Miniaturization is one of the essential requirements for medical instruments and laboratory equipment used in the life science industry. As instruments get smaller and smaller, the sensor components must also become smaller, lighter and more flexible. The photoelectric sensors that were commonly used in general automation and applied in life science applications have met their limitations in size and performance.
Sensors used in these complex applications require numerous special characteristics such as high-quality optics, unique housing designs, precise LEDs with the best suited wavelength and the ability to be extremely flexible to fit in the extremely small space available. Sensors have been developed to meet the smallest possible installation footprint with the highest optical precision and enough flexibility to be installed where they are needed. These use integrated micro-precision optics that shape and focus the light beam exactly on the object without any undesirable side-effects to achieve the reliability demanded in today’s applications.
Previously many life science applications used conventional plastic fiber optic cables that were often too large and not flexible enough to be routed through the instruments. An alternative to the classic fiber cables is a “wired” fiber with precision micro-optics and extremely flexible cables with essentially no minimum bending radius and no significant coupling losses. Similar to a conventional fiber optic sensor, an external amplifier is required to provide a wide variety of functionalities to solve the demanding applications.
These sensors can be used in applications such as:
Precise detection of liquid levels using either attenuation or refraction with a small footprint
Reliable detection of transparent objects such as microscope slides or coverslips having various edge shapes
Detection of transparent liquids in micro-channels or capillaries
Reliable detection of individual droplets
Recognition of free-floating micro-bubbles in a tube that are smaller than the tube diameter and that cannot be seen by the human eye
Recognition of macro-bubbles that are the diameter of small tubes
For more information on photoelectric sensors that have the capability to meet the demands of today’s life science applications visit www.balluff.com.
Photoelectric sensors with laser and red-light are widely used in all areas of industrial automation. A clean, dust-free and dry environment is usually essential for the proper operation of photoeyes, however, they can be the best choice in many dirty and harsh applications. Examples of this are raw steel production in steel mills and further metallurgical processes down to casting and hot-rolling.
Photoelectric sensors are especially useful in these environments thanks to their long sensing distance and their ability to detect objects independent of their material.
Most photoelectric sensors are approved to work in ambient temperatures of 55 to 60 °C. The maximum temperature range of these sensors is most often limited by the specifications of the optical components of the sensor, like the laser-diodes, but by taking certain precautions photoelectric sensors can provide optimal use in much hotter applications.
Maximize the distance In steel production many parts of the process are accompanied by high ambient temperatures. Liquid steel and iron have temperatures from 1400 to 1536 °C. Material temperature during continuous casting and hot-rolling are lower but still between 650 and 1250°C.
The impact of heat emission on the sensors can be reduced significantly by placing the sensor as far from the target object as possible, something you can’t do with inductive sensors which have a short range. Very often the remote mounting will allow the sensor to operate at room temperature.
Detect Glowing Metals If you want to reliably detect red-hot or white glowing steel parts with temperatures beyond 700 °C, you won’t be able to use standard laser or red-light sensors. Red-hot steel emits light at the same wavelength that it is used by photoelectric sensors. This can interfere with the function of the sensor. In such applications you need to use sensors which operate based on infrared light.
At many locations in the steel production process, the extensive heat is only temporary. In a hot rolling mill, a slab runs through a rougher mill multiple times before it continues to a multi-stage finishing mill stand to be rolled to the final thickness. After that the metal strip runs into the coiler to be winded up.
This process runs in sequence, and the glowing material is only present at each stage of production for a short time. Until a new slab runs out of the reheating furnace, temperatures normalize.
Standard sensors can work in these conditions, but you do run the risk of even temporary temperature hikes causing sensor failure and then dreaded downtime. To protect photoelectric sensors against temporary overheating, you can use a protective enclosure. These can provide mechanical and thermal protection to the sensors which often have plastic bodies. Additional protection can be achieved when a heat resistant sleeve is used around the cable.
Photoelectric sensors do have their limits and are not suitable for all applications, even when precautions are taken. Ask yourself these questions when deciding if they can be the right solution for your high temperature applications.
Which distance between the hot object and sensor can be realized?
What is the maximum temperature at this location?
How long will the sensor be exposed to the highest heat levels during normal operation and at breakdown?
The complexity of factory automation creates constant challenges which drive innovation in the industry. One of these challenges involves the ability to accurately detect the presence of shiny or highly reflective objects. This is a common challenge faced in a variety of applications, from sensing wheels in an automotive facility to detecting an aluminum can for filling purposes at a beverage plant. However, thanks to advancements in photoelectric sensing technologies, there is a reliable solution for those type of applications.
Why are highly reflective objects a challenge?
