Getting Condition Data From The Shop Floor to Your Software

IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things)  is becoming more mainstream, leading to more vendors implementing innovative monitoring capabilities in the new generation of sensors. These sensors are now multifunctional and provide a host of additional features such as self-monitoring.

With these intelligent sensors, it is possible to set up a system that enables continuous monitoring of the machines and production line. However, the essential requirement to use the provided data for analysis and condition monitoring for preventative and predictive maintenance is to get it from the shop floor to the MES, ERP, or other analysis software suites.

There are a variety of ways this can be done. In this post we will look at a few popular ways and methods to do so.

The most popular and straightforward implementation is using a REST API(also known as RESTful API). This has been the de facto standard in e consumer space to transport data. It allows multiple data formats to be transferred, including multimedia and JSON (Javascript Object Notation)

This has certain disadvantages like actively polling for the data, making it unsuitable for a spotty network, and having high packet loss.

MQTT(Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) eliminates the above problem. It’s very low bandwidth and works excellent on unreliable networks as it works on a publish/subscribe model. This allows the receiver to passively listen for the data from the broker. The broker only notifies when there is a change and can be configured to have a Quality of Service(QoS) to resend data if one of them loses connection. This has been used in the IoT world for a long time has become a standard for data transport, so most of software suits have this feature inbuilt.

The third option is to use OPCUA, which is the standard for M2M communication. OPCUA provides additional functionality over MQTT as it was developed with machine communication in mind. Notably, inbuilt encryption allows for secure and authenticated communication.

In summary, below is a comparison of these protocols.

A more detailed explanation can be found for these standards :

REST API : https://www.redhat.com/en/topics/api/what-is-a-rest-api

MQTT : https://mqtt.org/

OPCUA : https://opcfoundation.org/about/opc-technologies/opc-ua/

RFID Gaining Traction in Tire Manufacturing

RFID is one of the hottest trending technologies in the tire industry. It has the potential to increase efficiency in tire production and logistics processes and gather large amounts of data for IIoT.

This technology will:

  • Reveal transparency deep in the processes
  • Minimize the number of rejected tires
  • Improve production processes for fewer failures
  • Increase control of materials
  • Improve the overall quality of individual tires

The challenge of using RFID in the tire industry is dealing with the harsh environments of some of the production areas in automotive plants. But the benefits of RFID to the tire industry are becoming more and more a reality. Suppliers of RFID are talking to tire manufacturing engineers, automation teams, material handling teams and R&D development engineers to develop better tools. For now, here are some examples of where RFID can be implemented in the tire creation process to improve efficiency, quality and cost.

In the mixing process, RFID “labels” are applied to all the chemicals and rubber compounds to assure the mixing of the right recipe of materials. RFID readers can be mounted on TBMs (Tire Build Machines), which are located before the curing press process, to assure the right material reels, parts and tools are in place before the expensive tire build process occurs.

There is also a growing need for RFID in the curing and mold processes. It important to manage the molds and the parts of the mold, like the bead rings, mold containers and mold segments. These are very expensive and there are hundreds in the average plant. Tags need to be able to sustain temperatures above 300 °F continuously for 8 hour shifts with little to no cooling down time.

RFID is an excellent tool to monitor material flow throughout the whole manufacturing process. RFID can be added to a trolly, AGV, conveyors and hook-chain conveyors.

While RFID is already being implemented by some tire manufacturers, there is much room for much growth in this conservative industry. As more manufacturers lean into IIoT and the need for data, RFID will surely be used more and more often.

The tire industry is excited to roll in RFID technology and pumped up to implement it where it makes the most sense and ROI dollars.

For more information about the tire industry, visit https://www.balluff.com/local/us/industries-and-solutions/industry/mobility/tire-industry/

How Condition Monitoring has Evolved and Its Role in IIoT

In recent years, as IIoT and Industry 4.0 have become part of our everyday vocabulary, we’ve also started hearing more about condition monitoring, predictive maintenance (PdM) and predictive analytics. Sometimes, we use these terms interchangeably as well. Strictly speaking, condition monitoring is a root that enables both predictive maintenance and predictive analytics. In today’s blog we will brush up a little on condition monitoring and explore its lineage.

