What to Ask Before You Build an RFID System to Meet Your Traceability Needs

An industrial RFID system is a powerful solution for reliably and comprehensively documenting individual working steps in manufacturing environments. But an industrial RFID system that meets your application needs isn’t available off-the-shelf. To build the system you need, it is important to consider what problems you hope RFID will solve and what return on investments you hope to see.

RFID can deliver many benefits, including process visibility and providing data needed to better manage product quality. It can be used to improve safety, satisfaction and profit margins. It can even be used to help comply with regulatory standards or to manage product recalls. And RFID can be used in a wide range of applications from broad areas like supply management to inventory tracking to more specific applications. These improvements can improve time, cost or performance—though not typically all three.

It is essential to understand and document the goal and how improvements will be measured to in order to plan a RFID system (readers, antennas, tags, cables) to best meet those goals.

Other important questions to consider:

Will the system be centralized or de-centralized? Will the system be license plate only or contain process data on the tag?

How will the data on the tags be used?  Will the information be used to interface with a PLC, database or ERP? Will it be used to provide MES or logical functionality? Or to provide data to an HMI or web browser/cloud interface?

Will the system be required to comply with any international regulations or standards? If so, which ones: EPC Global, Class 1 Gen 2 (UHF only), ISO 15693, or 14443 (HF only)?

What environment does the system need to perform in? Will it be used indoor or outdoor? Will it be exposed to liquids (cleaning fluids, coolants, machine oils, caustics) or high or low temperatures?

Does the RFID system need to work with barcodes or any other human readable information?

What are the performance expectations for the components? What is the read/write range distance from head to tag? What is the station cycle timing? Is the tag metal-mounted? Does the tag need to be reused or be disposable? What communication bus is required?

With a clear set of objectives and goals, the mechanical and physical requirements discovered by answering the questions above, and guidance from an expert, a RFID system can be configured that meets your needs and delivers a strong return on investment.

Three Ways to Configure a Splitter and Harness the Power of Pin 2

Based on the increasing popularity of machine mounted I/O utilizing readily available IP67 components, it’s more important than ever to utilize every I/O point.  I/O density has increased over the years and the types of I/O have become more diversified, yet in many systems pin 2 is left unused by the end user.  Sensors tend to come in twos, for example, a pneumatic cylinder may require a sensor for the extended position and one for the retracted position.  Running each individual sensor back to the interface block utilizes pins 1,3 and 4 (for power, ground and signal) but wastes pin 2 on each port.

Figure 1
Fig. 1 Bad I/O configuration: neglecting pin 2 is inefficient and costly

Rather than using a separate port on the I/O block for each sensor, a splitter can collect the outputs of two sensors and deliver the input to a single port.  With a splitter, one sensor output goes to pin 4, the other goes to pin 2.

By putting two signals into one and utilizing both pins 2 and 4, the overall I/O point cost decreases.

There are multiple ways to configure a splitter to utilize pin 2. We will review three methods — good, better and best:

1. T-splitter on the I/O block:

Figure 3
Fig. 3 Good basic method for utilizing the additional I/O point, pin-2

A T-splitter is a good way to utilize pin 2.  However, the “T” covers the I/O module port eliminating the benefit of the high-value diagnostic LEDs on the block. Also, individual cables must run all the way from the block to the sensors at the installation point, creating clutter and cable bulk.  In addition, when Ts are used on a vertically mounted block, the extra cable bulk can weigh down the T-splitter and threaten its integrity.

2. V-type splitter on the I/O block:

Figure 4
Fig. 4 Better way of utilizing pin 2 while also allowing visibility of diagnostic LEDs

The use of a V-type configuration allows better visibility of the diagnostic LEDs and eliminates the need to purchase a separate part. However, individual cables must still be run from the block to the sensors, creating clutter and cable bulk.

3. Ytype configuration:

Figure 5
Fig. 5 Best way to utilize pin 2

In the Y-type splitter configuration, all aspects of usability are improved. One cable runs from the I/O block to the installation point. The split of pins 2 and 4 is done as close to the sensors as possible. This significantly cleans up cable clutter, provides a completely unrestricted view of the diagnostic LEDs and allows for easy installation of multiple connectors to the I/O block.

