The Challenge of Living in a Vacuum

We’ve all noticed that cloudy film that forms on the inside of our vehicle windshields. A major contributor to this annoying coating is outgassing. Of course, this is not the only situation where outgassing is an issue.

Semiconductors are vital in today’s world and can be found in all the devices that we have become so accustomed to. With features measured in nanometers, semiconductor production requires incredible accuracy. It is critical to remove contaminants from the process chambers and, therefore, the processes are done under vacuum. This presents a challenge when selecting components that must live in a vacuum. The vacuum environment causes materials to outgas which is the release of gasses trapped within the material. These stray molecules are a cause for concern as they can interfere with the semiconductor production processes. Adhesives, rubbers and plastics are common sources of outgassing but even metals and glasses can release gasses from cracks or impurities. However, for most solid materials, the method of manufacture and preparation can reduce the level of outgassing significantly.

Builders of equipment used to produce semiconductors must evaluate each component used in a vacuum chamber to mitigate outgassing as much as possible. To help them achieve this, they work with component vendors who have extensive experience in the industry and offer vacuum compatible products. These vendors can also provide highly customized products that ensure very high performance and quality, as well as addressing concerns with outgassing.

Precision sensors that will operate in high vacuum or UHV (Ultra High Vacuum) environments must be carefully constructed from materials with low vapor pressures in order to avoid outgassing. Also, some innovative methods are often utilized to address the challenges with precision sensors that are needed in a vacuum chamber. An example would be to use a precision photoelectric sensor with separate electronics. The electronics are contained in an amplifier which can be mounted outside of the vacuum chamber and the vacuum compatible sensor, with stainless steel housing, can be threaded into the chamber.

Fortunately, semiconductor equipment builders and their component suppliers are well versed in the challenges associated with outgassing and work together to overcome them. By conquering this, and many other challenges they insure we can continue to enjoy our high-tech gadgets.

IO-Link Simplifies Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

In my last two blogs, Rise of the Robots: IO-Link… and Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling , I shared how implementing IO-Link and incorporating pneumatic and electric smart grippers can help maximize your use of robotics in your applications. In this blog, I will discuss how you can get more from your robots through expanded use of end-effectors in your applications.

As pneumatic air and vacuum systems have been an integral part of automation projects of the past, these systems can also benefit from gains in intelligence moving forward. Smart vacuum generators can provide feedback on the operation of the system; for example, if cups are starting to wear or fail, the smart devices can be used to provide estimates on remaining service life through predictive maintenance calculations. Key components like process sensors, variable regulators, pneumatic grippers, and pneumatic valve manifolds are available with IO-Link technology at a reasonable price. More importantly, these devices dramatically simplify integration, installation, and maintenance with built-in diagnostics and parameterization tools. By utilizing smart pneumatics, we substantially reduce wiring complexity in new installations and expedite downtime repairs.

Easier I/O and Connectivity on Robotic End-Effectors

Figure 1 – An industrial robot with IO-Link I/O hubs and valve manifold control on the EoAT.

However, most people avoid adding these types of smart technologies to end-effectors due to cable management issues or the effort to put high-flex Ethernet or many conductors into the robot dress pack. With IO-Link and its use of standard conductors for communication, integrators and machine builders have been able to install already available conductors in the arm or use lower-cost high-flex sensor cables to communicate with IO-Link smart devices on the end of arm tooling (EoAT).

Smart I/O hubs allow for standard sensors to be used with simplified wiring and on large tooling, valve manifolds can be mounted and controlled on the EoAT (Figure 1). If tool change is needed for the application, non-contact wireless connectivity can send power and signal across an airgap, increasing application capabilities and functionality.

Manufacturers big and small have gained impressive intelligence at the robot’s end-effector using IO-Link electric grippers, smart pneumatics and tooling enabled with IO-Link sensors. As you look to your next robotic automation project, consider how you could reduce integration efforts, improve part quality, enhance production flexibility, gain more process visibility, and increase application capabilities of EoAT. To realize all the benefits of an industrial robot system and earn productivity gains in machine tending, assembly and material handling applications, smart grippers, smart sensors, and smart tooling (enabled by IO-Link) are a necessary part of your next smart factory project.

Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling

In my last blog post, I shared how implementing IO-Link can expand visibility into your robot implementations and secure a high ROI. In this blog, I will share how you can better capitalize on your robot utilization and gain productivity with pneumatic and electric smart grippers.

Using Pneumatic & Electric Smart Grippers

Figure 1 – Sensors used in grippers provide position and open/closed feedback of the jaw. Photo courtesy of Balluff Worldwide.

In traditional pneumatic gripper applications, sensors are often not utilized. Proper function is assumed, i.e., the jaw opened and closed properly based on the signal sent to the air valve. This can cause unnecessary collisions or process failures due to stuck/worn mechanical components, leaks in the pneumatic lines, or small variations in the process cycle. Adding sensors to the grippers (Figure 1), creates a closed loop and minimal discrete feedback, like open or closed jaw, is provided. With the addition of smart sensors, we can monitor exact gripper jaw position and provide application diagnostics improving the capabilities of the robot end-effector. And finally, gripper intelligence features are expanded even further with electric grippers, giving precise control over the motion profile of the tool and providing detailed condition data on the equipment.

Regularly for smart sensors and smart grippers, these commands and the data are handled via IO-Link communication, which allows for process data, parameter data, and event data to be shared with the PLC and monitored via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connections. By utilizing IO-Link, both electric and pneumatic grippers can be enabled with intelligence to improve robot implementations.

Part Quality, Inspection, Delicate Part Handling & Measurement

Some of the most common applications like bin-picking, part stacking, or blank de-stacking make assumptions about the part being handled. But the first assumption many people make is that the robot is holding a part. Without sensor verification that the part is in place, how can it be guaranteed that the process is running without defect? And a second assumption that the correct part was loaded into the machine by the operator can cause hundreds of part defects if continued without verification. It is vital that the right part is loaded into the equipment every time, and as many parts look very similar manual inspection isn’t always accurate.  A gripper is an excellent place to gauge and inspect parts as it is physically touching the part. This is done by utilizing an analog position measurement sensor to determine the distance change of the gripper jaw. In addition to this, the position measurement sensor also can provide feedback for tactile gripping applications when handling delicate or precise parts. By utilizing position sensing for inspection and handling of the part, we can improve part quality and reduce production defects.

Production Flexibility, Format Change & Part Identification

In addition to quality inspection, by measuring the part, we can identify the part and make automation changes on-the-fly based upon this information, creating much higher levels of flexibility and making it possible for in-process format change. With one piece of equipment and the utilization of smart sensors on pneumatic grippers or smart electric grippers, more product can be produced. With higher efficiencies manufacturers can realize significant productivity gains.

Figure 2 – GEH6060IL-03-B servo electric gripper with delicate or elastic parts. Photo courtesy of Zimmer Group US, Inc.

In my next blog, I will discuss how expanding the use of end-effectors adds flexibility and are now easier than ever to include in your robotic applications.

IO-Link Boosts Plant Productivity

In my previous blog, Using Data to Drive Plant Productivity, I categorized reasons for downtime in the plant and also discussed how data from devices and sensors could be useful in boosting productivity on the plant floor. In this blog, I will focus on where this data is and how to access it. I also touched on the topic of standardizing interfaces to help boost productivity – I will discuss this topic in my future blog.

Sensor technology has made significant progress in last two decades. The traditional transistor technology that my generation learned about is long gone. Almost every sensor now has at least one microchip and possibly even MEMs chips that allow the sensor to know an abundance of data about itself and the environment it which it resides. When we use these ultra-talented sensors only for simple signal communication, to understand presence/absence of objects, or to get measurements in traditional analog values (0-20mA, 0-10V, +5/-5V and so on), we are doing disservice to these sensors as well as keeping our machines from progressing and competing at higher levels. It is almost like choking the throat of the sensor and not letting it speak up.