Equipment failures have been around since the beginning of time. Over the years, through observation (collecting data) and brute-force methods, we learned that from time-to-time every piece of equipment needs some TLC. Out of this understanding, maintenance departments came to existence, and there we started having experts that could tell based on touch, smell and noise what is failing or what has gone wrong.

Figure 1: Automation Pyramid

Then we started automating the maintenance function either as a preventative measure (scheduled maintenance) or through some automated pieces of equipment that would collect data and provide alerts about a failure. We proudly call these SCADA systems – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. Of course, these systems did not necessarily prevent failures, but help curtail them.  If we look at the automation pyramid, the smart system at the bottom is a PLC and all the sensors are what we call “dumb sensors”. So, that means, whatever information the SCADA system gets would be filtered by the PLC. PLCs were/have been/ and are always focused on the process at hand; they are not data acquisition equipment. So, the data we receive in the SCADA system is only as good as the PLC can provide. That means the information is primarily about processes. So, the only alerts maintenance receives is when the equipment fails, and the process comes to a halt.

With the maintenance experts who could sense impending failures becoming mythological heroes, and  SCADA systems that cannot really tell us the story about the health of the machines, once again, we are looking at condition monitoring with a fresh set of eyes.

Sensors are at the grass root level in the automation pyramid, and until the arrival of IO-Link technology, these sensors were solely focused on their purpose of existence; object detection, or measurement of some kind. The only information one could gather from these sensors was ON/OFF or a signal of 4-20mA, 0-10V, and so on. Now, things are different, these sensors are now becoming pretty intelligent and they, like nosy neighbors, can collect more information about their own health and the environment. These intelligent sensors can utilize IO-Link as a communication to transfer all this information via a gateway module (generally known as IO-Link master) to whomever wants to listen.

Figure 2: IO-Link enabled Balluff photo-eye

The new generation of SCADA systems can now collect information not only from PLCs about the process health, but also from individual devices. For example, a photo-eye can measure the intensity of the reflected light and provide an alert if the intensity drops beyond a certain level, indicating a symptom of pending failure. Or a power supply inside the cabinet providing an alert to the supervisory control about adverse conditions due to increase temperature or humidity in the cabinet. These types of alerts about the symptoms help maintenance prevent unplanned downtime on the plant floor and make factories run more efficiently with reduced scrap, reduced down-time and reduced headaches.

Figure 3: The Next Generation Condition Monitoring

There are many different condition monitoring architectures that can be employed, and we will cover that in my next blog.

Improve OEE, Save Costs with Condition Monitoring Data

When it comes to IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) and the fourth industrial revolution, data has become exponentially more important to the way we automate machines and processes within a production plant. There are many different types of data, with the most common being process data. Depending on the device or sensor, process data may be as simple as the status of discrete inputs or outputs but can be as complex as the data coming from radio frequency identification (RFID) data carriers (tags). Nevertheless, process data has been there since the beginning of the third industrial revolution and the beginning of the use of programmable logic controllers for machine or process control.

With new advances in technology, sensors used for machine control are becoming smarter, smaller, more capable, and more affordable. This enables manufacturers of those devices to include additional data essential for IIOT and Industry 4.0 applications. The latest type of data manufacturers are outputting from their devices is known as condition monitoring data.

Today, smart devices can replace an entire system by having all of the hardware necessary to collect and process data, thus outputting relative information directly to the PLC or machine controller needed to monitor the condition of assets without the use of specialized hardware and software, and eliminating the need for costly service contracts and being tied to one specific vendor.

A photo-electric laser distance sensor with condition monitoring has the capability to provide more than distance measurements, including vibration detection. Vibration can be associated with loose mechanical mounting of the sensor or possible mechanical issues with the machine that the sensor is mounted. That same laser distance sensor can also provide you with inclination angle measurement to help with the installation of the sensor or help detect when there’s a problem, such as when someone or something bumps the sensor out of alignment. What about ambient data, such as humidity? This could help detect or monitor for moisture ingress. Ambient pressure? It can be used to monitor the performance of fans or the condition of the filter elements on electrical enclosures.

Having access to condition monitoring data can help OEMs improve sensing capabilities of their machines, differentiating themselves from their competition. It can also help end users by providing them with real time monitoring of their assets; improving overall equipment efficiency and better predicting  and, thereby, eliminating unscheduled and costly machine downtime. These are just a few examples of the possibilities, and as market needs change, manufacturers of these devices can adapt to the market needs with new and improved functions, all thanks to smart device architecture.

