Non-contact Power & Data Exchange For Assembly Automation

InductiveCouplersAssembly automation has evolved multi-fold since Ford’s first linear assembly plant. Assembly automation is of course commonly found in Automotive or heavy industries but it has found its way in small parts assembly, consumer goods and other industries that are embracing automation full on.

Typically, in assembly automation, pallets of sub-assemblies travel along the conveyor maze making stops at various stations to get further components and assemblies put on or some kind of operation is being performed on them.

Several times, inspection, measurement or other process specifics demand sensors and actuators to be on-board these pallets. A very common challenge people face in this environment is to provide power and communicate with this traveling assembly. Pin based automatic couplers and/ or manual intervention is common solution. As explained in my previous blog “Inductive Coupling for Robotic End Effectors” the pin based coupling has downfall of being susceptible to environmental elements and mechanical wear. Thus, offering a solution that requires some regular maintenance and related downtime. Manual intervention for inspection or measurement is of course time consuming and laborious activity.

Non-contact inductive coupling offers great benefits in this scenario. Typically, the base (transmitter) is mounted along the conveyor and the remote (receiver) is mounted on the moving pallets. As the pallet moves along the assembly line, the remote, when in-zone of the base, receives power and exchanges data over small air-gap with the base unit. There are three major benefits of this approach

  1. Because of magnetic induction phenomenon, these non-contact couplers are immune to dust, humidity, oil or vibrations, unlike the pin based couplers.
  2. Misalignment tolerance: Inductive couplers do not need to be in exact axial or angular alignment. They can tolerate angular or axial offsets. The amount of offset they can tolerate depends on the particulars but typically 10-20° angular offset is acceptable. So over-time when the conveyor system develops some slag, the inductive couplers won’t fail you that easily.
  3. Scalability: Inductive couplers come in various form factors and functionality that includes Power-only, input only, analog, configurable channels of inputs and outputs, and with IO-Link bi-directional communication. IO-Link inductive couplers offer the greatest benefits as they allow exchanging up to 32bytes of data bi-directionally- so in future if the I/O needs grow for your pallets, it can be easily handled.

You can always learn more about inductive couplers on Balluff’s website at You can also learn more in our Basics overview.

5 Tips on Making End-of-Arm Tooling Smarter

Example of a Flexible EOA Tool with 8 sensors connected with an Inductive Coupling System.

Over the years I’ve interviewed many customers regarding End-Of-Arm (EOA) tooling. Most of the improvements revolve around making the EOA tooling smarter. Smarter tools mean more reliability, faster change out and more in-tool error proofing.

#5: Go Analog…in flexible manufacturing environments, discrete information just does not provide an adequate solution. Analog sensors can change set points based on the product currently being manufactured.

#4: Lose the weight…look at the connectors and cables. M8 and M5 connectorized sensors and cables are readily available. Use field installable connectors to help keep cable runs as short as possible. We see too many long cables simply bundled up.

#3: Go Small…use miniature, precision sensors that do not require separate amplifiers. These miniature sensors not only cut down on size but also have increased precision. With these sensors, you’ll know if a part is not completely seated in the gripper.

#2: Monitor those pneumatic cylinders…monitoring air pressure in one way, but as speeds increase and size is reduced, you really need to know cylinder end of travel position. The best technology for EOA tooling is magnetoresistive such as Balluff’s BMF line. Avoid hall-effects and definitely avoid reed switches. Also, consider dual sensor styles such as Balluff’s V-Twin line.

#1: Go with Couplers…with interchangeable tooling, sensors should be connected with a solid-state, inductive coupling system such as Balluff’s Inductive Coupler (BIC). Avoid the use of pin-based connector systems for low power sensors. They create reliability problems over time.

The True Cost of Low-Cost

As previously discussed, the world of linear position sensors is pretty diverse. There are many types of linear sensors available in many different form factors, employing many different technologies, and coming in at many different price points.  For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine you’re shopping for a linear position sensor, and you’ve decidedon a form factor.  You’ve settled on a position sensor that will be externally mounted on your machine.  And you don’t really care much about the “under the hood” technology; you just care that the sensor does what it’s supposed to do when it’s installed.  Now, let’s further assume that you find a couple of different sensors that you think will do the job, and the only difference is the cost.  It makes sense to choose the lowest cost option, right?  Well, maybe not.

Continue reading “The True Cost of Low-Cost”