Increase Competitiveness with RFID in the Intralogistics Industry

In times of globalization and high labor costs it is a challenge to increase competitiveness in the fashion industry. Within a warehouse, an RFID system supports a high degree of automation as well as short transport distances. To supply dealers and to keep their facility profitable, one of the most successful fashion companies in the world has built a highly modern hanging garment distribution center. Let’s take a look at how they successfully implemented RFID technology to improve their processes.

Separate and sort clothes with just one hybrid module (2D code + RFID)

Within this distribution center 45,000 of these innovative clothes hanger adapters (L-VIS) are used. They replace the previous trolley-based logistics approach by allowing the transportation of a number of different garments that have the same destination.

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L-VIS, clothes hanging adapter made by P.E.P. Fördertechnik

With the investment in some additional space in the so-called buffer or storage zone, and by providing empty trolleys at various locations to keep the product flow moving, this project is successfully accomplished. A major advantage of this system, is the usability over the entire intralogistics chain. From receiving, to the hanging storage, to the sorter for single item identification, and from there as a transport unit to shipping.

The clothes hanger contains an RFID chip, that is automatically read by the conveying technology, and the 2D-code. This code is read manually by employees with a portable acquisition unit. The code can be DMC (Data Matrix Code), QR-Code, or any other optical code standard.

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HUGO BOSS garment distribution center (Metzingen, Germany)

Information exchange without visual contact

A high frequency RFID chip is installed. With this identification system, neither direct alignment nor contact is needed to enable data exchange via nearfield communication. Non-contact identification is extremely reliable and wear-free. The identification system consists of a rugged data carrier, a read/write head and an RFID processor unit. The processor unit communicates to the control system via Profibus, but could be accomplished with ProfiNet or EtherNet/IP as well.

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BIS-M RFID processor unit

The following table gives you an overview of types of Radio Frequency Identification solutions that are available on the market:

Common Types Low Frequency Low Frequency High Frequency Ultra High Frequency
Frequency 70/455 kHz 125 kHz 13.56 MHz 860 … 960 MHz
Short description Dedicated solution to tool identification in Metal-Working industry. Standard solutions for simple Track & Trace applications. Fast & reliable – even with high volumes of data in medium distances in assembly, production and intralogistics. Identification at large distances and bunching capability for current material flow concept.

For the customer, the decision to choose this particular system among others was the separation between the processor and read/write head. In a widespread facility it would not make sense to have a decoder with 30 read/write heads attached. By interfacing two read/write heads per processor, it is possible to track the travel of a transport unit over the entire conveyor line as well as track within the aisles between the individual shelves.

An additional advantage of the system implemented is the housing options. The L-VIS carrier and the 30 mm read/write head are an ideal match. The simple mounting of the processors and ready-to-use connection were of high value to the system integrators. In the sorting area, a 2D code was supplemented by the RFID tags to reach speeds of up to 0.6 and 0.7 m/s. This would probably not have been possible with the installation of a corresponding camera technology.

Experiences have shown, that RFID projects need a lot of support. Consultation and assistance from true experts can be provided by our team. Learn more about RFID technology here.

Back to the Basics: What is the Value of IO-Link?

IO-Link

With the demands for flexible manufacturing, efficient production & visibility in our factories, smart manufacturing is driving the way we work today.  Analytics and diagnostics are becoming critical to our ability to perform predictive maintenance, improve equipment effectiveness and monitor the condition of the machine as well as the components inside the machine.  Typically, our first reaction is to put these devices onto Ethernet.  However, the implementation of Ethernet requires a high skill set that is scarce in our traditional manufacturers today.  Due to the simple control architecture of IO-Link devices, it allows for many Smart devices to provide the data we need for analytics with a reduction in the Ethernet skill set that has become a roadblock for many manufacturers.

Many people think IO-Link is a new industrial network to compete with EtherNet/IP or Profinet, but this is a common misconception. IO-Link is complementary to those networks and typically enables those networks to do even more than previously thought.