To elaborate on my point, let’s take following two examples: First, a pressure sensor that is communicating 4-20mA signal to indicate pressure value. Now, that sensor can not only read pressure value but, more than likely, it can also register the ambient temperatures and vibrations. Although, the sensor is capable of understanding these other parameters, there is no way for it to communicate that information to the higher level controller. Due to this lack of ambient information, we may not be able to prevent some eminent failures. This is because of the choice of communication technology we selected – i.e. analog signal communication.

For the second example, let us take a simple photoeye sensor that only communicates presence/absence through discrete input and 0/1 signal. This photoeye also understands its environment and other more critical information that is directly related to its functionality, such as information about its photoelectric lens. The sensor is capable of measuring the intensity of re-emitted light, because based on that light intensity it is determining presence or absence of objects. If the lens becomes cloudy or the alignment of the reflector changes, it directly impacts the remitted light intensity and leads to sensor failure. Due to the choice of digital communication, there is no way for the sensor to inform the higher level control of this situation and the operator only learns of it when the failure happens.

If  a data communication technology, such as IO-Link, was used in these scenarios instead of signal communication, we could unleash these sensors to provide useful information about themselves as well as about their environment. If we collect this data or set alerts in the sensor for the upper/lower limits on this type of information, the maintenance teams would know in advance about the possible failures and prevent these failures to avoid eminent downtime.

Collecting this data at appropriate frequencies could help build a more relevant database and demonstrate patterns for the next generation of machine learning and predictive maintenance initiatives. This would be data driven continuous improvement to prevent failures and boost productivity.

The information collected from sensors and devices – so called smart devices – not only helps end users of automation to boost their plant’s productivity, but also helps machine builders to better understand their own machine usage and behaviors. Increased knowledge improves the designs for the next generation of machines.

If we utilized these smart sensors and devices at our change points in the machine, it would help fully or partially automate the product change-overs. With IO-Link as a technology, these sensors can be reconfigured and re-purposed for different applications without needing different sensors or manual tunings.

IO-Link technology has a built in feature called “automatic parameterization” that helps reduce plant down-time when sensors need replaced. This feature stores IO-Link devices’ configuration on the master port as well as all the configuration is also persistent in the sensor. Replacement is as simple as connecting the new sensor of the same type, and the IO-Link master downloads all the parameters and  replacement is complete.

Let’s recap:

  1. IO-Link unleashes a sensor’s potential to provide information about its condition as well as the ambient conditions, enabling condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and machine learning.
  2. IO-Link offers remote configuration of devices, enabling quick and automated change overs on the production line for different batches, reducing change over times and boosting plant productivity.
  3. IO-Link’s automatic parameterization feature simplifies device replacement, reducing unplanned down-time.

Hope this helps boost productivity of your plant!

Rise of the Robots: IO-Link Maximizes Utilization, Saves Time and Money

Manufacturers around the world are buying industrial robots at an incredible pace. In the April 2020 report from Tractia & Statista, “the global market for robots is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 26 percent to reach just under 210 billion US dollars by 2025.” But are we gaining everything we can to capitalize on this investment when the robots are applied? Robot utilization is a key metric for realizing return-on-investment (ROI). By adding smart devices on and around the robot, we can improve efficiencies, add flexibility, and expand visibility in our robot implementations. To maximize robot utilization and secure a real ROI there are key actions to follow beyond only enabling a robot; these are: embracing the open automation standard IO-Link, implementing smart grippers, and expanding end-effector application possibilities.

In this blog, I will discuss the benefits of implementing IO-Link. Future blog posts will concentrate on the other actions.

Why care about IO-Link?

First, a quick definition. IO-Link is an open standard (IEC 61131-9) that is more than ten years old and supported by close to 300 component suppliers in manufacturing, providing more than 70 automation technologies (figure 1). It works in a point-to-point architecture utilizing a central master with sub-devices that connect directly to the master, very similar to the way USB works in the PC environment. It was designed to be easy to integrate, simple to support, and fast to implement into manufacturing processes.

Figure 1 – The IO-Link consortium has close to 300 companies providing more than 70 automation technologies.

