Distance Measurement with Inductive Sensors

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

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

Application Examples:

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

Solving Analog Integration Conundrum

These days, there are several options to solve the integration problems with analog sensors such as measurement or temperature sensors. This blog explains the several options for analog integration and the “expected” benefits.

Before we describe the options, let’s get a few things cleared up.  First, most controllers out there today do not understand analog at all: whenever a controller needs to record an analog value, an analog-to-digital converter is required.  On the other end of the equation is the actual sensor measuring the physical property, such as distance, temperature, pressure, inclination, etc.  This sensor, a transducer, converts the physical property into an analog signal.  These days with the advanced technologies and with the cost of microprocessors going down, it is hard to find a pure analog device.  This is because the piezo-electronics inside the sensor measures the true analog signal, but it is converted to a digital signal so that the microprocessor can synthesize it and convert it back to an analog signal.  You can read more about this in a previous blog of mine “How Do I Make My Analog Sensor Less Complex?

Now let’s review the options available:

  1. The classical approach: an analog to digital converter card is installed inside the control cabinet next to the controller or a PLC. This card offers 2, 4, or even 8 channels of conversion from analog to digital so that the controller can process this information. The analog data can be a current measurement such as 0-20mA or 4-20mA, voltage measurement such as 0-10V, +5- -5V etc., or a temperature measurement such as PT100, PT1000, Type J, Type K and so on.  Prior to networks or IO-Link, this was the only option available, so people did not realize the down-side of this implementation.  The three major downsides are as follows:
  • Long sensor cable runs are required from the sensor all the way to the cabinet, and this required careful termination to ensure proper grounding and shielding.
  • There are no diagnostics available with this approach: it is always a brute-force method to determine whether the cable or the actual transducer/sensor has the issue. This causes longer down-times to troubleshoot problems and leads to a higher cost to maintain the architecture.
  • Every time a sensor needs to be replaced, the right tools have to be found (programming tools or a teaching sequence manual) to calibrate the new sensor before replacement. Again, this just added to the cost of downtime.
  1. The network approach — As networks or fieldbuses gained popularity, the network-based analog modules emerged. The long cable runs became short double-ended pre-wired connectors, significantly reducing the wiring cost. But this solution added the cost of network node and an additional power drop.  This approach did not solve the diagnostic problems (b) or the replacement problem above (c ). The cost of the network analog module was comparable to the analog card, so there was effectively no savings for end users in that area.  As the number of power drops increase, in most cases, the power supply becomes bigger or more power supplies are required for the application.
  2. The IO-Link sensor approach is a great approach to completely eliminate the analog hassle altogether. As I mentioned earlier, since the sensor already has a microprocessor that converts the signal to digital form for synthesis and signal stabilization, why not use that same digital data over a smarter communication to completely get rid of analog? In a nutshell, the data coming out of the sensor is no longer an analog value; instead it is a digital value of the actual result. So, now the controller can directly get the data in engineering units such as psi, bar, Celsius, Fahrenheit, meters, millimeters, and so on. NO MORE SCALING of data in the controller is necessary, there are no more worries of resolution, and best of all enhanced diagnostics are available with the sensor now. So, the sensor can alert the controller through IO-Link event data if it requires maintenance or if it is going out of commission soon.  With this approach, the analog conversion card is replaced by the IO-Link gateway module which comes in 4-channels or 8 channels.

Just to recap about the IO-Link sensor:

  1. IO-Link eliminated the analog cable hassle
  2. IO-Link eliminated the resolution and scaling issue
  3. IO-Link added enhanced diagnostics so that the end users can perform predictive maintenance instead of preventative maintenance.
  4. The IO-Link gateway modules offers configuration and parameter server functionality that allows storing the sensor configuration data either at the IO-Link master port or in the controller so that when it is a time to replace the sensor, all that is required is finding the sensor with the same part number and plugging it in the same port — and the job is done! No more calibration required. Of course, don’t forget to turn on this functionality on the IO-Link master port.