Standard IO-Link Setup_01_preview

Open Standard

IO-Link is an open standard designed with the idea to act like USB for industrial automation.  IO-Link is meant to simplify the smart sensor & intelligent device connectivity on the factory floor in a similar way that USB simplified connectivity to computers for auxiliary devices.  IO-Link is not an industrial network or fieldbus; it is an industrial network and industrial controller agnostic. Designed with a master to slave configuration, addressing of the devices is point-to-point, similar to USB.  Compatible IO-Link masters can act as slaves or nodes on a variety of industrial protocols and act complementary to the network of the user’s choosing.  Eliminating the need for serial communication configuration or network addressing simplifies the connection and integration of devices.

Value in Machine Builds

IO-Link has advantages for both machine io-link master_18x18_300dpibuilders and discrete manufacturers.  For machine builders, the biggest advantage comes from the simplified wiring scheme of IO-Link devices.  We have seen machine builder users of IO-Link reduce their wiring hardware & labor costs by 30%-60% for sensors,
outputs & controls.  This is realized with the simple sensor tool cords used for connections, quick-disconnect connectors on the cables and machine mount Ethernet masters devices.  It is also realized for machine builders in an increase of turns on their floor, a reduction in build labor and significantly faster commissioning time.

Value on the Production Floor

For discrete manufacturers, the biggest advantages have come from the parameterization and diagnostic features on the IO-Link devices.  With the ability to store & send parameters between the master & slave, IO-Link devices can be automatically configured. Hot-swapping a complex smart device like a pressure sensor can go from a stressful ordeal including 14-plus setpoints to literally a push of one button.  Combining this functionality with multiple diagnostics both in the master & slaves eliminates human error and dramatically reduces downtime & troubleshooting for manufacturers.

To learn more about market leading IO-Link technologies, visit www.balluff.com.

IO-Link Sensors in Tire Manufacturing

Much has been written here on Sensortech about IO-Link, and the advantages that an IO-Link-based architecture offers. In this article, we’ll take a look at a specific application where those IO-Link advantages are clear.

Tire manufacturing machinery in general, and tire curing presses in particular, incorporate numerous sensors and indicators that contribute to machine efficiency. As an example, tire curing presses often use magnetostrictive linear position sensors for feedback and control of mold open/close. Overwhelmingly, sensors that provide an analog, 4-20 mA signal are used. But maybe there’s a better alternative to typical analog feedback.

As discussed HERE and HERE, migration away from typical analog sensor signals to network-capable IO-Link interfaces makes a great deal of sense in many areas of application.

In a tire manufacturing operation, there are typically numerous, essentially identical curing presses, lined up in a row, all doing essentially the same job. Each press uses multiple analog position sensors that need each need to be connected to the press control system. As with pretty much analog device, the use of individual shielded cables is critical. Individual shielded cables for every sensor is a costly a time-consuming proposition. An Engineering Manager at a machine builder told us recently that wiring each press requires around 300 man hours(!), a significant portion of which is spent on sensor and indicator wiring.

Which brings us to IO-Link. Replacing those analog sensors with IO-Link sensors, allows feedback signals from multiple machines to be consolidated into single cable runs, and connected to the network, be it Ethernet/IP, EtherCat, Profinet, or Profibus. The benefits of such an approach are numerous:

  • Wiring is simple and much more economical
    • Eliminates need for shielded sensor cables
  • Integrated diagnostics allow remote machine status monitoring
  • Reduces more expensive analog IO on the controller side
  • Over-the-network configuration and the ability to store those configurations reduces setup time

And, by the way, the IO-Link story doesn’t end with position sensors. The ever-growing list of IO-Link enabled sensors and indicators allows the benefits to be rolled into many areas of machine automation, such as:

  • Intelligent IO-Link power supplies with HeartBeat technology that monitor their own “health” and report it back over the network (think Predictive Maintenance)
  • Highly-configurable IO-Link stack light alternatives that can be set up to display a number of machine and process condition states
  • IO blocks, memory modules, pressure sensors, discrete (on/off) sensors of all type, and more

To learn more about IO-Link, visit Balluff.com

1 Visual Way to Improve Operator Performace

Many manufacturers I talk to are excited about the possibilities that our new Smart Light technology, used in level mode, brings to their production or machines.  Here’s a video if you havent seen it yet:

It works over virtually any industrial network with an open standard called IO-Link, which I’ve discussed many times in previous posts.

