2 Simple Ways to Protect from Arc Flash Hazards

If you are a manager at any level of a manufacturing facility, I hope you are aware of the dangers of arc flash.  For those who are not aware, “an arc flash, also called arc blast or arc fault is a type of electrical explosion that results from a low-impedance connection to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system.”  Typically this does not occur in 120V situations, but can occur in 480V+ installations if proper precautions are not taken.  Employees can be severely injured or even killed when an accident occurs while working with these kinds of electrical systems.   There are many standards  like OSHA, IEEE and NFPA that regulate these types of situations to provide a safe working environment for the employee.  In addition to those standards, I would propose two simple changes to controls architecture and design to help limit the exposure to working inside an electrical cabinet.

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IO-Link is the USB for Industrial Automation

I’ve recently heard this comparison used a number of times and the parallels are quite interesting.  USB was designed to help standardize a dizzying array of connectors and configurations of supplementary devices that developed during the age of the Compaq vs IBM.  It always took days to configure and establish communication between devices and then finally you could never get all the functionality that the device promised because of your PC’s specific configuration.  USB revolutionized the personal computer by allowing for a standard interface for simple devices from hard-drives to keyboard lights, and best of all by offering a device drivers the functionality promised could be delivered.  If the device broke, you bought a new one, plugged it in and it worked.

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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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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

Intelligent Interfaces and IO-Link Innovation

I recently had the opportunity to attend Hannover Fair in Germany and was blown away by the experience… buildings upon buildings of automation companies doing amazing things and helping us build our products faster, smarter and cheaper.  One shining topic for me at the fair was the continued growth of new products being developed with IO-Link communications in them.

All in all, the growth of IO-Link products is being driven by the need of customers to know more about their facility, their process and their production.  IO-Link devices are intelligent and utilize a master device to communicate their specific information over an industrial network back to the controller.  To learn more about IO-Link, read my previous entry, 5 Things You Need to Know about IO-Link.

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You can be doing MORE with Your Sensors!

Recently Hank Hogan published an article in Control Design titled “Sensor, Diagnose Thyself.”  (To be honest, I really wanted to steal his title for my blog entry.)   I think Hank did a great job dissecting the key benefits of smart sensors and the amazing things you can do with them.  Utilizing the technology IO-Link (that we have discussed in many past Blog Entries), sensors can communicate more with the controller and provide more data than ever before.

Some of the key points that I really thought are useful to maintenance and engineers at end-user facilities or machine builders:

  • Being able to detect and notify about pending failures; for example a photoeye’s lens is dirty and needs to be cleaned.
  • A failed sensor needs to be swapped out quickly; IO-Link allows for the smart sensors settings to be cloned and the swap to be executed super fast.
  • Configure a sensor before installation; program with your laptop: sample rate, response time, measurement settings, on/off switch points, anything!
  • One platform can be used for many sensor types;  this gives familiarity to a single interface while using multiple sensor types and technologies.
  • In the future sensors in a wireless cloud would self-heal;  this is an amazing concept and if we can figure out the price for radios and batteries to make it cost-effective, I think this could be a game changer someday.

But all that being said, it really comes down to the total cost of ownership doing it the standard sensor way versus the smart sensor way.  I think you will pay more upfront in capital but down the line there will be less cost in maintenance and downtime.

To learn more about about IO-Link visit www.balluff.us

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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Industrial Network Basics: Simplifying I/O Terminology

There are many terms used for I/O technology in industrial automation: Remote I/O, Distributed I/O,  Modular I/O, Expandable I/O, Block I/O, Conventional I/O and the list can go on.  What do they all mean?  Can they be used interchangeably?  What is the difference?

Lets be honest… this is a muddled topic and many people use different things interchangeably.  I’ve done a bit of research and reading of automation magazines, forums and websites and have tried to piece it together.

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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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Where does IO-Link go in 2011?

As I sit and ponder what 2011 will look like, only one thought comes to mind, the endless possibilities of IO-Link.

I have written many entries on IO-Link and as I see it there are much more to come.  Why more IO-Link?  The answer is simple; we have just scratched the surface of the potential of what an IO-Link system can offer an end-customer or OEM.  Let’s talk about a few upcoming milestones in 2011 to look forward to:

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