Well, this raises two questions:

  1. Where do I find IO-Link capable sensors? The answer is simple: the IO-Link consortium (www.IO-Link.com) has over 120 member companies that develop IO-Link devices. It is very likely that you will find the sensor in the IO-Link version. Want to use your existing sensor?  Balluff offers some innovative solutions that will allow you bring your analog sensor over to IO-Link.
  2. What is a cost adder for this approach? Well, IO-Link does a lot more than just eliminate your analog hassle. To find out more please visit my earlier blog “Is IO-Link only for Simplifying Sensor Integration?

Balluff offers a broad portfolio of IO-Link that includes sensors, RFID, SmartLights, Valve connectors, I/O hubs, and the gateway modules for all the popular fieldbuses and networks. Learn more at www.balluff.com

Real-Time Optical Thickness Gauging for Hot Rolling Mills

An ever-present challenge in hot rolling operations is to ensure that the material being produced conforms to required dimensional specifications. Rather than contact-based measurement, it is preferred to measure the material optically from a standoff position.

Light band gauging station in hot strip rolling operation detects material thickness in real time.
Light band gauging station in hot strip rolling operation detects material thickness in real time.

In some instances, this has been accomplished using two ganged analog optical lasers, each detecting opposite sides of the material being measured. Through mathematical subtraction, the difference representing thickness could be determined. One difficulty of the approach is the need to put a sensor both above and below the material under inspection.  The sensor mounted below could be subjected to falling dirt and debris. Further, only a single point on the surface could be measured.

A new approach uses a scanning laser to create a band of light that is used to directly measure the thickness of the material.  An analog or digital IO-Link signal represents the measured thickness to a resolution of 0.01mm with a repeat accuracy between 10μm to 40μm depending on distance between emitter and receiver.  What’s more, the measurement can be taken even on red-hot metals. The illustration above shows a flat slab but the concept works equally well or better on products with a round profile.

To learn more visit www.balluff.us

Back to Basics: Analog Signals

Industrial sensors used for continuous position or process measurement commonly provide output signals in the form of either an analog voltage or an analog current. Both are relatively simple interfaces, but there are things to consider when choosing between the two.

AnalogCurrent Industrial sensors with current output are typically available with output ranges of 0 to 20 mA, which can be converted to 0-10 VDC by using a 500 Ω resistor in parallel at the controller input. Output ranges of 4 to 20 mA, which can be converted to 1-5 VDC by using a 250 Ω resistor in parallel at the controller input. Although it requires a shielded cable, current output allows use of longer cable runs without signal loss as well as more immunity to electrical noise. It is also easily converted to voltage using a simple resistor. Most, but not all, industrial controllers are capable of accepting current signals.

AnalogVoltageIndustrial sensors with voltage output are typically available with output ranges of:

  • 0 to 10 VDC (most common)
  • -10 to +10 VDC
  • -5 to +5 VDC
  • 0 to 5 VDC
  • 1 to 5 VDC

One of the main advantages of voltage output is that it is simple to troubleshoot. The interface is very common and compatible with most industrial controllers. Additionally, voltage output is sometimes less expensive compared to current output. With that being said, compared to current signals, voltage signals are more susceptible to interference from electrical noise. To avoid signal loss, cable length must be limited. Voltage output also requires high impedance input and shielded cable.

To learn more about this topic visit our website at www.balluff.us.

How Do I Make My Analog Sensor Less Complex?

So, you have a (or many) analog sensor in your application or system and they could be 4-20mA signal or 0-10V or even -10- +10V signal strength. You probably know that installing these specialty sensors takes some effort. You need shielded cables for signal transmission, the sensor probably has some digital interface for set-point settings or configuration. In all, there are probably 6-8 at minimum terminations for this single sensor. Furthermore, these expensive cables need to be routed properly to ensure minimal electromagnetic interference (EMI) on the wire. To make matter more complex, when its time to diagnose problem with the sensor, it is always on the back of your mind that may be the cable is catching some interference and giving improper readings or errors.

shieldedCablesOn the other hand, the cost side also is little tricky. You have the state of the art sensor that requires expensive shielded cable and the expensive analog input card (which generally has 4 channels- even if you use single channel), plus some digital I/O to get this single sensor to communicate to your PLC/PAC or controller. You are absolutely right, that is why people are demanding to have this sensor directly on their network so that it eliminates all the expensive cables and cards and talks directly to the controller on express way– so to speak.