Integrating smart devices to your control architecture

The most robust, cost effective, and reliable way of collecting this data is via the IO-Link communication protocol; the first internationally accepted open, vendor neutral, industrial bi-directional communications protocol that complies with IEC61131-9 standards. From there, this information can be directly passed to your machine controller, such as PLC, via fieldbus communication protocols, such as EtherNET/Ip, ProfiNET or EtherCAT, and to your SCADA / GUI applications via OPC/UA or JSON. There are also instances where wireless communications are used for special applications where devices are placed in hard to reach places using Bluetooth or WLAN.

In the fast paced ever changing world of industrial automation, condition monitoring data collection is increasingly more important. This data can be used in predictive maintenance measures to prevent costly and unscheduled downtime by monitoring vibration, inclination, and ambient data to help you stay ahead of the game.

Injection Molding: Ignore the Mold, Pay the Price

Are you using a contract molding company to make your parts? Or are you doing it in house, but with little true oversight and management reporting on your molds? As a manufacturer, you can spend as much on a mold as you might for an economy, luxury or even a high-performance car. The disappointing difference is that YOU get to drive the car, while your molder or mold shop gets to drive your mold. How do you know if your mold is being taken care of as a true tooling investment and not being used as though it were disposable, or like the car analogy, like the Dukes of Hazzard used the General Lee?

What steps can you take in regard to using and maintaining a mold in production that can help guarantee your company’s ROI? How can you ensure your mold is going to produce the needed parts and provide or exceed the longevity required?

It is important for any manufacturer to understand the need for the cleaning and repair required for proper tool maintenance. The condition of your injection mold affects the quality of the plastic components produced. To keep a mold in the best working order, maintenance is critical not only when issues arise, but also routinely over time.

In the case of injection molds specifically, there are certain checks and procedures that should be performed regularly. An example being that mold cavities and gating should be routinely inspected for wear or damage. This is as important as keeping the injection system inspected and lubricated, and ensuring all surfaces are cleaned and sprayed with a rust preventative.

Figure 1 An example of the mold usage process.

The unfortunate reality is that some molders wait until part quality problems arise or the tool becomes damaged to do maintenance. One of the biggest challenges with injection molders is being certain that your molds are being run according to the maintenance requirements. Running a mold too long and waiting until problems arise to perform routine maintenance or refurbish a mold can result in added expense, supply/stock issues, longer time to market and even loss of the mold. However, when molders have a clear indication of maintenance and production timing, and follow the maintenance procedures in place, production times and overall costs can decrease.

Figure 2 Balluff add-on Mold ID monitoring and traceability system.

Creating visibility and accuracy into this maintenance timing is something today’s automation technology can now address. With todays modern, industrial automation technology, visibility and traceability can be added to any mold machine, regardless of machine age, manufacturer and manufacturing environment.

With the modern networked IIoT (industrial internet of things)-based monitoring and traceability system solutions available today, the mold can be monitored on the machine in real-time and every shot is recorded and kept on the mold itself using, for example, an assortment of industrial RFID tag options mounted directly on the mold. Mold shot count information can be tracked and kept on the mold and can be reported to operations or management using IIoT-based software running at the molder or even remotely using the internet at your own facility, giving complete visibility and insight into the mold’s status.

Figure 3 Balluff IIoT-based Connected Mold ID reporting and monitoring software screens.

Traceability systems record not only the shot count but can provide warning and alarm shot count statuses locally using visual indicators, such as a stack light, as the mold nears its maintenance time. Even the mold’s identification information and dynamic maintenance date (adjusted continuously based on current shot count) are recorded on the RFID tag for absolute tracability and can be reported in near real-time to the IIoT-based software package.

Advanced automation technology can bring new and needed insights into your mold shop or your molder’s treatment of your molds. It adds a whole new level of reliability and visibility into the molding process. And you can use this technology to improve production up-time and maximize your mold investments.

For more information, visit https://www.balluff.com/en/de/industries-and-solutions/solutions-and-technologies/mold-id/connected-mold-id/

Implement a Smart Factory Using Available Technologies

What is a Smart Factory?

