Stacklights deliver versatile multi-status indication in real time

With advanced communication technology, stacklights can provide valuable information to operators and floor managers.

Rainer3It’s a new world for real-time, point-of-use information. Stacklights and indicators can provide much more feedback to operators and plant floor managers than ever before.

Using colored lights, stacklights can convey a wide range of information. While red, yellow, green and blue are the standard stacklight colors, a variety of other colors can be used to indicate specific conditions and needs.  It is important to develop a communication plan to clearly identifies what each color and flashing pattern represents.

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Color overload can be a problem if not planned out properly. The best planning utilizes a dual color approach where colors are defined by personnel responsible and machine/process status at the point of use. An example would be yellow/blue indication wherein yellow = process slowdown and blue = line supervisor is responsible. This responsibility is clearly on the line supervisor to fix the slowdown at the point of indication. Flashing multiple colors is one method to dual color indication, but that has proven to be confusing. A much more intuitive approach is to segment the indicators based on your communication plan. Even small, point-of-use indicators can be segmented to exceed your goals.

OwnerWe have also seen customers mixing their own colors to achieve a level of differentiation. This differentiation could be simple appearance preference or adherence to their corporate color identity. All very achievable with the new class of smart, LED based stacklights and indicators.

By providing continuously variable information, also referred to as analog information, stacklights can be used to indicate current level status in tanks, hoppers, feeders, flow racks and so on. Continuously variable information is also ideal to use in pacing for operators in manual assembly areas. They can quickly see how much time each individual person has for their process step. If someone is struggling, others can visibly see the situation and step in and help.

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Another popular use is simply displaying that the machine is in idle state, like the spinning icon on computers. This would typically suspend all other forms of indication.  Basically, it indicates the machine is not ready. The color indicators can be used as part of a communication plan to indicate the reason for the idle time and call for specific personnel to respond. As soon as the machine is ready, the indicators and stacklights revert to normal operations, just like your computer.

Stacklights can additionally provide operational status such as flow rates, pressure values and process speed.

To learn more about stacklights and indicators, visit www.balluff.com.

Collaborative Automation…It’s Not Just for Robots

Manufacturing is made up of hundreds of discrete operations. Some are repetitive, while others are more diverse. Repetitive tasks are ideal for automation while diverse tasks require more flexibility. And while automation can be extremely flexible, that comes with a high initial investment costs and significant deployment time. The alternative? People!

Humans have the unrivaled ability to adapt to a diverse and flexible manufacturing environment. They can be productive relatively quickly with proper guidance without high initial cost investments.

But as we all know, “to err is human” and this is one of the biggest issues with manual operations. People need a little guidance from time to time. Collaboration is not just for robots; It’s for complete automation systems as well.

Collaborative automation is most important at the point-of-use, where humans are performing critical operations. Some of those common operations include:

  • Manual assembly for low volume or highly flexible operations
  • Delivery of raw materials to the point-of-use
  • Kit assembly for down-stream operation
  • Machine setup and change-over
  • Machine maintenance and calibration

All of these functions can be done error-free and with little training by simply guiding people within their current work envelope, also referred to as their point-of-use. This type of a lean function provides hands-free guidance in the form of indication devices connected directly to your automation system allowing workers to stay focused on the task at hand instead of looking elsewhere for instructions.

With the technology of IO-Link, smart indication devices can now show much more information to all the people involved in specific manufacturing tasks. Automation has an immediate and direct connection to the people that are so vital.

For example, in a manually-fed weld-cell, the smart indicators are capable of not only signaling that the part is loaded correctly, but also whether the part is out of alignment (shown here by the red indicator) or that something wrong with one of the automation components such as a stuck pneumatic clamp.

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A manually-fed weld-cell with smart indicators is capable of not only signaling that the part is loaded correctly, but also if the part is out of alignment (shown by the red indicator) or that there is something wrong with one of the automation components such as a stuck pneumatic clamp.

Even better, with IIoT technology, trends can be analyzed to determine if the fixture/tool could be optimized for production or to identify common failure points. This all leads to tighter collaboration with operations, maintenance personnel and production supervisors.

A traditional kitting station, sometimes referred to as a supermarket, is another ideal application for smart indicators. Not only can they guide a single operator to the intended part to pull, they can guide multiple operators at the same time.  Also, smart indicators can inform of incorrect pulls, potential bin options (a physically closure bin), directional information, and inventory levels. And again, with IIoT technology, trends can be analyzed to determine proper layout, individual personnel performance and system throughput. The automation system collaborates with operations, forklift drivers and production supervisors.

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A traditional kitting station, sometimes referred to as a supermarket, with smart indicators to guide operators to the intended part to pull.

So, take a look and see what a collaborative automation system utilizing smart indicators can do for your manual operations. You might be surprised.