Recently, there has been an explosion of industrial communication networks and fieldbuses. To name a few: EtherNet/IP, DeviceNet, PROFINET, PROFIBUS, CC-Link, CC-Link IE, Powerlink, Sercos, and the list goes on. As a machine builder, you want to be open to any network of customer’s choice. So, if that is the case, having network node on the sensor itself would make that sensor more bulky and expensive than before — but not only that, now the manufacturers have to develop sensor connectivity to ALL the networks and maintain separate inventory of each type. As a machine builder, it does put lot more stress on you as well to maintain different Bills of Materials (BOMs) for different projects – most likely – different sourcing channels and so on.

NetworksSo far what we discussed are two extremes; the way of the past with shielded cables and analog cards, and a wishful future where all devices are on the network. There is a middle ground that bridges yesterday’s method and the wishful future without adding any burden on manufacturers of the sensors or even the machine builders. The solution is IO-Link. IO-Link is the first standard (IEC 61131-9) sensor actuator communication technology. There are over 100+ members in the consortium that produce wide variety of sensors that can communicate over IO-Link.

If a sensor has IO-Link communication, denoted by  io-linklogo, then you can connect a standard M12 prox cable — let me stress– UNSHIELDED, to connect the sensor to the IO-Link port on the IO-Link master device. That’s it! No need to terminate connections, or buy expensive hardware. The IO-Link master device typically has 4, 8 or 16 ports to connect various IO-Link devices including I/O hubs, RFID, Valve connectors and more. (see picture below)

DistModIO

All signal communication and configuration now occurs on standard 3 conductor cable that you are currently using for your discrete sensors. The IO-Link master in turn acts as a gateway to the network. So, the IO-Link master sits on the network or fieldbus and collects all the sensors or discrete I/O information from devices and sends it to the controller or the PLC of the customer choice.

When your customer demands a different network or the fieldbus, the only thing that changes in your question is the master that talks to a different protocol.

In my next blog we will discuss how you can eliminate shielded cables and expensive analog cards for your existing analog sensor. Let me give you a hint– again the solution is with IO-Link.

You can learn more about IO-Link at www.balluff.us.

What’s best for integrating Poka-yoke or Mistake Proofing sensors?

Teams considering poka-yoke or mistake proofing applications typically contact us with a problem in hand.  “Can you help us detect this problem?”

We spend a lot of time:

  • talking about the product and the mistakes being made
  • identifying the error and how to contain it
  • and attempting to select the best sensing technology to solve the application.

However this can sometimes be the easy part of the project.  Many times a great sensor solution is identified but the proper controls inputs are not available or the control architecture doesn’t support analog inputs or network connections.  The amount of time and dollar investments to integrate the sensor solution dramatically increases and sometimes the best poka-yoke solutions go un-implemented!”

“Sometimes the best poka-yoke solutions go un-implemented!”

Many of our customers are finding that the best controls architecture for their continuous improvement processes involves the use of IO-Link integrated with their existing architectures.  It can be very quickly integrated into the existing controls and has a wide variety of technologies available.  Both of these factors make it the best for integrating Poka-yoke or Mistake Proofing due to the great flexibility and easy integration.

Download this whitepaper and read about how a continuous improvement technician installed and integrated an error-proofing sensor in 20 minutes!

5 Tips on Making End-of-Arm Tooling Smarter

Example of a Flexible EOA Tool with 8 sensors connected with an Inductive Coupling System.

Over the years I’ve interviewed many customers regarding End-Of-Arm (EOA) tooling. Most of the improvements revolve around making the EOA tooling smarter. Smarter tools mean more reliability, faster change out and more in-tool error proofing.

#5: Go Analog…in flexible manufacturing environments, discrete information just does not provide an adequate solution. Analog sensors can change set points based on the product currently being manufactured.

#4: Lose the weight…look at the connectors and cables. M8 and M5 connectorized sensors and cables are readily available. Use field installable connectors to help keep cable runs as short as possible. We see too many long cables simply bundled up.