The term smart factory describes a highly digitalized and connected system where machines and equipment using sensor technology improves processes through monitoring, automation, and optimization. The wealth of data enables predictive maintenance and an increase in productivity through planning and decreased downtime.

The smart factory’s core building blocks are various intelligent sensors that provide a critical measure for the machine’s health, such as temperature, vibration, and pressure. This data combined with production, information, and communication technologies forms the backbone of what many refer to as the next industrial revolution, i.e., Industry 4.0.

The technologies that make the Industrial Internet of things or Industry 4.0 possible have always been available for the information technology domain. The same technology and software can be used to implement the next generation of industries.

How would I go about implanting these technologies?

The prerequisite to implementing any smart factory is using a sensor(s) with the ability to provide sensing information and to monitor its health. For example, an optical laser sensor can measure distance and monitor the beam’s strength reflected, alerting that the glass window might be foggy or dirty. These sensors are readily available in the market as most IO-Link sensors come with the diagnostics inbuilt. However, it varies from vendor to vendor.

The second step is getting the data from the operational technology side to the information technology level. The industrial side of things uses PLCs for control, which should be left alone as the single source of control for security reasons and efficiency. However, most IO-Link-enabled network blocks can tap into this data in read-only mode using JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) or a REST API.  With the IO-Link consortium officially formalizing the REST API, we will see more and more vendors adopting it as a feature for their network blocks

The final step is using this data to visualize and optimize the process. There are various SCADA and MES software systems that make it possible to do this without much development. But for maximum customizability, it’s recommended to build a stack that fits your needs and provides the option to scale. There are very mature open-source software options and applications that have been in used in the IT world for decades now and transfer seamlessly to the industrial side.

A data visualization of the current and amperage of an IO-Link device

The stack I have personally used and seen other companies implement is Grafana as a dashboarding software, InfluxdB as a time-series database, telegraf as a collector, and Mosquitto as MQTT broker.

The possibilities for expansion are limitless, leaving the option to add another service like TensorFlow for some analytics.

All of these are deployed as container services using Docker, another open-source project. This helps for easy deployment and maintenance.

A demonstration of this stack can be seen at the following link

https://balluff.app

Username and password are both “balluff” (all lowercase).

Machine Vision: A Twenty-first Century Automation Solution

Lasers, scanners, fingerprint readers, and face recognition is not just science fiction anymore.  I love seeing technology only previously imagined become reality through necessity and advances in technology.  We, as a world economy, need to be able to verify who we are and ensure transitions are safe, and material and goods are tracked accurately.  With this need came the evolution of laser barcode readers, fingerprint identification devices, and face ID on your phone.  Similar needs have pushed archaic devices to be replaced within factory automation for data collection.

When I began my career in control engineering the 1990s high tech tools were limited to PLCs, frequency drives, and HMIs. The quality inspection data these devices relied on was collected mostly through limit switches and proximity sensors.  Machine vision was still in it’s expensive and “cute” stage.  With the need for more information, seriously accurate measurement, machining specs, and speed; machine vision has evolved, just like our personal technology has, to fill the needs of the modern time.

Machine vision has worked its way into the automation world as a need to have rather than a nice to have.  With the ability to stack several tools and validations on top of each other, within a fraction of a second scan we now have the data our era needs to stay competitive.  Imagine an application requiring you to detect several material traits, measure the part, read a barcode for tracking, and validate  a properly printed logo screened onto the finished product.  Sure, you could use several individual laser sensors, barcode readers and possibly even a vision sensor all working in concert to achieve your goal.  Or you could use a machine vision system to do all the above easily with room to grow.

I say all of this because there is still resistance in the market to move to machine vision due to historical high costs and complexity.  Machine Vision is here to stay and ready for your applications today.  Think of it this way.  How capable would you think a business is they took out a carbon copy credit card machine to run a payment for you?  Well, think of this before you start trying to solve applications with several sensors.  Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips; don’t hold on to nostalgia.

Industry 4.0: What It Is and How It Improves Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 is a common buzzword that is thrown around along with IIoT and Process visualization but what does that mean and how is it integrated into a manufacturing process? Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution. The first dealing with mechanization and the use of steam and water power, the second referring to mass production using assembly lines and electrical power, and the third referring to automated production and the use of computers and robots. Industry 4.0 takes us a step beyond that to smart factories that include automation and machine learning. Again, buzzwords that can be hard to visualize.

