Inductive Coupling: A Simple Solution for Replacing Slip Rings

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

How to keep prox sensors from latching on

For inductive proximity sensors to operate in a stable manner, without constant “chatter” or switching on/off rapidly close to the switching point, they require some degree of hysteresis.

Hysteresis, basically, is the distance between the switch-on point and the switch-off point when the target is moving away from the active surface. Typical values are stated in sensor data sheets; common values would be ≤ 15%, ≤ 10%, ≤ 5% and so on. The value is taken as a percentage of the actual switch-on distance of the individual sensor specimen. Generally, the higher the percentage of hysteresis, the more stable the sensor is and the farther away the target must move to turn off the sensor.

basic_oper_inductive_sensorBut occasionally, a sensor will remain triggered after the target has been removed. This condition is called “latching on” and it typically occurs when the sensor remains damped enough to hold the sensor in the “on” condition.

Some factors that could cause “latching on” behavior and ways to correct it are:

Having too much metal near the sensor
Using a quasi-flush, non-flush, or extended-range sensor that is too close to metal surrounding its sides will partially dampen the sensor. While it is not enough to turn the sensor on, it is enough to hold it in the on state due to hysteresis. If there is a lot of metal close to the sides of the sensor, a flush-type sensor may eliminate the latching-on problem, although it will have shorter range.

Having the mounting nuts too close to the sensor face
of a quasi-flush, non-flush, or extended-range sensor. Even though there are threads in that area, the mounting nuts can pre-damp the sensor.

Using a sensor that is not stable at higher temperatures
Some sensors are more susceptible to latching-on than others as temperature is increased. This is caused by temperature drift, which can increase the sensor’s sensitivity to metals. In these cases, the sensor may work fine at start-up or at room temperature, but as the machinery gets hot it will start latching on. The solution is to make sure that the sensor is rated for the ambient temperature in the application. Another option: look for sensors designed properly by a reputable manufacturer or choose sensors specifically designed to work at higher temperatures.

Having strong magnetic fields
This happens because the magnetic field oversaturates the coil, so that the sensor is unable to detect that the target has been removed. If this is the case, replace them with weld-field-immune or weld-field-tolerant sensors.

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For a more detailed description of how inductive proximity sensors detect metallic objects without contact, please take a look at this related blog post.

 

Non-Contact Transmission of Power & Data on Transfer Rails & Grippers

For press shops utilizing transfer rail systems, fixed sensor connections regularly cause frustration. Cables and contacts are often subject to heavy strain. Cables can wear out and break, damaged pins or mechanical collisions can cause hours of machine downtime, and the replacement of large multi-pin connectors comes at a high cost.

Inductive couplers offer an ideal solution: By using these non-contact, wear-free products you can eliminate pin connections and simplify job changeovers on the press. Inductive couplers transfer signals and power contact-free over an air gap. The quick-disconnect units are easy to use and require no maintenance, enabling you to meet new demands quickly. Mechanical wear is a thing of the past. This increases system availability, reduces cycle time and enhances the flexibility of workflow processes.

Inductive coupling example

Replace pin connections for transfer rails

Typically, two pin-based connectors connect the transfer rail to the transfer system on the press. The connections are on both the feed and exit sides of the rail to the control. If there is any misalignment of the connections, damage regularly occurs. By replacing the connectors with pin-free inductive couplers, the connections are simplified and repair work is minimized. Additionally you don’t have open pins exposed to the environment (dust, water, oil) that can also cause nuisances in the connection process.

Replace pin connections for grippers

To connect the transfer rail on each gripper, normally a pin-based connector is used. As the grippers are changed on each tooling change, the connectors become worn and damaged with regularity. By replacing the pin connector with non-contact inductive couplers, the two sensor signals are maintained but the maintenance of these connections is reduced dramatically. An additional “in-zone signal” verifies that the gripper is installed and connected. This provides assurance during operation.

Inductive couplers offer IO-Link functionality

Inductive coupling with IO-Link technology adds more benefits besides replacing the pin coupling. It allows users to transfer up to 32 bytes of data in addition to power for actuation or sensors. If you connect IO-Link enabled I/O hubs or valve connectors to the remote side, you can also store identification data on the IO-Link hub or valve. When the connection is established, the controller can request the identification data from the tool to ensure that the system is utilizing the correct tool for the upcoming process.

With pin based coupling you needed up to 4-5 seconds to first engage the tool and to mate the two ends of the pin couplers and then request the identification. With inductive couplers, the base only needs to be brought closer to the remote so that you quickly couple and identify the tool before engaging the tool — this takes less than a second. Additionally the base and remote do not need to be well aligned to couple. Misalignment up to 15-20 degrees of angular offset or 2-4 mm of axial offset still provides functionality.

