Control Meets IIoT, Providing Insights into a New World

In manufacturing and automation control, the programmable logic controller (PLC) is an essential tool. And since the PLC is integrated into the machine already, it’s understandable that you might see the PLC as all that you need to do anything in automation on the manufacturing floor.

Condition monitoring in machine automation

For example, process or condition monitoring is emerging as an important automation feature that can help ensure that machines are running smoothly. This can be done by monitoring motor or mechanical vibration, temperature or pressure. You can also add functionality for a machine or line configuration or setup by adding sensors to verify fixture locations for machine configuration at changeovers.

One way to do this is to wire these sensors to the PLC and modify its code and use it as an all-in-one device. After all, it’s on the machine already. But there’s a definite downside to using a PLC this way. Its processing power is limited, and there are limits to the number of additional processes and functions it can run. Why risk possible complications that could impact the reliability of your control systems? There are alternatives.

External monitoring and support processes

Consider using more flexible platforms, such as an edge gateway, Linux, and IO-Link. These external sources open a whole new world of alternatives that provide better reliability and more options for today and the future. It also makes it easier to access and integrate condition monitoring and configuration data into enterprise IT/OT (information technology/operational technology) systems, which PLCs are not well suited to interface with, if they can be integrated at all.

Here are some practical examples of this type of augmented or add-on/retrofit functionality:

      • Motor or pump vibration condition monitoring
      • Support-process related pressure, vibration and temperature monitoring
      • Monitoring of product or process flow
      • Portable battery based/cloud condition monitoring
      • Mold and Die cloud-based cycle/usage monitoring
      • Product changeover, operator guidance system
      • Automatic inventory monitoring warehouse system

Using external systems for these additional functions means you can readily take advantage of the ever-widening availability of more powerful computing systems and the simple connectivity and networking of smart sensors and transducers. Augmenting and improving your control systems with external monitoring and support processes is one of the notable benefits of employing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 tools.

The ease of with which you can integrate these systems into IT/OT systems, even including cloud-based access, can dramatically change what is now available for process information-gathering and monitoring and augment processes without touching or effecting the rudimentary control system of new or existing machines or lines. In many cases, external systems can even be added at lower price points than PLC modification, which means they can be more easily justified for their ROI and functionality.

Start Condition Monitoring With Vibration Sensors

IIOT (Industrial internet of things) has gained much traction and attraction in past years. With industries getting their assets online for monitoring purposes and new IO-Link sensors providing a ton of information on a single package, monitoring machines has become economically feasible.

Vibration is one of the most critical metrics regarding the health of machines, providing early detection of potential faults – before they cause damage or equipment failure. But since this is a relatively new field and use case, there is not much information about it. Most customers are confused about where to start. They want a baseline to begin monitoring machines and then finetune them to their use case.

“Vibration is one of the most critical metrics regarding the health of machines…”

One approach to solve this is to hire a vibration expert to determine the baseline and the best location to mount the vibration measuring sensor. Proper setup increases the threshold of getting into condition monitoring as a new user figures out the feasibility of such systems.

I direct my customers to this standardized baseline chart from ISO, so they can determine their own baselines and the best mounting positions for their sensors. The table shows the different standards for severity for different machine classes. These standards detail the baseline vibration and show the best place to mount the sensor based on the machine type.

Click here for more information on the benefits of condition monitoring.