Light reflects from these types of objects in different directions, and with minimum energy loss. This can cause the receiver of a photoelectric sensor to be unable to differentiate between a signal received from the emitter or a signal received from a shiny object. In the case of a diffuse sensor, there is also the possibility that when trying to detect a shiny object, the light will reflect away from the receiver causing the sensor to ignore the target.
So how do we control the direction of the light going back to the receiver, and avoid false triggering from other light sources? The answer is in polarized retroreflective sensors.
Retroreflective sensors require a reflector which reflects the light back to the sensor allowing it to be captured by the receiver. This is achieved by incorporating sets of three mirrors oriented at right angles from each other (referred to as corner cubes). A light beam entering this system is reflected by all three surfaces and exits parallel to the incident beam. Additionally, corner cubes are said to be optically active as they rotate the plane of oscillation of the light by 90 degrees. This concept, along with polarization, allow this type of sensor to accurately detect shiny objects.
Light emitted by a regular light source oscillates in planes on dispersal axes. If the light meets a polarizing filter (fine line grid), only the light oscillating parallel to the grid is let through (see figure 1 below).
In polarized retroreflective sensors, a horizontal polarized filter is placed in front of the emitter and a vertical one in front of the receiver. By doing this, the transmitted light oscillates horizontally until it hits the reflector. The corner cubes of the reflector would then rotate the polarization direction by 90 degrees and reflect the light back to the sensor. This way, the returning light can pass through the vertical polarized filter on the receiver as shown below.
With the use of polarization and corner cubed reflectors, retroreflective sensors can create a closed light circuit which ensures that light detected by the receiver was sourced exclusively by the emitter. This creates a great solution for applications where highly reflective targets are influencing the accuracy of sensors or causing them to malfunction. By ensuring proper operation of photoelectric sensors, unplanned downtime can be avoided, and overall process efficiency can be improved.
Clear or transparent sensing targets can be a challenge but not an insurmountable one. Applications can detect or measure the amount of clear or transparent film on a roll or the level of a clear or transparent media, either liquid or solid. The question for these applications becomes, do I use light or sound as a solution?
In an application that requires the measurement of the diameter of a roll of clear labels, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Are the labels and the backing clear? Will the label transparency and the background transparency change? Will the labels have printing on them? All of these possibilities will affect which sensor should be used. Users should also ask how accurate or how much resolution is required.
Faced with this application, using ultrasonic sensors may be a better choice because of their ability to see targets regardless of color, possible printing on the label, transparency and surface texture or sheen. Some or all of these variables could affect the performance of a photoelectric sensor.
Ultrasonic sensors emit a burst of short high frequency sound waves that propagate in a cone shape towards the target. When the sound waves strike the target, they are bounced back to the sensor. The sensor then calculates the distance based on the time span from when the sound was emitted until the sound was received.
In some instances, and depending on the resolution required, a time of flight sensor may solve the above application. Time of Flight (TOF) sensors emit a pulsed light toward the target object. The light is then reflected back to the receiver. The elapsed time it takes for the light to return to the receiver is measured, thus determining the distance to the target. In this case, the surface finish and transparency may not be an issue.
Imagine trying to detect a clear piece of plastic going over a roll. The photoelectric sensor could detect it either in a diffuse mode or with a retroreflective sensor designed for clear glass detection. But what if the plastic characteristics can change frequently or if the surface flutters. Again, the ultrasonic sensor may be a better choice and also may not require set up any time the material changes.
So what’s the best solution? In the end, test the application with the worst case scenario. A wide variety of sensors are available to solve these difficult applications, including photoelectric or ultrasonic. Both sensors have continuous analog and discrete outs. For more information visit www.balluff.com.
Photoelectric applications with space restrictions, small part detection, high temperatures, or aggressive harsh environments may be solved using fiber optic sensors. These sensors allow the electronics to be mounted out of harm’s way while at the same time focusing the light beam on a small target. The sensing tips can be manufactured in a wide variety of housings for unique mounting requirements.
Fiber optic sensors require two components: a remote mounted amplifier, and the fiber optic cable(s). The amplifiers can be basic, with few features, or advanced with many configurable options and digital displays. The fiber optic cables are made of either plastic or glass fibers, each with advantages and application specific solutions.
Many applications, primarily those in the medical sciences and semiconductor industries, cannot be solved with fiber optic or miniature photoelectric sensors because they are physically too large to fit in the instruments. Additionally, the cables are typically not flexible enough to be routed through the instruments. Today, highly flexible and miniature sensors are are being incorporated in other industries due to today’s demands of smaller machines and tools.
