Capacitive sensors are versatile for use in numerous applications. They can be used to detect objects such as glass, wood, paper, plastic, ceramic, and more. Capacitive sensors used to detect objects are easily identified by the flush mounting or shielded face of the sensor. This shielding causes the electrostatic field to be short and conical shaped, much like the shielded version of an inductive proximity sensor.
Just as there are non-flush or unshielded inductive sensors, there are non-flush capacitive sensors, and the mounting and housing look the same. The non-flush capacitive sensors have a large spherical field which allows them to be used in level detection, including detection of liquids and granular solids. Levels can be detected either directly with the sensor making contact with the medium, or indirectly with the sensor sensing the medium through a non-metallic container wall.
Capacitive sensors are discrete devices so once you adjust the sensitivity to detect the target while ignoring the container, the sensor is either on or off. Also remember that the sensor is looking for the dielectric constant in the case of a standard capacitive sensor or the conductivity of a water based liquid in the case of the hybrid technology.
Recent technology advances with remote amplifiers have allowed capacitive sensors to provide an analog output or a digital value over IO-Link. As previously mentioned, these sensors are based off of a dielectric constant so the analog value being created is dependent on the media being sensed.
While capacitive sensors are versatile to work in many applications, they are not the right choice for all applications.
Recently a customer inquired if a capacitive sensor could detect the density of an substance and unfortunately the short answer is no, though in some applications the analog sensors can detect different levels of media if it can be separated in a centrifuge. Also, capacitive sensors may not detect small amounts of media as the dielectric constant of the media must be higher than the container that holds the media.
There are three important steps in applying a capacitive sensor — test it, test it and test it one more time. During your testing procedures be sure to test it under the best and worse conditions. Also like any other electronic device temperature can have an affect although it may be negligible there will be some affect.
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.
But 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.
For a more detailed description of how inductive proximity sensors detect metallic objects without contact, please take a look at this related blog post.
Clear or transparent sensing targets can be a challenge but not an insurmountable one. Applications can detect or measure the amount of clear or transparent film on a roll or the level of a clear or transparent media, either liquid or solid. The question for these applications becomes, do I use light or sound as a solution?
In an application that requires the measurement of the diameter of a roll of clear labels, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Are the labels and the backing clear? Will the label transparency and the background transparency change? Will the labels have printing on them? All of these possibilities will affect which sensor should be used. Users should also ask how accurate or how much resolution is required.
Faced with this application, using ultrasonic sensors may be a better choice because of their ability to see targets regardless of color, possible printing on the label, transparency and surface texture or sheen. Some or all of these variables could affect the performance of a photoelectric sensor.
Ultrasonic sensors emit a burst of short high frequency sound waves that propagate in a cone shape towards the target. When the sound waves strike the target, they are bounced back to the sensor. The sensor then calculates the distance based on the time span from when the sound was emitted until the sound was received.
In some instances, and depending on the resolution required, a time of flight sensor may solve the above application. Time of Flight (TOF) sensors emit a pulsed light toward the target object. The light is then reflected back to the receiver. The elapsed time it takes for the light to return to the receiver is measured, thus determining the distance to the target. In this case, the surface finish and transparency may not be an issue.
Imagine trying to detect a clear piece of plastic going over a roll. The photoelectric sensor could detect it either in a diffuse mode or with a retroreflective sensor designed for clear glass detection. But what if the plastic characteristics can change frequently or if the surface flutters. Again, the ultrasonic sensor may be a better choice and also may not require set up any time the material changes.
So what’s the best solution? In the end, test the application with the worst case scenario. A wide variety of sensors are available to solve these difficult applications, including photoelectric or ultrasonic. Both sensors have continuous analog and discrete outs. For more information visit www.balluff.com.
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.
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.
Photoelectric applications with space restrictions, small part detection, high temperatures, or aggressive harsh environments may be solved using fiber optic sensors. These sensors allow the electronics to be mounted out of harm’s way while at the same time focusing the light beam on a small target. The sensing tips can be manufactured in a wide variety of housings for unique mounting requirements.
