Miniaturization is one of the essential requirements for medical instruments and laboratory equipment used in the life science industry. As instruments get smaller and smaller, the sensor components must also become smaller, lighter and more flexible. The photoelectric sensors that were commonly used in general automation and applied in life science applications have met their limitations in size and performance.
Sensors used in these complex applications require numerous special characteristics such as high-quality optics, unique housing designs, precise LEDs with the best suited wavelength and the ability to be extremely flexible to fit in the extremely small space available. Sensors have been developed to meet the smallest possible installation footprint with the highest optical precision and enough flexibility to be installed where they are needed. These use integrated micro-precision optics that shape and focus the light beam exactly on the object without any undesirable side-effects to achieve the reliability demanded in today’s applications.
Previously many life science applications used conventional plastic fiber optic cables that were often too large and not flexible enough to be routed through the instruments. An alternative to the classic fiber cables is a “wired” fiber with precision micro-optics and extremely flexible cables with essentially no minimum bending radius and no significant coupling losses. Similar to a conventional fiber optic sensor, an external amplifier is required to provide a wide variety of functionalities to solve the demanding applications.
These sensors can be used in applications such as:
Precise detection of liquid levels using either attenuation or refraction with a small footprint
Reliable detection of transparent objects such as microscope slides or coverslips having various edge shapes
Detection of transparent liquids in micro-channels or capillaries
Reliable detection of individual droplets
Recognition of free-floating micro-bubbles in a tube that are smaller than the tube diameter and that cannot be seen by the human eye
Recognition of macro-bubbles that are the diameter of small tubes
For more information on photoelectric sensors that have the capability to meet the demands of today’s life science applications visit www.balluff.com.
In some industries such as life sciences it is necessary to detect clear water or clear liquids in a container or tube. This is even more challenging when the diameters of the tube are small, and the tube thickness is nearly as large as the stream of liquid.
The attenuation or gradual reduction of the intensity of the light beam in water and air can be directly compared. The attenuation of light in water can be attributed to light entering water at any angle other than at a right angle and can be refracted. The measurement of light through a tube is different because not only is the light attenuated by the liquid, but depending on where the light passes through the tube it can be refracted, diverted and or focused. As a result, the signal differences can be low.
Attenuation is typically the first choice if the liquids are opaque or colored. The requirements of the shape of the light beam and the alignment of the sensor add more complication to the application. The attenuation effect appears weaker in clear liquids. The principle does not work with reflective sensors since reflection is a surface effect and the light must pass through the liquid.
From spectral analysis it’s has been determined that the attenuation characteristics of water are heavily dependent on the wavelength of the light that is conducted through it. Sensors were developed for such applications. Typically, these sensors utilize LED’s in the upper infrared range of 1,450 nm. At this wavelength water literally absorbs the light and becomes opaque making detection more simplified and reliable.
This principle even works for fine capillaries and microchannels. Liquid detection can be very precise depending on the sensor size and the effective light beam. Light beams as small as 0.4mm can provide high resolution for small thin tubes typically found in microfluidics applications.
Versions of these sensors exist for applications that involve less transparent or semi-transparent vessels. Light at the 1450nm wavelength can pass through these containers or tubes and can be attenuated by the water. The main factor is that enough light makes its way through the walls of the container.
Through-beam sensors were developed for applications such as detecting clear liquids. These sensors are also available in extremely small dimensions and usually require an amplifier, or they can be supplied in a rugged fork sensor housing. The required sensor dimensions conform to the geometry of the vessel or container.
For more information on sensors for these types of applications contact your local Balluff representative or contact us at www.balluff.com.
Photoelectric sensors with laser and red-light are widely used in all areas of industrial automation. A clean, dust-free and dry environment is usually essential for the proper operation of photoeyes, however, they can be the best choice in many dirty and harsh applications. Examples of this are raw steel production in steel mills and further metallurgical processes down to casting and hot-rolling.
Photoelectric sensors are especially useful in these environments thanks to their long sensing distance and their ability to detect objects independent of their material.
Most photoelectric sensors are approved to work in ambient temperatures of 55 to 60 °C. The maximum temperature range of these sensors is most often limited by the specifications of the optical components of the sensor, like the laser-diodes, but by taking certain precautions photoelectric sensors can provide optimal use in much hotter applications.