MICROmote® sensors are miniaturized photoelectric sensors with separate amplifiers that are also available with a variety of functionalities. Their highly flexible, electric sensor cables make them a genuine technical alternative to conventional fiber optics. The photoelectric sensor heads have extraordinarily small dimensions, excellent technical characteristics, and outstanding flexibility for application-specific solutions.
Similar to fiber optic sensors, these micro-optic photoelectric sensors function as either a through-beam or diffuse type sensor with comparable sensing ranges. Unlike fibers, the wired sensing heads are inherently bifurcated type cables so that there is only one connection to the amplifier.
Unlike conventional fiber optic cables, there are no significant coupling losses, minimum bending radius and cyclic bending stresses. The patented precision elements produce extremely small beam angles with sharply defined light spots unlike standard fiber optics where the beam angle is a function of the fiber geometry. Additional lenses must be used if the light beam of a fiber optic cable must be focused which adds to the costs.
MICROmote® photoelectric sensors for water detection use a specific wavelength at which water absorbs more light. This significantly simplifies the detection of liquids with high water content using optical sensors. The combination of an ultra-compact design and powerful micro-optics allows for reliable use in capillary tubes where other sensing devices are stretched to their limits.
These sensors can also be used as precision tube sensors for detecting bubbles through use of either light refraction or attenuation through the air, or liquid column within the tube. They provide excellent detection for even the smallest air-to-liquid transitions and are reliable for all liquid types, even clear liquids.
In addition, these sensors are designed to detect free-floating microbubbles in transparent liquids. Microbubbles refer to little gas bubbles with dimensions smaller than the inside diameter of the tube. Uniform lighting is achieved in the liquid column by using a concentrated arrangement of multiple light beams with very uniform intensity distribution. Gas bubbles that move through this field induce a signal jump in the built-in photoelectric receiver elements
For more information on this technological alternative to fiber optics visit www.balluff.com.
In the last post about the Basics of Automation, we discussed how objects can be detected, collected and positioned with the help of sensors. Now, let’s take a closer look at how non-contact measurement—both linear and rotary—works to measure distance, travel, angle, and pressure.
Measuring travel, distance, position, angle and pressure are common tasks in automation. The measuring principles used are as varied as the different tasks.
Magnetostrictive enables simultaneous measurement of multiple positions and can be used in challenging environments.
Magnet coded enables the highest accuracy and real-time measurement.
Inductive is used for integration in extremely tight spaces and is suitable for short distances.
Photoelectric features flexible range and is unaffected by the color or surface properties of the target object.
Different Sensors for Different Applications
Disc brakes are used at various locations
in wind power plants. With their durability and precise measurement, inductive distance sensors monitor these brake discs continuously and provide a timely warning if the brake linings need to be changed.
In winding and unwinding equipment, a photoelectric sensor continuously measures the increasing or decreasing roll diameter. This means the rolls can be changed with minimal stoppages.
Linear position measurement
Workpieces are precisely positioned on the slide of a linear axis. This allows minimal loss of production time while ensuring quality. Magnetic encoders installed along the linear axis report the actual slide position to the controller (PLC) continuously and in real time — even when the slide is moving at a speed of up to 10 m/s.
In a machine tool the clamping state of a spindle must be continuously monitored during machining. This improves results on the workpiece and increases the reliability of the overall system. Inductive positioning systems provide continuous feedback to the controller: whether the spindle is unclamped, clamped with a tool or clamped without a tool.
Rotational position measurement
Workpieces such as a metal plate are printed, engraved or cut on a cut/print machine. This demands special accuracy in positioning it on the machine. Magnetic encoders on both rotating axes of the machine measure the position of the workpiece and ensure an even feed rate.
In a parabolic trough system,
sunlight is concentrated on parabolic troughs using parabolic mirrors allowing the heat energy to be stored. To achieve the optimal energy efficiency, the position of the parabolic mirror must be guided to match the sun’s path. Inclination sensors report the actual position of the parabolic mirror to the controller, which then adjusts as needed.
Pressure and Level Measurement
Consistently high surface quality of the machined workpiece must be ensured in a machine tool. This requires continuous monitoring of the coolant feed system pressure. Pressure sensors can reliably monitor the pressure and shut down the machine within a few milliseconds when the defined pressure range is violated.
In many tanks and vats, the fill height of the liquid must be continually measured. This is accomplished using ultrasonic sensors, which note levels regardless of color, transparency or surface composition of the medium. These sensors detect objects made of virtually any material (even sound-absorbing) including liquids, granulates and powders.
Stay tuned for future posts that will cover the essentials of automation. To learn more about the Basics of Automation in the meantime, visit www.balluff.com.