Fiber optic sensors require two components: a remote mounted amplifier, and the fiber optic cable(s). The amplifiers can be basic, with few features, or advanced with many configurable options and digital displays. The fiber optic cables are made of either plastic or glass fibers, each with advantages and application specific solutions.
Many applications, primarily those in the medical sciences and semiconductor industries, cannot be solved with fiber optic or miniature photoelectric sensors because they are physically too large to fit in the instruments. Additionally, the cables are typically not flexible enough to be routed through the instruments. Today, highly flexible and miniature sensors are are being incorporated in other industries due to today’s demands of smaller machines and tools.
MICROmote® sensors are miniaturized photoelectric sensors with separate amplifiers that are also available with a variety of functionalities. Their highly flexible, electric sensor cables make them a genuine technical alternative to conventional fiber optics. The photoelectric sensor heads have extraordinarily small dimensions, excellent technical characteristics, and outstanding flexibility for application-specific solutions.
Similar to fiber optic sensors, these micro-optic photoelectric sensors function as either a through-beam or diffuse type sensor with comparable sensing ranges. Unlike fibers, the wired sensing heads are inherently bifurcated type cables so that there is only one connection to the amplifier.
Unlike conventional fiber optic cables, there are no significant coupling losses, minimum bending radius and cyclic bending stresses. The patented precision elements produce extremely small beam angles with sharply defined light spots unlike standard fiber optics where the beam angle is a function of the fiber geometry. Additional lenses must be used if the light beam of a fiber optic cable must be focused which adds to the costs.
MICROmote® photoelectric sensors for water detection use a specific wavelength at which water absorbs more light. This significantly simplifies the detection of liquids with high water content using optical sensors. The combination of an ultra-compact design and powerful micro-optics allows for reliable use in capillary tubes where other sensing devices are stretched to their limits.
These sensors can also be used as precision tube sensors for detecting bubbles through use of either light refraction or attenuation through the air, or liquid column within the tube. They provide excellent detection for even the smallest air-to-liquid transitions and are reliable for all liquid types, even clear liquids.
In addition, these sensors are designed to detect free-floating microbubbles in transparent liquids. Microbubbles refer to little gas bubbles with dimensions smaller than the inside diameter of the tube. Uniform lighting is achieved in the liquid column by using a concentrated arrangement of multiple light beams with very uniform intensity distribution. Gas bubbles that move through this field induce a signal jump in the built-in photoelectric receiver elements
For more information on this technological alternative to fiber optics visit www.balluff.com.
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.
For more specific information on analog inductive sensors visit www.balluff.com.
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.
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.
If a workpiece or similar metallic objects should 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.
If you are trying to detect non-metal objects, for example, the height of paper stacks, then 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.
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.
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.
Digitizing the production world in the age of Industry 4.0 increases the need for information between the various levels of the automation pyramid from the sensor/actuator level up to the enterprise management level. Sensors are the eyes and ears of automation technology, without which there would be no data for such a cross-level flow of information. They are at the scene of the action in the system and provide valuable information as the basis for implementing modern production processes. This in turn allows smart maintenance or repair concepts to be realized, preventing production scrap and increasing system uptime.
This digitizing begins with the sensor itself. Digitizing requires intelligent sensors to enrich equipment models with real data and to gain clarity over equipment and production status. For this, the “eyes and ears” of automation provide additional information beyond their primary function. In addition to data for service life, load level and damage detection environmental information such as temperature, contamination or quality of the alignment with the target object is required.
One Sensor – Multiple Functions
This photoelectric sensor offers these benefits. Along with the switching signal, it also uses IO-Link to provide valuable information about the sensor status or the current ambient conditions. This versatile sensor uses red light and lets you choose from among four sensor modes: background suppression, energetic diffuse, retroreflective or through-beam sensor. These four sensing principles are the most common in use all over the world in photoelectric sensors and have proven themselves in countless industrial applications. In production this gives you additional flexibility, since the sensor principles can be changed at any time, even on-the-fly. Very different objects can always be reliably detected in changing operating conditions. Inventory is also simplified. Instead of four different devices, only one needs to be stocked. Sensor replacement is easy and uncomplicated, since the parameter sets can be updated and loaded via IO-Link at any time. Intelligent sensors are ideal for use with IO-Link and uses data retention to eliminate cumbersome manual setting. All the sensor functions can be configured over IO-Link, so that a remote teach-in can be initiated by the controller.