The benefits at a glance

  • Power and signals transfer with pin-less connectivity
  • Reduced downtime due to rail or gripper repair
  • Know that the gripper is present and powered with in-zone signal
  • Inform the controller that the rail has power and connectivity to the sensors

To decide the right coupler for your next application visit www.balluff.com.

 

Distance Measurement with Inductive Sensors

When we think about inductive sensors we automatically refer to discrete output offerings that detect the presence of ferrous materials. This can be a production part or an integrated part of the machine to simply determine position. Inductive sensors have been around for a long time, and there will always be a need for them in automated assembly lines, weld cells and stamping presses.

We often come across applications where we need an analog output at short range that needs to detect ferrous materials. This is an ideal application for an analog inductive proximity sensor that can offer an analog voltage or analog current output. This can reliably measure or error proof different product features such as varying shapes and sizes. Analog inductive sensors are pure analog devices that maintain a very good resolution with a high repeat accuracy. Similar to standard inductive sensors, they deal very well with vibration, commonly found in robust applications. Analog inductive proximity sensors are also offered in many form factors from M12-M30 tubular housings, rectangular block style and flat housings. They can also be selected to have flush or non-flush mounting features to accommodate specific operating distances needed in various applications.

Application Examples:

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For more specific information on analog inductive sensors visit www.balluff.com.

Back to the Basics: Object Detection

In the last post about the Basics of Automation, we discussed how humans act as a paradigm for automation. Now, let’s take a closer look at how objects can be detected, collected and positioned with the help of sensors.

Sensors can detect various materials such as metals, non-metals, solids and liquids, all completely without contact. You can use magnetic fields, light and sound to do this. The type of material you are trying to detect will determine the type of sensor technology that you will use.

Object Detection 1

Types of Sensors

  • Inductive sensors for detecting any metallic object at close range
  • Capacitive sensors for detecting the presence of level of almost any material and liquid at close range
  • Photoelectric sensors such as diffuse, retro-reflective or through-beam detect virtually any object over greater distances
  • Ultrasonic sensors for detecting virtually any object over greater distances

Different Sensors for Different Applications

The different types of sensors used will depend on the type of application. For example, you will use different sensors for metal detection, non-metal detection, magnet detection, and level detection.

Detecting Metals

If a workpiece or similar metallic objects Object Detection 2should be detected, then an inductive sensor is the best solution. Inductive sensors easily detect workpiece carriers at close range. If a workpiece is missing it will be reliably detected. Photoelectric sensors detect small objects, for example, steel springs as they are brought in for processing. Thus ensures a correct installation and assists in process continuity. These sensors also stand out with their long ranges.

Detecting Non-Metals

If you are trying to detect non-metal objects, for example, the height of paper stacks, Object Detection 3then capacitive sensors are the right choice. They will ensure that the printing process runs smoothly and they prevent transport backups. If you are checking the presence of photovoltaic cells or similar objects as they are brought in for processing, then photoelectic sensors would be the correct choice for the application.

Detecting Magnets

Object Detection 4

To make sure that blister packs are exactly positioned in boxes or that improperly packaged matches are sorted out, a magnetic field sensor is needed which is integrated into the slot. It detects the opening condition of a gripper, or the position of a pneumatic ejector.

 

Level Detection

What if you need to detect the level of granulate in containers? Then the solution is to use capacitive sensors. To accomplish this, two sensors are attached in the containers, offset from each other. A signal is generated when the minimum or maximum level is exceeded. This prevents over-filling or the level falling below a set amount. However, if you would like to detect the precise fill height of a tank without contact, then the solution would be to use an ultrasonic sensor.

Stay tuned for future posts that will cover the essentials of automation. To learn more about the Basics of Automation in the meantime, visit www.balluff.com.

Where Did You Find That Sensor?

I recently visited a customer that has a large amount of assembly lines where they have several machine builders manufacturing assembly process lines to their specification. This assembly plant has three different business units and unfortunately, they do not communicate very well with each other. Digging deeper into their error proofing solutions, we found an enormous amount of sensors and cables that could perform the same function, however they mandated different part numbers. This situation was making it very difficult for maintenance employees and machine operators to select the best sensor for the application at hand due to redundancy with their sensor inventory.

The customer had four different types of M08 Inductive Proximity sensors that all had the same operating specifications with different mechanical specifications. For example, one sensor had a 2mm shorter housing than one of the others in inventory. These 2mm would hardly have an effect when installed into an application 99% of the time. The customer also had other business units using NPN output polarity VS PNP polarity making it even more difficult to select the correct sensor and in some situations adding even more downtime when the employee tried to replace an NPN sensor where a PNP offering was needed. As we all know, the NPN sensor looks identical to the PNP offering just by looking at it. One would have to really understand the part number breakdown when selecting the sensor, and when a machine is down this sometimes can be overlooked. This is why it is so important to standardize on sensor selection when possible. This will result in more organized inventory by reducing part numbers, reducing efforts from purchasing and more importantly offering less confusion for the maintenance personel that keep production running.