What I’m really impressed with is the number of people integrating the level mode as a quick and easy way to give instantaneous feedback to an operator on their performance to a quota or as a count-down timer.  Here you can see in the middle of the right photo a bright green bar light just to the left of the red kanban rack.  There are multiple of these lights in this image.

Tesla Motors Blog – Factory Upgrade

This light is a five zone Smart Light operating in level mode.  As the cycle time winds down, the light decreases in value until there is no more time, at that point it flashes bright red to notify the operator to cycle to the next vehicle.  It keeps the production on track and helps operators know quickly and easily how much time remains.  What I’ve been told is nice about this is how bright the light is and that it is easily install-able without a controls cabinet or slice i/o j-box like you can see in the photo.  Others like it because it makes the data visual from all over, where HMIs require you to stand right in front of them for information.

So if you are trying to think about ways to visualize data in your process or production to operators or managers, there are many others out there already using Smart Light for that application. Check it out.

Stop Industrial Network Failures With One Simple Change

Picture1

It’s the worst when a network goes down on a piece of equipment.  No diagnostics are available to help troubleshooting and all communication is dead.  The only way to find the problem is to physically and visually inspect the hardware on the network until you can find the culprit.  Many manufacturers have told me over the past few months about experiences they’ve had with down networks and how a simple cable or connector is to blame for hours of downtime.

2013-08-19_Balluff-IO-Link_Mexico_Manufactura-de-Autopartes_healywBy utilizing IO-Link, which has been discussed in these earlier blogs, and by changing the physical routing of the network hardware, you can now eliminate the loss of communication.  The expandable architecture of IO-Link allows the master to communicate over the industrial network and be mounted in a “worry-free” zone away from any hostile environments.  Then the IO-Link device is mounted in the hostile environment like a weld cell and it is exposed to the slag debris and damage.  If the IO-Link device fails due to damage, the network remains connected and the IO-Link master reports detailed diagnostics on the failure and which device to replace.  This can dramatically reduce the amount of time production is down.  In addition the IO-Link device utilizes a simple sensor cable for communication and can use protection devices designed for these types of cables.  The best part of this is that the network keeps communicating the whole time.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits that IO-Link can provide to manufacturers visit www.balluff.us.

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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A 3-Step Plan to Improve Your Design of Pneumatic Systems

I’ve been talking pneumatic systems (valves, cylinders, actuators, etc.) recently with my customers and I’m finding among these engineers some common pains coming out of the system design.  It seems that many people are researching networked valve islands with I/O built-in.  These seem to be a great way to consolidate lots of I/O into one IP address, but there are some new issues cropping up similar to the above photo:

  • When assembling these at a machine builder the routing of cables with piping is more cumbersome  with cables hanging off the valves, larger cable tray installations  and large amounts of piping all running to the same spot.
  • For machine builders, with all of the valves centralized in one place, the pneumatic lines have to be longer.  This causes many issues such as slower responsiveness due to air volume, air inertia, and lower air quality.
  • When trying to perform maintenance at an end-user, it becomes a nightmare to troubleshoot with a cluster of cables and pipes.  The zip-tied and clean runs installed by the machine builder are cut, tangled and re-routed as the machine ages and becomes more difficult to troubleshoot.
  • Also at end users, if the manifold needs to be expanded, updated, retrofitted with new valves or I/O, there are big hurdles to jump when doing this: re-piping the valve due to mounting position shifting or even having to edit and repair code in the PLC to adapt to new bitmaps generated by the new valve manifold configuration.
  • When closing the loop with magnetic field sensors mounted on the cylinders, typically reed switches are used which are prone to failure.  In addition, these switches typically have two sensors & cables per actuator to give extend or retract position, these cables cause larger cable trays and long cable runs back to the centralized manifold and I/O.

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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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The Best Way to Communicate with Smart Sensors

When I am discussing with customers the use of smart sensors and smart devices in industrial automation, I always get posed with these questions:

  • How do the smart sensors interface with the controller?
  • How do you configure the device?
  • How do you get diagnostics out of it?
  • What other information can it provide?

This is sort of solved in a muddled world of proprietary communications or expensive network enabled sensors.  But John and I have been talking for a long time about IO-Link, which can easily and cost effectively answer all these questions!

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