Diagnostics – Smart and Effective
New diagnostics functions also represent a key feature of an intelligent sensor. The additional sensor data generated here lets you realize intelligent maintenance concepts to significantly improve system uptime. An operating hours counter is often built in as an important aid for predictive maintenance.
The light emission values are extremely helpful in many applications, for example, when the ambient conditions result in increased sensor contamination. These values are made available over IO-Link as raw data to be used for trend analyses. A good example of this is the production of automobile tires. If the transport line of freshly vulcanized tires suddenly stops due to a dirty sensor, the tires will bump into each other, resulting in expensive scrap as the still-soft tires are deformed. This also results in a production downtime until the transport line has been cleared, and in the worst case the promised delivery quantities will not be met. Smart sensors, which provide corresponding diagnostic possibilities, quickly pay for themselves in such cases. The light remission values let the plant operator know the degree of sensor contamination so he can initiate a cleaning measure before it comes to a costly production stop.
In the same way, the light remission value allows you to continuously monitor the quality of the sensor signal. Sooner or later equipment will be subject to vibration or other external influences which result in gradual mechanical misalignment. Over time, the signal quality is degraded as a result and with it the reliability and precision of the object detection. Until now there was no way to recognize this creeping degradation or to evaluate it. Sensors with a preset threshold do let you know when the received amount of light is insufficient, but they are not able to derive a trend from the raw data and perform a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the detection certainty.
When it comes to operating security, intelligent sensors offer even more. Photoelectric sensors have the possibility to directly monitor the output of the emitter LED. This allows critical operating conditions caused by aging of the LED to be recognized and responded to early. In a similar way, the sensors interior temperature and the supply voltage are monitored as well. Both parameters give you solid information about the load condition of the sensor and with it the failure risk.
Flexible and Clever
Increasing automation is resulting in more and more sensors and devices in plant systems. Along with this, the quantity of transported data that has to be managed by fieldbus nodes and controllers is rising as well. Here intelligent sensors offer great potential for relieving the host controller while at the same time reducing data traffic on the fieldbus. Pre-processing the detection signals right in the sensor represents a noticeable improvement. A freely configurable count function offers several counting and reset options for a wide variety of applications. The count pulses are evaluated directly in the sensor – without having to pass the pulses themselves on to the controller. Instead, the sensor provides status signals, e.g. when one of the previously configured limit values has been reached. This all happens directly in the sensor, and ensures fast-running processes regardless of the IO-Link data transmission speed.
Industry 4.0 Benefits
In the age of Industry 4.0 and IoT, the significance of intelligent sensors is increasing. There is a high demand from end users for these sensors since these functions enable them to use their equipment and machines with far greater flexibility than ever before. At the same time they are also the ones who have the greatest advantage when it comes to preventing downtimes and production scrap. Intelligent sensors make it possible to implement intelligent production systems, and the data which they provide enables intelligent control of these systems. In interaction with all intelligent components this enables more efficient utilization of all the machines in a plant and ensures better use of the existing resources. With the increasing spread of Industry 4.0 and IoT solutions, the demand for intelligent sensors as data providers will also continue to grow. In the future, intelligent sensors will be a permanent and necessary component of modern and self-regulating systems, and will therefore have a firm place in every sensor portfolio.
Both washdown and hygienic design are common terms used in the food and beverage industry, and are increasingly being used in the packaging industry. These terms are used in different scenarios and easily confused with each other. What exactly are the differences between them, and in what applications are each used?
Why are hygienic design and washdown needed?