Maximize the distance In steel production many parts of the process are accompanied by high ambient temperatures. Liquid steel and iron have temperatures from 1400 to 1536 °C. Material temperature during continuous casting and hot-rolling are lower but still between 650 and 1250°C.
The impact of heat emission on the sensors can be reduced significantly by placing the sensor as far from the target object as possible, something you can’t do with inductive sensors which have a short range. Very often the remote mounting will allow the sensor to operate at room temperature.
Detect Glowing Metals If you want to reliably detect red-hot or white glowing steel parts with temperatures beyond 700 °C, you won’t be able to use standard laser or red-light sensors. Red-hot steel emits light at the same wavelength that it is used by photoelectric sensors. This can interfere with the function of the sensor. In such applications you need to use sensors which operate based on infrared light.
At many locations in the steel production process, the extensive heat is only temporary. In a hot rolling mill, a slab runs through a rougher mill multiple times before it continues to a multi-stage finishing mill stand to be rolled to the final thickness. After that the metal strip runs into the coiler to be winded up.
This process runs in sequence, and the glowing material is only present at each stage of production for a short time. Until a new slab runs out of the reheating furnace, temperatures normalize.
Standard sensors can work in these conditions, but you do run the risk of even temporary temperature hikes causing sensor failure and then dreaded downtime. To protect photoelectric sensors against temporary overheating, you can use a protective enclosure. These can provide mechanical and thermal protection to the sensors which often have plastic bodies. Additional protection can be achieved when a heat resistant sleeve is used around the cable.
Photoelectric sensors do have their limits and are not suitable for all applications, even when precautions are taken. Ask yourself these questions when deciding if they can be the right solution for your high temperature applications.
Which distance between the hot object and sensor can be realized?
What is the maximum temperature at this location?
How long will the sensor be exposed to the highest heat levels during normal operation and at breakdown?
The complexity of factory automation creates constant challenges which drive innovation in the industry. One of these challenges involves the ability to accurately detect the presence of shiny or highly reflective objects. This is a common challenge faced in a variety of applications, from sensing wheels in an automotive facility to detecting an aluminum can for filling purposes at a beverage plant. However, thanks to advancements in photoelectric sensing technologies, there is a reliable solution for those type of applications.
Why are highly reflective objects a challenge?
Light reflects from these types of objects in different directions, and with minimum energy loss. This can cause the receiver of a photoelectric sensor to be unable to differentiate between a signal received from the emitter or a signal received from a shiny object. In the case of a diffuse sensor, there is also the possibility that when trying to detect a shiny object, the light will reflect away from the receiver causing the sensor to ignore the target.
So how do we control the direction of the light going back to the receiver, and avoid false triggering from other light sources? The answer is in polarized retroreflective sensors.
Retroreflective sensors require a reflector which reflects the light back to the sensor allowing it to be captured by the receiver. This is achieved by incorporating sets of three mirrors oriented at right angles from each other (referred to as corner cubes). A light beam entering this system is reflected by all three surfaces and exits parallel to the incident beam. Additionally, corner cubes are said to be optically active as they rotate the plane of oscillation of the light by 90 degrees. This concept, along with polarization, allow this type of sensor to accurately detect shiny objects.
Light emitted by a regular light source oscillates in planes on dispersal axes. If the light meets a polarizing filter (fine line grid), only the light oscillating parallel to the grid is let through (see figure 1 below).
In polarized retroreflective sensors, a horizontal polarized filter is placed in front of the emitter and a vertical one in front of the receiver. By doing this, the transmitted light oscillates horizontally until it hits the reflector. The corner cubes of the reflector would then rotate the polarization direction by 90 degrees and reflect the light back to the sensor. This way, the returning light can pass through the vertical polarized filter on the receiver as shown below.
With the use of polarization and corner cubed reflectors, retroreflective sensors can create a closed light circuit which ensures that light detected by the receiver was sourced exclusively by the emitter. This creates a great solution for applications where highly reflective targets are influencing the accuracy of sensors or causing them to malfunction. By ensuring proper operation of photoelectric sensors, unplanned downtime can be avoided, and overall process efficiency can be improved.
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.
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.
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.