A commonplace example of this would be self-driving cars. They are autonomous because they don’t need a person operating them and they take, in real time, information about their surroundings and use that to determine a course of action. But how can this type of technology affect a manufacturing process?

Industry 4.0 requires data to be analyzed. This is where IO-Link comes into play. With IO-Link, you are able to get information from a sensor more than than just an output signal when it detects a part. A photoelectric sensor is a good example of this. The basic way a photoelectric sensor works an output is given depending on the amount of light being received. If the sensor happens to be in a dirty/dusty environment, there could be dirt collecting on the lens or floating in the air which effects the amount of light being received. An IO-Link (smart) sensor can not only fire an output when detection occurs but can give information about the real time gain of the sensor (how much light is being received). If the gain drops below a certain amount because of dirt on the lens or in the air, it can send another signal to the controller indicating the change in gain.

Now that we have more data, what are we going to do with it?

We now have all of this data coming from different parts of the machine, but where does it go and what do we do with it? This is where process visualization comes into play. We are able to take real time data from a machine and upload it to a database or system that we can monitor outside of the plant floor. We can know if a machine is running properly without having to physically see the machine. The information can also give us indications about when something might fail so preventative maintenance can take place and reduce downtime.

As more manufacturing processes are becoming automated, machines are becoming more and more complex. A machine might be needed to run 6-7 different lines rather than just 1 or 2 which can involve things like tool change or settings changes. Then, more checks need to be in place, so the right process is running for the right part. Industry 4.0 is how we are able to gather all this information and use it to increase efficiency and productivity.

Adding Smart Condition Monitoring Sensors to Your PLC Control Systems Delivers Data in Real Time

Condition monitoring of critical components on machines delivers enormous benefits to productivity in a plant.  Rather than have a motor, pump, or compressor unexpectedly fail and the machine be inoperable until a replacement part is installed, condition monitoring of those critical pieces on the machine can provide warning signs that something is about to go terribly wrong. Vibration measurements on rotating equipment can detect when there is imbalance or degrade on rolling bearing elements. Temperature measurements can detect when a component is getting overheated and should be cooled down. Other environmental detections such as humidity and ambient pressure can alert someone to investigate why humidity or pressure is building up on a component or in an area. These measurement points are normally taken by specific accelerometers, temperature probes, humidity and pressure sensors and then analyzed through high end instruments with special analysis software. Typically, these instruments and software are separate from the PLC controls system. This means that even when the data indicates a future potential issue, steps need to be taken separately to stop the machine from running.

Using smart condition monitoring sensors with IO-Link allows these measured variables and alarms to be available directly onto the PLC system in real time. Some condition monitoring sensors now even have microprocessors onboard that immediately analyze the measured variables. The sensor can be configured for the measurement limit thresholds of the device it’s monitoring so that the sensor can issue a warning or alarm through the IO-Link communications channel to the PLC once those thresholds have been hit. That way, when a warning condition presents itself, the PLC can react immediately to it, whether that means sending an alert on a HMI, or stopping the machine from running altogether until the alarmed component is fixed or replaced.

Having the condition monitoring sensor on IO-Link has many advantages. As an IEC61131-9 standard, IO-Link is an open standard and not proprietary to any manufacturer. The protocol itself is on the sensor/actuator level and fieldbus independent. IO-Link allows the condition monitoring sensor to connect to Ethernet/IP, Profinet & Profibus, CC-Link & CC-Link IE Field, EtherCAT and TCP/IP networks regardless of PLC. Using an IO-Link master gateway, multiple smart condition monitoring sensors and other IO-Link devices can be connected to the controls network as a single node.

The picture above shows two condition monitoring sensors connected to a single address on the fieldbus network. In this example, a single gateway allows up to eight IO-Link condition monitoring sensors to be connected.

Through IO-Link, the PLC’s standard acyclic channel can be used to setup the parameters of the measured alarm conditions to match the specific device the sensor is monitoring. The PLC’s standard cyclic communications can then be used to monitor the alarm status bits from the condition monitoring sensor.  When an alarm threshold gets hit, the alarm status bit goes high and the PLC can then react in real time to control the machine. This relieves the burden of analyzing the sensor’s condition monitoring data from the PLC as the sensor is doing the work.

 

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!