  not as critical as the monitoring of static situations. If you have many signal changes of sensors due to the activity of actuators, with each plausible sensor signal change you can be confident that the sensor is still alive and acts properly. A good example of this is rotation speed measurement of a wheel with an inductive sensor having many signal changes per second. If the actuator drove the wheel to turn but the sensor would not provide signal changes at its output, something would be wrong. The machine control would recognize this and would trigger a stop of the machine and inspection of the situation.

Inductive Sensors with self-awareness

DESINA
For level sensing applications in cooling liquid tanks of metalworking applications inductive sensors with self-diagnostics are often used. The inductive sensors detect a metal flag which is mounted to a float with rod fixation.

1

Additionally, to the switching output these sensors have a monitor output which is a “high” signal when the sensor status is OK. In situations where the sensor is not OK, for example when there has been a short circuit or sensor coil damage, the monitor output will be a “low” signal.  This type of so called DESINA sensors is standardized according to ISO 23570-1 (Industrial automation systems and integration – Distributed installation in industrial applications – part 1: Sensors and actuators).

Dynamic Sensor control
Another approach is the Dynamic Sensor Control (DSC). Rather than using an additional monitoring output, this type of sensors provides impulses while it is “alive.”

2

The sensor output provides information about the position of the target with reference to the sensor as well as status diagnostic of the sensor itself.

IO-Link
With IO-Link communication even teaching of defined switching distance can be realized. The IO-Link concept allows you to distinguish between real-time process data (like target in/out of sensing range) and service data which may be transferred with a lower update rate (in the background of the real process).

For more information, visit www.balluff.com.

This blog post was originally published on the innovating-automation.blog.

Press Shops Boost Productivity with Non-Contact Connections

In press shops or stamping plants, downtime can easily cost thousands of dollars in productivity. This is especially true in the progressive stamping process where the cost of downtime is a lot higher as the entire automated stamping line is brought to a halt.

BIC presse detail 231013

Many strides have been made in modern stamping plants over the years to improve productivity and reduce the downtime. This has been led by implementing lean philosophies and adding error proofing systems to the processes. In-die-sensing is a great example, where a few inductive or photo-eye sensors are added to the die or mold to ensure parts are seated well and that the right die is in the right place and in the right press. In-die sensing almost eliminated common mistakes that caused die or mold damages or press damages by stamping on multiple parts or wrong parts.

In almost all of these cases, when the die or mold is replaced, the operator must connect the on-board sensors, typically with a multi-pin Harting connector or something similar to have the quick-connect ability. Unfortunately, often when the die or mold is pulled out of the press, operators forget to disconnect the connector. The shear force exerted by the movement of removing the die rips off the connector housing. This leads to an unplanned downtime and could take roughly 3-5 hours to get back to running the system.

 

image

Another challenge with the multi-conductor connectors is that over time, due to repeated changeouts, the pins in the connectors may break causing intermittent false trips or wrong die identification. This can lead to serious damages to the system.

Both challenges can be solved with the use of a non-contact coupling solution. The non-contact coupling, also known as an inductive coupling solution, is where one side of the connectors called “Base” and the other side called “Remote” exchange power and signals across an air-gap. The technology has been around for a long time and has been applied in the industrial automation space for more than a decade, primarily in tool changing applications or indexing tables as a replacement for slip-rings. For more information on inductive coupling here are a few blogs (1) Inductive Coupling – Simple Concept for Complex Automation Part 1,  (2) Inductive Coupling – Simple Concept for Complex Automation Part 2

For press automation, the “Base” side can be affixed to the press and the “Remote” side can be mounted on a die or mold, in such a way that when the die is placed properly, the two sides of the coupler can be in the close proximity to each other (within 2-5mm). This solution can power the sensors in the die and can help transfer up to 12 signals. Or, with IO-Link based inductive coupling, more flexibility and smarts can be added to the die. We will discuss IO-Link based inductive coupling for press automation in an upcoming blog.

Some advantages of inductive coupling over the connectorized solution:

  • Since there are no pins or mechanical parts, inductive coupling is a practically maintenance-free solution
  • Additional LEDs on the couplers to indicate in-zone and power status help with quick troubleshooting, compared to figuring out which pins are bad or what is wrong with the sensors.
  • Inductive couplers are typically IP67 rated, so water ingress, dust, oil, or any other environmental factor does not affect the function of the couplers
  • Alignment of the couplers does not have to be perfect if the base and remote are in close proximity. If the press area experiences drastic changes in humidity or temperature, that would not affect the couplers.
  • There are multiple form factors to fit the need of the application.

In short, press automation can gain a productivity boost, by simply changing out the connectors to non-contact ones.