Maintain Machine Up-Time with Application-Specific Cables

Using high-durability cables in application environments with high temperatures, weld spatter, or washdown areas improves manufacturing machine up-time.

It is important to choose a cable that matches your specific application requirements.

Washdown Applications

When a food and beverage customer needs to wash down their equipment after a production shift, a standard cable is likely to become a point of failure. A washdown-specific cable with an IP68/IP69 rating is designed to withstand high-pressure cleaning. It’s special components, such as an internal O-ring and stainless-steel connection nut, keep water and cleaners from leaking.

Welding Applications

Welding environments require application-specific cables to deal with elevated temperatures, tight bend radiuses and weld spatter. Cables with a full silicone jacket prevent the build-up of debris, which can cause shorts and failures over time.

High Temperature cables

Applications with high temperatures require sensors that can operate reliably in their environment. The same goes for the cables. High temperature cables include added features such as a high temperature jacket and insulation materials specifically designed to perform in these applications.

Cables

Selecting the correct cable for a specific application area is not difficult when you know the requirements the application environment demands and incorporate those demands into your choice. It’s no different than selecting the best sensor for the job. The phrase to remember is “application specificity.”

For more information on standard and high-durability cables, please visit www.balluff.com.

 

If our products could talk, what would they say?

In industrial automation we put our products through a lot. Extreme temperatures, harsh environments, and the demands of high performance can put a strain on the components of any machine. This led me to wonder, if our products could talk, what would they say?

CordsetTalkCordset: Cables have certain limpness which makes installing the cordset in automation easier to fit in tight spaces. Most cable installers prefer to have the least amount of slack in cable to prevent the cable being snagged or pulled during operations. Cables need to have a bend radius to prevent kinking of the conductors and a continuous flow of power. The bend radius is “the smallest radius of curvature into which a material can be bent without damage” (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction). Typically in a fixed (stationary) application, an unshielded sensor cable has a minimum bending radius of 8 times the outer diameter of the cable.

PowerSupplyTalkPower Supply: Everyone wants a friend. When a load is too much for one power supply, adding another power supply helps increase the voltage or current output. “The simplest method to create higher current is to connect the power supplies in parallel and leave only one supply in constant voltage mode. Some power supplies are equipped with analog control signals that allow auto-parallel or auto-tracking, a more elegant way to control multiple power supplies. Auto-parallel supplies can be controlled with a single master supply; a second advantage is that all of the master power supplies features can be used.” (Keysight Technologies) By stringing together power supplies, it allows more voltage or current but also keeps operations up and running.

Which cable jacket is best for your application?

There are many different types of cable jackets and each jacket works well in a specific application.  The three main sensor cable jackets are PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), PUR (polyurethane) and TPE (thermoplastic elastomer). Each jacket type has different benefits like washdown, abrasion resistant or high flexing applications.  Finding the correct jacket type for your application can extend the life of the cable.PVC

PVC is a general purpose cable and is widely available.  It is a common cable, and typically has the best price point.  PVC has a high moisture resistance, which makes it a good choice for wash-down applications.

PURPUR is found mostly in Asia and Europe.  This cable jacket type has good resistance against abrasion, oil and ozone.  PUR is known for being Halogen free, not containing: chlorine, iodine, fluorine, bromine or astatine.  This jacket type does have limited temperature range compared to the other jacket types, -40…80⁰C.

TPETPE is flexible, recyclable and has excellent cold temperature characteristics, -50…125⁰C.  This cable is resistant against aging in the sunlight, UV and ozone.  TPE has a high-flex rating, typically 10 million.

The table below details the resistance to different conditions. Note that these relative ratings are based on average performance. Special selective compounding of the jacket can improve performance.

ResistanceTo

Choosing the right jacket type can help reduce failures in the field, reducing downtime and costs.  Please visit www.balluff.us to see Balluff’s offering of sensor cables in PVC, PUR and TPE.

Flexible Cables Don’t Flex For Long

Recently I read an article in Machine Design called “When Flexible Cables Doesn’t Flex for Long” by Leland Teschler which talks about different aspects of flexible cable terms, causes of breakage and testing.