#3: Go Small…use miniature, precision sensors that do not require separate amplifiers. These miniature sensors not only cut down on size but also have increased precision. With these sensors, you’ll know if a part is not completely seated in the gripper.

#2: Monitor those pneumatic cylinders…monitoring air pressure in one way, but as speeds increase and size is reduced, you really need to know cylinder end of travel position. The best technology for EOA tooling is magnetoresistive such as Balluff’s BMF line. Avoid hall-effects and definitely avoid reed switches. Also, consider dual sensor styles such as Balluff’s V-Twin line.

#1: Go with Couplers…with interchangeable tooling, sensors should be connected with a solid-state, inductive coupling system such as Balluff’s Inductive Coupler (BIC). Avoid the use of pin-based connector systems for low power sensors. They create reliability problems over time.

Ultrasonic Sensor Reflection Targets

In my previous posts (Ultrasonic Sensors with Analog Output, Error-proofing in Window Mode, and The Other Retro-Reflective Sensors) we covered the Ultrasonic sensor modes and how they benefit in many different types of applications. It is also important to understand the reflection properties of various materials and how they interface with the sensor selected. For example some Photoelectric sensors will have a very difficult time detecting clear materials such as glass or clear films as they will simply detect directly through the clear material detecting what is on the other side giving a false positive target reading. As we know, this is not an issue with an Ultrasonic sensor as they detect targets via a sound wave so clear objects do not affect the sensors function. When looking at sensor technologies it is import to understand the material target before selecting the correct sensor for the applied application such as an Inductive sensor would be selected if we are looking at a ferrous (metal) target at short range. Below are some examples of good and poor reflective materials when Ultrasonic sensors are used.

Good Reflective MaterialsUltrasonicApplication

  • Water
  • Paint
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Concrete/Stone
  • Glass
  • Hard Rubber
  • Hard Foam

Challenging Relective Materials

  • Cotton Wool
  • Soft Carpet
  • Soap Foams
  • Powders With Air
  • Soft Foam
  • Soft Rubber

So as you can see materials that are hard or solid have good reflective properties whereas soft materials will absorb the sound wave provided from the sensor making it much more challenging to detect our target. For more information on Ultrasonic sensors click here.

Ultrasonic Sensors with Analog Output

Many times in an application we need more than a simple discrete on/off output. For a more accurate detection mode we can utilize analog outputs to monitor position, height, fill-levels and part presence typically found in object detection assemblies. When utilizing Ultrasonic sensors with an analog output we can simply measure the distance value that is proportional to the distance of our target within the operating range of the sensor. Typically 0…10V or 4…20mA outputs are available with the option of rising or falling characteristics. Rising and falling is a way to invert the view of the output, so 0…10V would simply be inverted to 10…0V or 4…20mA would be 20…4mA.

Ultrasonic sensor offerings are a great alternative as they can deal with difficult targets that are typically a challenge for other sensor technologies. They also offer very good resolution with the options of long and short range detection. Below is an example of a 4…20mA linear output. As you can see the closer our target gets to the sensor face it indicates an output closer to 4mA and the further away from the sensor it will provide and output closer to 20mA. For more information on Ultrasonic sensors, click here.

AnalogUltrasonic

Cable Length for Analog Sensors

A question came in recently concerning the maximum recommended cable length for analog sensors.  Even as digital interfaces gain popularity, sensors with analog interfaces (0-10V, 4-20 mA, etc.) still represent the overwhelming majority of continuous position sensors used in industrial applications.

The question about maximum cable length for analog sensors comes up pretty frequently.  Generally speaking, the issue is that electrical conductors, even good ones, have some resistance to the flow of current (signals).  If the resistance of the conductor (the cable) gets high enough, the sensor’s signal can be degraded to the point where accuracy suffers, or even to the point where it becomes unusable.  Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer to the question.  Variables such as wire gauge, whether or not the cable is shielded, where and how the cable is routed, what other types of devices are nearby, and other factors come into play, and need to be considered.  A discussion about all of these variables could fill a book, but we can make some general recommendations:

Continue reading “Cable Length for Analog Sensors”