Using standard cordsets and 24Vdc power, IO-Link has been applied as a retrofit on current machines and designed into the newest robotic work cells. Available devices include pneumatic valve manifolds, grippers, smart sensors, I/O hubs, safety I/O, vacuum generators and more. Machine builders and equipment OEMs find that IO-Link saves them dramatically on engineering, building and the commissioning of new machines. Manufacturers find value in the flexibility and diagnostic capabilities of the devices, making it easier to troubleshoot problems and recover more quickly from downtime. With the ability to pre-program device parameters, troublesome complex-device setup can be automated, reducing new machine build times and reducing part replacement times during device failure on the production line.

Capture Data & Control Automation

Figure 2 – With IIoT-ready IO-Link sensors and masters, data can be captured without impacting the automation control.

The final point of value for robotic smart manufacturing is that IO-Link is set up to support applications for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IO-Link devices are IIoT ready, enabling Industry 4.0 projects and smart factory applications. This is important as predictive maintenance and big-data applications are only possible if we have the capabilities of collecting data from devices in, around and close to the production. As we look to gain more visibility into our processes, the ability to reach deep into your production systems will provide major new insights. By integrating IIoT-ready IO-Link devices into robotic automation applications, we can capture data for future analytics projects while not interrupting the control of the automation processes (figure 2).

Buying a Machine Vision System? Focus on Capabilities, Not Cost

Gone are the days when an industrial camera was used only to take a picture and send it to a control PC. Machine vision systems are a much more sophisticated solution. Projects are increasingly demanding image processing, speed, size, complexity, defect recognition and so much more.

This, of course, adds to the new approach in the field of software, where deep learning and artificial intelligence play a bigger and bigger role. There is often a lot of effort behind improved image processing, however,  some people, if only a few, have realized that part of it can already be processed by that little “dummy” industrial camera.

I will try to briefly explain to you in the next few paragraphs how to achieve this in your application. Thanks to that, you will be able to get some of these benefits:

  • Reduce the amount of data
  • Relieve the entire system
  • Generate the maximum performance potential
  • Simplify the hardware structure
  • Reduce the installation work required
  • Reduce your hardware costs
  • Reduce your software costs
  • Reduce your development expenses

How to achieve it?  

Try to use more intelligent industrial cameras, which have a built-in internal memory sometimes called a buffer. Together with FPGA (field programmable gate array) they will do a lot of work that will appreciate your software for image processing. These functions are often also called pre-processing features.

What if you have a project where the camera must send images much faster than the USB or Ethernet interface allows?

For simple cameras, this would mean using a much faster interface, which of course would make the complete solution more expensive. Instead, you can use the Smart Framer Recall function in standard USB and GigE cameras, which generates small preview images with reduced resolution (thumbnails) with an extremely accelerated number of frames per second, which are transferred to the host PC with IDs. At the same time, the corresponding image in full resolution is archived in the camera’s image memory. If the image is required in full resolution, the application sends a request and the image is transferred in the same data stream as the preview image.

The function is explained in this video.

Is there a simpler option than a line scan camera? Yes!

Many people struggle to use line scan cameras and it is understandable. They are not easy to configurate, are hard to install, difficult to properly set and few people can modify them. You can use an area scan camera in line scan mode. The biggest benefit is standard interface: USB3 Vision and GigE Vision instead of CoaXPress and Cameralink. This enables inspection of round/rotating bodies or long/endless materials at high speed (like line scan cameras). Block scan mode acquires an Area of Interest (AOI) block which consists of several lines. The user defines the number of AOI blocks which are used to create one image. This minimizes the overhead, which you would have instead when transferring AOI blocks as single images using the USB3 Vision and GigE Vision protocols.

The function is explained in this video.

Polarization has never been easier

Sony came with a completely new approach to — a polarized filter . Until this new approach was developed, everyone just used a polarization filter in front of the lens and combined it with polarized lighting. With the polarized filter, above the pixel array is a polarizer array and each pixel square contains 0°, 45°, 90°, and 135° of polarization.

 

What is the best part of it? It doesn’t matter if you need a color or monochrome version. There are at least 5️ applications when you want to use it:

  • Remove reflection – > multi-plane surfaces or bruise/defect detection
  • Visual inspection – > detect fine scratches or dust
  • Contrast improvement -> recognize similar objects or colors
  • 3D/Stress recognition -> quality analysis
  • People/vehicle detection -> using your phone while driving

Liquid lens is very popular in smart sensor technology. When and why do you want to use it with an Industrial camera?  