Both washdown and hygienic design are common terms used in the food and beverage industry, and are increasingly being used in the packaging industry. These terms are used in different scenarios and easily confused with each other. What exactly are the differences between them, and in what applications are each used?
Why are hygienic design and washdown needed?
The consumer, and more specifically, the health of the consumer is the core concern of the food and beverage industry. Contaminated food can pose a danger to life and limb. A product recall damages the image of a company, costs a lot of money and as a worst case scenario can lead to the complete closing of the company. To prevent such scenarios, a producers primary objective is to make sure that the food is safe and risk-free for the consumer.
In food manufacturing and packaging plants, a differentiation is made between the food area (in direct contact with the product), the spray area (product-related) and the non-food area. The requirements of the machine components are different depending on which area they are in.
The Food Area
In the food area the food is unpacked, or partially unpacked, and particularly susceptible to contamination. All components and parts that may come in contact with the food must not adversely affect this, e.g. in terms of taste and tolerability.
The following needs to be considered to avoid contamination:
Hygiene in production
Use of food contact materials
Food-grade equipment in Hygienic Design
These requirements result in the need for components that follow the hygienic design rules. If the component supplier fulfills these rules, the machine manufacturer can use the components and the producer can use the machines without hesitation.
Many component suppliers offer different solutions for hygienic design and each supplier interprets the design differently. So what does hygienic design mean? What must be included and which certifications are the right ones?
The material used must be FoodContact Material (FCM). This means that the material is non-corrosive, non-absorbent and non-contaminating, disinfectable, pasteurisable and sterilizable.
Seals must be present to prevent the ingress of microorganisms.
The risk of part loss must be minimized.
Smooth surfaces with a radius of < 0.8 μm are permitted.
There must be no defects, folds, breaks, cracks, crevices, injection-molded seams, or joints, even with material transitions.
There must be no holes or depressions and no corners of 90°.
The minimum radius should be 3 mm.
Supporting institutions and related certifications
There are different institutions which confirm and verify the fulfillment of these rules. They also support the companies during the development process.
EHEDG – The European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group offers machine builders and component suppliers the possibility to evaluate and certify their products according to Hygienic Design requirements.
3A – 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI) is an independent, non-profit corporation in the U.S. for the purpose of improving hygiene design in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The 3-A guidelines are intended for the design, manufacture and cleaning of the daily food accessories used in handling, manufacturing and packaging of edible products with high hygiene requirements.
FDA – The Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments. Among other things, the FDA is responsible for food safety.
What does a hygienic design product look like?
Below is an example of a hygienic design product.
Stainless steel housing VA 1.4404
Protection class IP69K (IEC 60529)
Active surface made of PEEK
Since the product contacting area is associated with high costs for the plant manufacturer and the operator, it’s beneficial to keep it as small as possible.
The Spray Area
In the spray area, there are different requirements than in the food area.
Depending on the type of food that is processed, a further distinction is made between dry and wet areas.
Here we are talking about the washdown area. Washdown capable areas are designed for the special environmental conditions and the corresponding cleaning processes.
Components which fulfill washdown requirements usually have the following features:
Cleaning agent/corrosion resistant materials (often even food compliant, but this is not a must)
High protection class (usually IP 67 and IP 69K)
Resistant to cleaning agents
Ecolab and Diversey are two well-known companies whose cleaning agents are used for appropriate tests:
Ecolab Inc. and Diversey Inc. are US based manufacturers of cleaning agents for the food and beverage industry. Both companies offer certification of equipment’s resistance to cleaning agents. These certificates are not prescribed by law and are frequently used in the segments as proof of stability.
The washdown component must also be easy and safe to clean. However, unlike the hygienic design, fixing holes, edges and threads are permitted here.
Photoelectric sensors have been around for a long time and have made huge advancements in technology since the 1970’s. We have gone from incandescent bulbs to modulated LED’s in red light, infrared and laser outputs. Today we have multiple sensing modes like through-beam, diffuse, background suppression, retroreflective, luminescence, distance measuring and the list goes on and on. The outputs of the sensors have made leaps from relays to PNP, NPN, PNP/NPN, analog, push/pull, triac, to having timers and counters and now they can communicate on networks.
The ability of the sensor to communicate on a network such as IO-Link is now enabling sensors to be smarter and provide more and more information. The information provided can tell us the health of the sensor, for example, whether it needs re-alignment to provide us better diagnostics information to make troubleshooting faster thus reducing downtimes. In addition, we can now distribute I/O over longer distances and configure just the right amount of IO in the required space on the machine reducing installation time.
IO-Link networks enable quick error free replacement of sensors that have failed or have been damaged. If a sensor fails, the network has the ability to download the operating parameters to the sensor without the need of a programming device.