The consumer, and more specifically, the health of the consumer is the core concern of the food and beverage industry. Contaminated food can pose a danger to life and limb. A product recall damages the image of a company, costs a lot of money and as a worst case scenario can lead to the complete closing of the company. To prevent such scenarios, a producers primary objective is to make sure that the food is safe and risk-free for the consumer.
In food manufacturing and packaging plants, a differentiation is made between the food area (in direct contact with the product), the spray area (product-related) and the non-food area. The requirements of the machine components are different depending on which area they are in.
The Food Area
In the food area the food is unpacked, or partially unpacked, and particularly susceptible to contamination. All components and parts that may come in contact with the food must not adversely affect this, e.g. in terms of taste and tolerability.
The following needs to be considered to avoid contamination:
Hygiene in production
Use of food contact materials
Food-grade equipment in Hygienic Design
These requirements result in the need for components that follow the hygienic design rules. If the component supplier fulfills these rules, the machine manufacturer can use the components and the producer can use the machines without hesitation.
Many component suppliers offer different solutions for hygienic design and each supplier interprets the design differently. So what does hygienic design mean? What must be included and which certifications are the right ones?
The material used must be FoodContact Material (FCM). This means that the material is non-corrosive, non-absorbent and non-contaminating, disinfectable, pasteurisable and sterilizable.
Seals must be present to prevent the ingress of microorganisms.
The risk of part loss must be minimized.
Smooth surfaces with a radius of < 0.8 μm are permitted.
There must be no defects, folds, breaks, cracks, crevices, injection-molded seams, or joints, even with material transitions.
There must be no holes or depressions and no corners of 90°.
The minimum radius should be 3 mm.
Supporting institutions and related certifications
There are different institutions which confirm and verify the fulfillment of these rules. They also support the companies during the development process.
EHEDG – The European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group offers machine builders and component suppliers the possibility to evaluate and certify their products according to Hygienic Design requirements.
3A – 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI) is an independent, non-profit corporation in the U.S. for the purpose of improving hygiene design in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The 3-A guidelines are intended for the design, manufacture and cleaning of the daily food accessories used in handling, manufacturing and packaging of edible products with high hygiene requirements.
FDA – The Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments. Among other things, the FDA is responsible for food safety.
What does a hygienic design product look like?
Below is an example of a hygienic design product.
Stainless steel housing VA 1.4404
Protection class IP69K (IEC 60529)
Active surface made of PEEK
Since the product contacting area is associated with high costs for the plant manufacturer and the operator, it’s beneficial to keep it as small as possible.
The Spray Area
In the spray area, there are different requirements than in the food area.
Depending on the type of food that is processed, a further distinction is made between dry and wet areas.
Here we are talking about the washdown area. Washdown capable areas are designed for the special environmental conditions and the corresponding cleaning processes.
Components which fulfill washdown requirements usually have the following features:
Cleaning agent/corrosion resistant materials (often even food compliant, but this is not a must)
High protection class (usually IP 67 and IP 69K)
Resistant to cleaning agents
Ecolab and Diversey are two well-known companies whose cleaning agents are used for appropriate tests:
Ecolab Inc. and Diversey Inc. are US based manufacturers of cleaning agents for the food and beverage industry. Both companies offer certification of equipment’s resistance to cleaning agents. These certificates are not prescribed by law and are frequently used in the segments as proof of stability.
The washdown component must also be easy and safe to clean. However, unlike the hygienic design, fixing holes, edges and threads are permitted here.
In my last blog, Imagine the Perfect Photoelectric Sensor, I discussed the possibilities of a single part number that could be configured for any of the basic sensing modes: through-beam, retroreflective, background suppression and diffuse. This perfect sensor would also have the ability to change the sensing mode on the fly and download the required parameters for a changing process or format change. Additionally, it would have the ability to teach the sensing switch points on the fly, change the hysteresis, and have variable counter and time delays.
Tomorrow is here today! There is no need to imagine any longer, technology has taken another giant leap forward in the photoelectric world. Imagine the possibilities!
Below are just some of the features of this leading edge technology sensor. OEM’s now have the opportunity to have one sensor solve multiple applications. End users can now reduce their spare inventory.