 

Liquid lens is a single optical element like a traditional lens made from glass. However, it also includes a cable to control the focal length. In addition, it contains a sealed cell with water and oil inside. The technology uses an electrowetting process to achieve superior autofocus capabilities.

Benefits to the traditional lenses are obvious. It doesn’t have any moving mechanical parts. Thanks to that, they are highly resistant to shocks and vibrations. Liquid lens is a perfect fit for applications where you need to observe or inspect objects with different sizes and/or working distances and you need to react very quickly. One  liquid lens can do the work of multiple-image systems.

To connect the liquid lens, it requires the RS232 port in the camera plus a DC power from 5 to 24 Volt. An intelligent industrial camera is able to connect with the camera directly and the lens uses the power supply of the camera.

 

Tire Manufacturing – IO-Link is on a Roll

Everyone working in the mobility industry knows that the tire manufacturing process is divided up into five areas throughout a large manufacturing plant.

    1. Mixing
    2. Tire prep
    3. Tire build
    4. Curing and molds
    5. Final inspection

Naturally,  conveyors, material handling, and AGV processes throughout the whole plant.

All of these areas have opportunities for IO-Link components, and there are already some good success stories for some of these processes using IO-Link.

A major opportunity for IO-Link can be found in the curing press area. Typically, a manufacturing plant will have about 75 – 100 dual cavity curing presses, with larger plants having  even more. On these tire curing presses are many inputs and outputs in analog signals. These signals can be comprised of pressure switches, sensors, pneumatic, hydraulic, linear positioning, sensors in safety devices, thermo-couples and RTD, flow and much more.

IO-Link provides the opportunity to have all of those inputs, outputs and analog devices connected directly to an IO-Link master block and hub topography. This makes it not only easier to integrate all of those devices but allows you to easily integrate them into your PLC controls.

Machine builders in this space who have already integrated IO-Linked have discovered how much easier it is to lay out their machine designs, commission the machines, and decrease their costs on machine build time and installations.

Tire manufacturing plants will find that the visual diagnostics on the IO-Link masters and hubs, as well as alarms and bits in their HMIs, will quickly help them troubleshoot device problems. This decreases machine downtime and delivers predictive maintenance capabilities.

Recently a global tire manufacturer getting ready to design the curing presses for a new plant examined the benefits of installing IO-Link and revealed a cost savings of more than $10,000 per press. This opened their eyes to evaluating IO-Link technology even more.

Tire Manufacturing is a perfect environment to present IO-Link products. Many tire plants are looking to upgrade old machines and add new processes, ideal conditions for IO-Link. And all industries are interested in ways to stretch their budget.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reduce Packaging Downtime with Machine Vision

Packaging encompasses many different industries and typically has several stages in its process. Each industry uses packaging to accomplish specific tasks, well beyond just acting as a container for a product. The pharmaceutical industry for example, typically uses its packaging as a means of dispensing as well as containing. The food and beverage industry uses packaging as a means of preventing contamination and creating differentiation from similar products. Consumer goods typically require unique product containment methods and have a need for “eye-catching” differentiation.

The packaging process typically has several stages. For example, you have primary packaging where the product is first placed in a package, whether that is form-fill-seal bagging or bottle fill and capping. Then secondary packaging that the consumer may see on the shelf, like cereal boxes or display containers, and finally tertiary packaging or transport packaging where the primary or secondary packaging is put into shipping form. Each of these stages require verification or inspection to ensure the process is running properly, and products are properly packaged.

1

Discrete vs. Vision-Based Error Proofing

With the use of machine vision technology, greater flexibility and more reliable operation of the packaging process can be achieved. Typically, in the past and still today, discrete sensors have been used to look for errors and manage product change-over detection. But with these simple discrete sensing solutions come limitations in flexibility, time consuming fixture change-overs and more potential for errors, costing thousands of dollars in lost product and production time. This can translate to more expensive and less competitively priced products on the store selves.