Below are five examples of M08 Inductive sensors that all have the same operating specifications. You will notice the difference in housing lengths and connection types. You can see that there can be some confusion when selecting the best one for a broad range of application areas. For example, the housing lengths are just a few millimeters different. You can clearly see that one or two of these offerings could be installed into 99% of the application areas where M08 sensors are needed for machine or part position or simply error proofing a process.

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For more information on standardizing your sensor selection visit www.balluff.com

 

Put Out the Fire

Every time I enter tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers, there seems to be a common theme of extreme sensor and cable abuse. It is not uncommon to see a box or bin of damaged sensors along with connection cables that have extreme burn-through due to extreme heat usually generated by weld spatter. This abuse is going to happen and is unavoidable in most cases.  The only option to combat these hostile environments is to select the correct components, such as bunker blocks, protective mounts, and high temperature cable materials that can withstand hot welding applications.

Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.
Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.

In many cases I have seen standard sensors and cables installed in a weld cell with essentially zero protection of the sensor. This results in a very non-productive application that simply cannot meet production demands due to excessive downtime. At the root of this downtime you will typically find sensor and cable failure. These problems can only go on for so long before a culture change must happen throughout a manufacturing or production plant as there is too much overtime resulting in added cost and less efficiency. I call this the “pay me now or pay me later” analogy.

Below are some simple yet effective ways to improve sensor and cable life:

Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
  • Apply flush sensors vs. non-flush sensor in fixtures
  • Bunker the flush sensors to protect the face of the sensor (Let the bunker block take the spatter)
  • Apply sensors with special coatings to combat weld spatter
  • Apply sensors with steel faces for added insurance against contact damage
  • Apply high temp cables such as full silicone high durability offerings
  • Protect cables with silicone tubing and high temperature weld jackets
  • Wrap cables with weld repel tape to insure spatter will not penetrate the ends of the cable

If these simple steps are followed, uptime and efficiency will result in increased productivity with immediate improvements and positive results.

For information on welding improvements visit our website at www.balluff.us.

Reliable Part Exit/Part-Out Detection

Walk into any die shop in the US and nine out of ten times, we discover diffuse reflective sensors being used to detect a large part or a small part exiting a die. Many people have success using this methodology, but lubrication-covered tumbling parts can create challenges for diffuse-reflective photoelectric sensing devices for many reasons:

  1. Tumbling parts with many “openings” on the part itself can cause a miss-detected component.
  2. Overly-reflective parts can false triggering of the output.
  3. Dark segments of the exiting part can cause light absorption. Remember, a diffuse sensors sensing distance is based on reflectivity. Black or dark targets tend to absorb light and not reflect light back to the receiver.
  4. Die lube/misting can often fog over a photoelectric lens requiring maintenance or machine down time.

The solution: Super Long Range Inductive Sensors placed under chutes

Most metal forming personnel are very familiar with smaller versions of inductive proximity sensors in tubular sizes ranging from 3mm through 30mm in diameter and with square or “block style” inductive types (flat packs, “pancake types”, etc.) but it is surprising how many people are just now discovering “Super Long Range Inductive Proximity” types. Super Long Range Inductive Proximity Sensors have been used in metal detection applications for many years including Body-In-White Automotive applications, various segments of steel processing and manufacturing, the canning industry, and conveyance.

Benefits of Using A UHMW Chute + Super Long Range Inductive Proximity Sensor in Part Exit/Part-Out Applications:

  1. It is stronger and quieter than parts flowing over a metal chute, readily available in standard and custom widths, lengths and thicknesses to fit the needs of large and small part stampers everywhere.
  2. UHMW is reported to be 3X stronger than carbon steel.
  3. UHMW is resistant to die lubes.
  4. UHMW allows Super Long Range Inductive Proximity Sensors to be placed underneath and to be “tuned” to fit the exact zone dimension required to detect any part exiting the die (fixed ranges and tunable with a potentiometer). The sensing device is also always out of harm’s way.
  5. Provides an option for part detection in exiting applications that eliminates potential problems experienced in certain metal forming applications where photoelectric sensing solutions aren’t performing optimally.
A Two-Out Die with Metallic Chute
A Two-Out Die with Metallic Chute

Not every Part Exit/Part-Out application is the same and not every die, stamping application, vintage of equipment, budget for sensing programs are the same. But it’s important to remember in the world of stamping, to try as consistently as possible to think application specificity when using sensors.  That is, putting the right sensing system in the right place to get the job done and to have as many technical options available as possible to solve application needs in your own “real world” metal forming operation.  We believe the UHMW + Super Long Range Inductive System is such an option.

You can learn more in the video below or by visiting www.balluff.us.