The article touches on different lingo between flexible, high-flex and high-flex-life. Flexible and high-flex mean the same thing.  Google’s definition of flexible is the capability of bending easily without breaking. High-flex-life is described by Northwire as a cable designed to survive 10 million to 20 million flexing cycles. Those are just the common terms used to describe flexing of a cable, but there are manufacturers that use their own flexing name to describe their cables.

Teschler also describes the feel of a cable, whether the cable bends easily or not, based on different degrees of limpness or stiffness. “All in all, cable makers say the stiffness or limpness of the cable has nothing to do with its flex life.” The article goes on to describe a limp cable as a jacket that is made from soft materials, or finely stranded conductors, that allow the cable to move easily but is not meant to be used in applications with repeated flexing.

ULTestSetupThe last part of the article mentions how cables are tested for flexing. There is not a standard in the industry so different manufacturers can use differernt tests. The 3 most common tests are twist and flex test, tick-tock cable test, and UL test setup. Teschler pointed out the main focus for UL and CSA is to test for fire safety and UL test the cables for runs of 15,000 cycles.

Overall, I really enjoyed the article and highly suggest giving it a read to understand more about raw cable and testing requirements.

To see Balluff’s offering of UL listed cables click here.

The Spring Line is Here!

In today’s industrial market, Ethernet cable is in high demand. With words like Ethernet, Ethernet/IP, solid, and stranded, making a decision from the different types of cable can be difficult.

I want to make it easy for you to pick the right cable to go with the network of your choosing.  As a network, Ethernet is easy to install and it is easy to connect to other networks – you can probably even have Ethernet network devices connect to your current network.

So, let’s start with the basics…First, what is the difference between Ethernet and Ethernet/IP?  They both have teal jackets (hence the title – The “Spring Line”) due to the industrial Ethernet standards in North America. So, the difference between the two is in the application.  Ethernet is a good networking cable that transmits data like an internet cable.  Ethernet/IP transmits data and also has an industrial protocol application.  The Industrial Protocol (IP) allows you to transmit more data if you have a lot devices connected to each other or a lot of machines moving at once.  Ethernet/IP resists against UV rays, vibrations, heat, dust, oil, chemical, and other environmental conditions.

Next, there are two kinds of Ethernet IP cables: Solid and Stranded. Solid is great for new applications that require high-speed Ethernet.  The solid cables can transmit and receive across long distances and have a higher data rate compared to stranded.  The downside is that solid cables can break, and do not bend or flex well. Stranded is a better cable if you have to bend, twist, or flex the cable. It’s also better if you have to run short distances.  Stranded is made up of smaller gauge wires stranded together which allows the cable to be flexible and helps protect the cable. They move with the machine and will not break as easily as solid cables.

EthetNetCables_755x220To recap, remember the four short bullet points below when choosing your next cable:

  • Ethernet – transmits data
  • Ethernet/IP – transmits data to many machines/devices
  • Solid – good for long distance and little flexing
  • Stranded– good for short distance and flexing

To learn more visit www.balluff.us

Implement Hassle Free Tool Changes

The Problem

From conversations with many of our customers, I have found that there are two key problems encountered when working with tool change-outs:

  1. Tool Identification:  “How do I know I have the right tool in there for the right job at the right time?”
  2. Cables & Connectors:  “How do I remember every time to disconnect them before the tooling is removed?  We spend thousands each year repairing dies with the cordsets torn out.”

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How to Maintain Your Rotating Connection


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In the design of automation equipment everyone is looking for an edge.  How can I make parts faster or easier or safer?  I’m sure you don’t encounter the need for 360 degree rotation everyday; but when you do, it can become a pain to maintain sensor and actuator information or even a network connection.

There are two different ways to maintain your connection in a rotation application:

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NFPA 79 for AWM Cables in 2011

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Since my first post on NFPA79  in relation to sensor cables was published, there have been more and more customers asking me for a statement of compliance.  So after much review, we decided to ask the professionals.  As a member of the NFPA you can call and talk to a document specialist to help you clarify the wording and how it applies to your exact situation.

During my conversations with them, I learned that a new revision of NFPA79 that will be released in 2011.   This version I hope will help clarify the concerns people have with the original wording “12.2.7.3 Single conductor or multi-conductor Type AWM shall not be permitted.”  Most, if not all, sensor cables are built-in the Type AWM.

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