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

Non-Contact Infrared Temperature Sensors with IO-Link – Enabler for Industry 4.0

Automation in Steel-Plants

Modern production requires a very high level of automation. One big benefit of fully automated plants and processes is the reduction of faults and mishaps that may lead to highly expensive downtime. In large steel plants there are hundreds of red hot steel slabs moving around, being processed, milled and manufactured into various products such as wires, coils and bars. Keeping track of these objects is of utmost importance to ensure a smooth and cost efficient production. A blockage or damage of a production line usually leads to an unexpected downtime and it takes hours to be rectified and restart the process.

To meet the challenges of the manufacturing processes in modern steel plants you need to control and monitor automatically material flows. This applies especially the path of the workpieces through the plant (as components of the product to be manufactured) and will be placed also at locations with limited access or hazardous areas within the factory.

Detection of Hot Metal

Standard sensors such as inductive or photoelectric devices cannot be used near red hot objects as they either would be damaged by the heat or would be overloaded with the tremendous infrared radiation emitted by the object. However, there is a sensing principle that uses this infrared radiation to detect the hot object and even gives a clue about its temperature.

Non-contact infrared thermometers meet the requirements and are successfully used in this kind of application. (The basics of this technology were discussed in a previous post.) They can be mounted away from the hot object so they are not destroyed by the heat, yet they capture the Infrared emitted as this radiation travels virtually unlimited. Moreover, the wavelength and intensity of the radiation can be evaluated to allow for a pretty accurate temperature reading of the object. Still there are certain parameters to be set or taught to make the device work correctly. As many of these infrared thermometers are placed in hazardous or inaccessible places, a parametrization or adjustment directly at the device is often difficult or even impossible. Therefore, an intelligent interface is required both to monitor and read out data generated by the sensor and – even more important – to download parameters and other data to the sensor.

Technical basics of Infrared Hot-Metal-Detectors

Traditional photoelectric sensors generate a signal and receive in most cases a reflection of this signal. Contrary to this, an infrared sensor does not emit any signal. The physical basics of an infrared sensor is to detect infrared radiation which is emitted by any object.
Each body, with a temperature above absolute zero (-273.15°C or −459.67 °F) emits an
electromagnetic radiation from its surface, which is proportional to its intrinsic
temperature. This radiation is called temperature or heat radiation.

By use of different technologies, such as photodiodes or thermopiles, this radiation can be detected and measured over a long distance.

Key Advantages of Infrared Thermometry

This non-contact, optical-based measuring method offers various advantages over thermometers with direct contact:

  • Reactionless measurement, i.e. the measured object remains unaffected, making it possible to measure the temperature of very small parts
  • Very fast measuring frequence
  • Measurement over long distances is possible, measuring device can be located outside the hazardous area
  • Very hot temperatures can be measured
  • Object detection of very hot parts: pyrometers can be used for object detection of very hot parts where conventional optical sensors are limited by the high infrared radiation
  • Measurement of moving objects is possible
  • No wear at the measuring point
  • Non-hazardous measurement of electrically live parts

IO-Link for smarter sensors

IO-Link as sensor interface has been established for nearly all sensor types in the past 10 years. It is a standardized uniform interface for sensors and actuators irrespective of their complexity. They provide consistent communication between devices and the control system/HMI.  It also allows for a dynamic change of sensor parameters by the controller or the operator on the HMI thus reducing downtimes for product changeovers. If a device needs to be replaced there is automatic parameter reassignment as soon as the new device has been installed and connected. This too reduces manual intervention and prevents incorrect settings. No special device-proprietary software is needed and wiring is easy, using three wire standard cables without any need for shielding.

Therefore, IO-Link is the ideal interface for a non-contact temperature sensor.

All values and data generated within the temperature sensor can be uploaded to the control system and can be used for condition monitoring and preventive maintenance purposes. As steel plants need to know in-process data to maintain a constant high quality of their products, sensors that provide more data than just a binary signal will generate extra benefit for a reliable, smooth production in the Industry 4.0 realm.

To learn more about this technology visit www.balluff.com.

Simplify Your Existing Analog Sensor Connection

In my last blog we reviewed how utilizing IO-Link sensors over analog sensors could be cost effective solution as it eliminates need for all the expensive analog I/O cards and shielded cables. In this blog we will see how IO-Link can effectively integrate your analog sensor- in case you want to retrofit your old sensor or maybe just because the IO-Link version for the sensor is not available.

Just to review few main points:

  1. Your beloved analog sensor typically requires a shielded cable run from the sensor to the control cabinet. The shielded sensor cables are usually 1.5x- 2x the cost of the standard M12 prox cables that you probably use elsewhere in the system.
  2. Where to connect the shielded cable? Now, you require analog card (typically 4 channel), which is also expensive compared to digital I/O cards — May be equally expensive as the IO-Link card. But, a 4 channel IO-Link master card could offer lot more compared to the 4-channel analog card. Simply put- your analog card can only take another 3 channels of analog signal where as there are a host of devices that you can connect to the IO-Link master to make your system scalable or future proof – more on this later- I get so excited talking about IO-Link.

In any case, coming back to the point- in general we pay a lot of money to add a single analog sensor in the system.  What if we could convert the analog signal to digital (same function that the analog card does), closer to the measurement sensor and get the digital data over a standard prox cable back to the control cabinet or to IO-Link? This way, we can totally eliminate or at least reduce the shielded cable run from sensor to the converter.

IO-Link3ConductorsBalluff offers this A/D converter module — at Balluff we refer to it as “Hobbit” – it is more like a small adapter that fits directly onto a sensor using the standard M12 fittings. The other side is M12 IO-Link connection to take the data back to the controller via an IO-Link master.  This single channel “Hobbit” offers 14 bits of conversion – to ensure you don’t lose data in translation.

IOLinkHubIf you need more than a single channel, Balluff also offers a 4-channel IO-Link hub, this still utilizes only a single port on the IO-Link master. Now, you have 3 or 7 ports (in case of 8 port IO-Link master), open to connect host of other devices such as digital I/O hubs, valve connectors, SmartLights, RFID, color sensors, Pressure sensors, linear measurement devices and so on…

I hope this blog helps you get little more clarity of many benefits of IO-Link. You can always learn more about the benefits of IO-Link at www.balluff.us/iolink.

On behalf of entire Balluff team, I want to wish you all Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

For Industrial Controls, What’s Next After Analog?

Analog signals have been part of industrial control systems for a very long time.  The two most common signals are 0-10V (“voltage”) and 4-20mA (“current”), although there are a wide variety of other voltage and current protocols.  These signals are called “analog” because they vary continuously and have theoretically infinite resolution (although practical resolution is limited by the level of residual electrical noise in the circuit).

Measurement sensors typically provide analog output signals, because these electronic circuits are well-understood and the designs are relatively economical to produce.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to design and build a good-quality analog sensor: in fact it is very difficult to engineer an analog signal that is highly linear over its measuring range, has low noise (for high-resolution), is thermally stable, (doesn’t drift as temperature changes), and is repeatable from sample to sample.  It takes a lot of careful engineering, testing, and tweaking to deliver a good analog sensor to the market.

Continue reading “For Industrial Controls, What’s Next After Analog?”