There are two ways implementing machine vision can have a benefit toward improving the scheduled line time. The first is reducing planned downtime by reducing product change over and fixturing change time. The other is to decrease unplanned downtime by catching errors right away and dynamically rejecting them or bringing attention to line issues requiring correction and preventing waste. The greatest benefit vision can have for production line time is in reducing the planned downtime for things like product changeovers. This is a repeatable benefit that can dramatically reduce operating costs and increase the planned runtime. The opportunities for vision to reduce unplanned downtime could include the elimination of line jams due to incorrectly fed packaging materials, misaligned packages or undetected open flaps on cartons. Others include improperly capped bottles causing jams or spills and improper adjustments or low ink causing illegible labeling and barcodes.

Cost and reliability of any technology that improves the packaging process should always be proportional to the benefit it provides. Vision technologies today, like smart cameras, offer the advantages of lower costs and simpler operation, especially compared to the older, more expensive and typically purpose-built vision system counterparts. These new vision technologies can also replace entire sensor arrays, and, in many cases, most of the fixturing at or even below the same costs, while providing significantly greater flexibility. They can greatly reduce or eliminate manual labor costs for inspection and enable automated changeovers. This reduces planned and unplanned downtime, providing longer actual runtime production with less waste during scheduled operation for greater product throughput.

Solve Today’s Packaging Challenges

Using machine vision in any stage of the packaging process can provide the flexibility to dramatically reduce planned downtime with a repeatable decrease in product changeover time, while also providing reliable and flexible error proofing that can significantly reduce unplanned downtime and waste with examples like in-line detection and rejection to eliminate jams and prevent product loss. This technology can also help reduce or eliminate product or shipment rejection by customers at delivery. In today’s competitive market with constant pressure to reduce operating costs, increase quality and minimize waste, look at your process today and see if machine vision can make that difference for your packaging process.

Why In-Die sensing is a must

Metalforming suppliers are facing unprecedented challenges in today’s marketplace. As capital becomes scarce, and competition for business increases, the impact of a die crash or production run of bad parts could make the difference in whether they survive. Companies must protect their most critical assets, the presses and dies. Presses, dies, and various press room automation systems are the lifeblood of the supplier, and their costs can run into multiple millions of dollars in capital investment.

Sensor-driven error-proofing and die protection programs reduce downtime, ensure production is maximized, and prevent costly capital equipment repairs. Sensor implementation can prevent most die crashes and defective parts production if utilized correctly.

The vast majority of expensive press and die damage occurs due to failure to implement or the misapplication of sensing devices through a die protection program. There is a relatively inexpensive way for metal formers to protect their most critical assets in terms of dollar value and revenue creation. Stamping companies need to focus on two main areas to reduce costly repairs and production:

Feed-in and feed-through: You have to ensure the metal is in the press before the start of the cycle, and that it is feeding through properly. Once the cycle has completed, you must make sure the finished part is out of the stamping area. The type of stamping you do will determine the various points where you will need to incorporate sensors.

Part and slug ejection: During the stamping process, scrap material will be left that needs to be removed before the next cycle. Failure to ensure this will leave material inside the press, which can affect product quality or cause significant damage to the press, die, or both.

There are multiple additional processes within the press operation that can improve overall operational efficiency, but the two above should be the first steps toward implementing a successful program.

Multiple sensing devices can help you meet these requirements as well as a variety of suppliers and options you can choose from. It is essential that your personnel are trained on the various sensor technologies, and you are aligned with a supplier that understands the industry, your processes, and the variety of dies and materials you produce.

Many suppliers can provide you with sensing parts, but only a few are industry experts and can serve as both a consultant and parts supplier. You may need to invest a little more to get the expertise necessary to implement a sensing program upfront. Still, it will pay dividends for years to come if you focus upfront on the products that will reduce the downtime related to premature component failure or misapplication of sensor components.

Also, since most suppliers outsource the design and build of their dies, it is critical that your sensor solution partner is involved in new die design, with both your internal team as well as your die supplier. In addition, successful die protection programs entail rigid specifications for die sensing to help reduce their spare parts footprint and maximize the performance of their sensing devices.