With all of these advancements in sensor technology why do we still have different sensors for each sensing mode? Why can’t we have one sensor with one part number that would be completely configurable?
Just think of the possibilities of a single part number that could be configured for any of the basic sensing modes of through-beam, retroreflective, background suppression and diffuse. To be able to go from 30 or more part numbers to one part would save OEM’s end users a tremendous amount of money in spares. To be able to change the sensing mode on the fly and download the required parameters for a changing process or format change. Even the ability to teach the sensing switch points on the fly, change the hysteresis, have variable counter and time delays. Just imagine the ability to get more advanced diagnostics like stress level (I would like that myself), lifetime, operating hours, LED power and so much more.
Obviously we could not have one sensor part number with all of the different light sources but to have a sensor with a light source that could be completely configurable would be phenomenal. Just think of the applications. Just think outside the box. Just imagine the possibilities. Let us know what your thoughts are.
Continuous measurements on industrial machines or the materials that these machines are making, moving, or processing can be categorized into two main types of sensors: position measurement sensors, and distance measurement sensors. It’s a somewhat subtle distinction, but one that is important when evaluating the best measurement sensor for a particular application.
Position Measurement: When we speak in terms of position measurement, we’re typically talking about applications where a the sensor is installed onto a machine, and mechanically coupled to the moving part of the machine – or is installed into a hydraulic cylinder that is moving the machine – and is reporting the continuous position of the machine. In a positioning application, the questions that need to be answered are: “Where is it? Where is it now? And now?”.
Examples of position measurement sensors include magnetostrictive linear position sensors and magnetically encoded linear sensors. With each of these sensor types, either the sensor itself, or the position marker, is typically attached to the moving part of the machine.
Distance Measurement: Distance measurement sensors, on the other hand, are used in applications that require accurate measurement of a target that is typically no part of the machine. A good example would be an application where parts or components are moving along a conveyer belt, and the position of those parts needs to be accurately measured. In this example, it wouldn’t be practical, or even possible, to attach a sensor to the moving part. So its position needs to be measured from a DISTANCE. In a distance measuring application, the question being answered is: “How far away is it?”.
Examples of distance measuring sensors include photoelectric (laser) sensors and inductive distance sensors. These types of sensors are usually mounted on the machine, or in the immediate vicinity of the machine, and are aimed at a point or a path where the object to be measured is, or will be, located.
In summary, while both position and distance sensors do much the same thing – provide continuous indication of position – the applications for each are generally quite different. Gaining an understanding of the application and its requirements will help to determine which type of sensor is the best choice for the task.
For more information on position and distance measurement sensors, visit www.balluff.com.
In the past, color sensors emitted light using red, green and blue LEDs’. The sensors were then able to distinguish colors using the RGB components of the reflected light back to the sensor’s receiver. As technology has progressed true color sensors have been developed that not only can compare colors but measure them more accurately than the human eye.
Color sensors are based on diffuse technology and can be compared to a fixed focus or convergent sensor because of the focused light spot. Unlike color contrast sensors that only detect the difference between two colors based on brightness, color sensors can detect a wide range of colors.
True color sensors typically use white LED’s which allow for a greater color spectrum evaluation. Combine this with the CIELAB color system which is one of the most versatile color systems and the result is a color sensor that equals or exceeds the human eye. The CIELAB color system is a three-dimensional independent infinite representation of colors. The L component for lightness and a and b components for color are predefined absolute values. Lightness varies from black (0) to the brightest white (100). Color channel a varies from green negative 100 to red positive 100. Color channel b varies from blue negative 100 to yellow positive 100 with gray values at a=0 and b=0.
Due to the technology, color sensors can check only a small spot of color but can check this spot amazingly fast – up to 1.5 kHz in case of the Balluff’s fiber optic BFS 33M which also has a range of 400mm. Unlike a color sensor camera, which will focus on the object’s surface pattern and may cause false readings the true color sensor will ignore patterns thus providing more accurate color detection. In addition the true color sensor will have more outputs than the color camera.
Smart color cameras are working with RGB but could work also with HSV color models. They could be used to check larger areas for the same color or color codes on a part, but have slower update rate of 50 Hz. Special cameras for faster applications are available in the market but at higher costs. It is important that the light source for the smart color cameras be a white light with a standardized white balance, and that this light must kept constant for all checks to avoid errors.
The sophistication on the front end of the color sensor can be much more advanced and still remain a cost effective option for industrial use due to the fact that a camera requires a much larger processing system. The more sophisticated the sensors are in the camera the more robust the processor must be in order to process or map the data into an image.