Distributed Modular I/O Demo on Demand!

Everyone likes things on demand right?  Movies, TV shows, chocolate, you name it.  My good friend, John Harmon, has prepared a YouTube video so that you have at your fingertips an on-demand presentation on Distributed Modular I/O.  It is a great overview of the available functionality of Distributed Modular I/O and what kinds of control products that are available utilizing this technology.  I realize the video is seven and a half minutes, which is pretty long for a web video, but I think he does an excellent job of keeping your attention and demonstrating the value of this technology.  Grab a soda and your favorite chocolate bar, put your phone on silent, and hit play on this excellent presentation.

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A 3-Step Plan to Improve Your Design of Pneumatic Systems

I’ve been talking pneumatic systems (valves, cylinders, actuators, etc.) recently with my customers and I’m finding among these engineers some common pains coming out of the system design.  It seems that many people are researching networked valve islands with I/O built-in.  These seem to be a great way to consolidate lots of I/O into one IP address, but there are some new issues cropping up similar to the above photo:

  • When assembling these at a machine builder the routing of cables with piping is more cumbersome  with cables hanging off the valves, larger cable tray installations  and large amounts of piping all running to the same spot.
  • For machine builders, with all of the valves centralized in one place, the pneumatic lines have to be longer.  This causes many issues such as slower responsiveness due to air volume, air inertia, and lower air quality.
  • When trying to perform maintenance at an end-user, it becomes a nightmare to troubleshoot with a cluster of cables and pipes.  The zip-tied and clean runs installed by the machine builder are cut, tangled and re-routed as the machine ages and becomes more difficult to troubleshoot.
  • Also at end users, if the manifold needs to be expanded, updated, retrofitted with new valves or I/O, there are big hurdles to jump when doing this: re-piping the valve due to mounting position shifting or even having to edit and repair code in the PLC to adapt to new bitmaps generated by the new valve manifold configuration.
  • When closing the loop with magnetic field sensors mounted on the cylinders, typically reed switches are used which are prone to failure.  In addition, these switches typically have two sensors & cables per actuator to give extend or retract position, these cables cause larger cable trays and long cable runs back to the centralized manifold and I/O.

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Machine Mount I/O: Get out of the Cabinet

In April, Jim Montague of Control Design wrote an interesting article on Machine Mount I/O entitled “Machine-Mount I/O Go Everywhere.”  I think the article makes some very good points as to the value of why someone wants to move from inside an enclosure, or controls cabinet, to mounting I/O products directly on the machine.

He summarizes, with the help of a number of industry experts, the below points:

  • Same or Better control performance out of IP67 products versus IP20 products.  
    • Installation time alone “is reduced by a factor of 5 to 10”
    • Assemble more controls equipment faster with the same people & workspace
  • Smaller & Simpler components take up less real-estate on the machine

Valve Manifolds on Ethernet for Cheap!

Valve manifolds, or islands or banks, are used by many automation engineers in their machine design. They are a great way to easily implement a large number of pneumatic motion applications while keeping the air infrastructure minimal.  Recent demand in the market has driven manifold manufacturers to reluctantly embed network interfaces and remote I/O into their products.   Customers tell me while manufacturer’s expertise may lie with the pneumatic side of the product; there is usually less knowledge with-in their organizations to work on the Ethernet side of the product.

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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 Ethernet Works… for Dummies

I recently watched a short webinar recorded by the PI North America organization and it really helped me understand the basics of how ethernet communication comes together.  There are so many protocols and standards and they all communicate on the same media.  Carl and Hunter do a good job presenting ethernet in a technical but easy to understand way.

The webinar is here.  Their topics include:

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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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3 Steps to Evolve to Ethernet Networked I/O

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Let’s face it; an installed base, a trained maintenance crew, and an established set of procedures all make it really difficult to try to implement any new technologies in a running manufacturing facility.  The idea of an industrial network providing detailed data about your processes and improving productivity sounds interesting and valuable,  but where do you begin?  Retrofitting everything with the newest technology isn’t an option in today’s economy, the capital investment is just too great.  But there is hope!  And with small steps, time and training, any plant can move forward into the ethernet realm and beyond.

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