Where Discrete Position Sensing Belongs in the Manufacturing Process

Unlike continuous position sensors which provide near real-time position feedback throughout the stroke of the cylinder, discrete position sensors are equipped with a switching functionality at one or more designated positions along the cylinder’s stroke. Typically, these positions are set to detect fully retracted and extended positions but one can also be used to detect mid-stroke position.

To determine which is right for you requires a review of your application and a determination of how precisely the movement of the cylinder needs to be controlled. Some hydraulic cylinder applications require no position sensing at all. These applications simply use the cylinder to move a load, and position control is either done manually or by some other external switch or stop. Moving up a step, many applications require only that the beginning and end of the cylinder stroke be detected so that the cylinder can be commanded to reverse direction. These applications are ideal for discrete position sensing.

Several types of sensors are used for discrete position detection, but one of the most common is high-pressure inductive proximity sensors, which are installed into the end caps of the cylinder. The sensors detect the piston as it reaches the end of the cylinder stroke in either direction.

These sensors are designed to withstand the full pressure of the hydraulic system. Inductive sensors are extremely reliable because they operate without any form of mechanical contact and are completely unaffected by changes in oil temperature or viscosity.

High-pressure
High-pressure inductive sensors installed in hydraulic cylinder

Discrete position sensors are used in applications such as hydraulic clamps, detection of open/closed position in welding operations, and in hydraulic compactors and balers for compacting materials until end of cylinder stroke is reached, at which point the cylinder retracts.

Additionally, it is quite common for pneumatically-actuated clamps and grippers to use discrete sensors to indicate fully extended and fully retracted positions, and in many cases, in-between positions as well. There are even applications where multiple discrete sensors are used in grippers for gauging and sizing work pieces.

By far, the most common method of providing discrete position in an air cylinder is to use externally-mounted switches that react to a magnet installed around the circumference of the piston. These magnetically-actuated switches can sense the field of a magnet embedded in the cylinder’s piston through the aluminum body of the cylinder.

magnetically actuated
Magnetically actuated sensor installed into cylinder C-slot

There are several different operating principles used in these magnetically-actuated switches, ranging from simple, low-cost reed switches and Hall-effect switches to significantly more reliable sensors that use magnetoresistive technology. One of the big advantages of magnetoresistive sensors is that they will reliably detect both radial and axial magnetic fields, making them ideal replacements for reed or Hall-effect switches.

Check out our previous blog to learn more about continuous position sensors.

The basics of IP69K Washdown explained

Ask 10 engineers working in Food & Beverage manufacturing what “washdown” means to them and you will probably get about 12 answers.  Ask them why they wash down equipment and a more consistent answer appears, everyone is concerned about making clean healthy food and they want to reduce areas of harborage for bacteria.  These environments tend to be cool & wet which usually leads the engineers to ask for 316L stainless steel & ingress protection of IP69K from component manufacturers and also ask for special component ratings.

So what are the basic elements of the washdown procedure?

  • Hot! – Minimum 140F to kill microbes & bacteria.
  • High Pressure! – Up to 1000psi to blast away soiled material.
  • Nasty! – Water, caustics, acid detergents, spray & foam everywhere.
  • Hard Work! – Typically includes a hand cleaning or scrubbing of key components.
  • Regular! – Typically 15-20hrs per week are spent cleaning equipment but in dairy & meat it can be more.

What requirements are put onto components exposed to washdown?

  • Stainless Steel resists corrosion and is polished to level the microscopic roughness that provides harborage for bacteria.
  • Special Component Ratings:
    • ECOLAB chemical testing for housings
    • FDA approved materials
    • 3A USA hygienic for US Equipment
    • EHEDG hygienic for European Equipment
  • IP69K is tested to be protected from high pressure steam cleaning per DIN40050 part 9; this is not guaranteed to be immersion rated (IP67) unless specifically identified.

If you are interested in what sensors, networking & RFID products are available for use in food and beverage manufacturing with a washdown environment, please visit www.balluff.us.

High Pressure Inductive Sensors with Analog Feedback

In my previous blog post we covered the Anatomy of a High Pressure Proximity Sensor. That post covered the different mechanical housing designs and special properties that go into high pressure sensor products with discrete outputs. That is great information to know when specifying the correct sensor for a particular application. In today’s competitive market and constant goals to improve processes, sensor’s that offer continuous feedback are required.

Hydraulic systems regulate speed of an actuator by regulating flow rate. The flow rate determines the speed of the cylinder spud that actuates inside the system. For example, an analog sensor can provide measurement to the controls with indication of slowing down or speeding up the actuator based on the analog feedback from the sensor in regard to position of the tapered section of the actuator. So, if the internal target gets larger with more position movement (stroke) the distant measurement changes and indicates that the end of stroke is near causing the controller to initiate a soft stop. This provides better control of the system offering a more efficient reliable process.

500barAnalog Inductive sensors provide an absolute voltage or current signal change proportional to the distance of a ferrous target. In high pressure applications that require more position feedback, an analog distance sensor can offer a solution as they also offer high – strength stainless steel housings with special sealing designs that allow pressure up to 500 bar and 85°C temperature ratings making them an ideal solution for valve speed control and soft starts with a non – contact design.

More information on high pressure analog inductive sensors is available on the Balluff website at www.balluff.us.

Anatomy of a High Pressure Inductive Proximity Sensor

Some industrial applications will require a sensor with special properties. This type of sensor offering is needed especially when pressure comes to play. In a wide range of hydraulic cylinder and valve applications high pressure sensors are exposed to hostile environments and are subject to pressure that a standard sensor simply cannot hold up in. For example 350 bar of pressure can be detrimental to a standard sensor as it is not designed for a pressure application.

High pressure inductive sensors are designed to withstand the severe duty of a high pressure application with product features like corrosion – resistant housing materials, high strength ceramic sensing faces and special sealing techniques such as undercut housings with sealing and support rings. This is very important because not only do we need to have a sensor that can withstand pressure on the face of the sensor without damage we also need to make sure we can keep the hydraulic fluid inside the cylinder or valve where it belongs.

In the photo below you will notice the undercut area at the sensing face of the sensor along with an O-ring and supporting backing ring to make sure the application is sealed tight.

installation instruction Installation Photo

There are several common sizes for different types of cylinder and valves however the same principle applies. Below is an example of a flange mount style offering. This type of sensor takes a different design approach that is bolted to the top side of a cylinder with a sealing O-ring under the mounting point.

Strokemaster Diagram

strokemaster photo

It’s also important to know what form factor is needed when specifying a high pressure inductive sensor. Typically you will see pressure options from 50 up to 500 bar. The dimensions of the cylinder or valve will determine what type of high pressure sensor is needed.

HighPressureGroup

To learn more visit www.balluff.us.