Unlocking the Future of Manufacturing With Smart Sensor Technology

In the present technological age, sensing technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, transforming the way we monitor the manufacturing process. One of the newest innovations that will reshape various manufacturing and industries is the advent of smart sensor products. These “smart” sensing devices have permeated every aspect of our lives personally, let alone in manufacturing, and offer unparalleled advantages in information, efficiency, convenience, and sustainability. Let’s explore some of the compelling reasons why smart sensors will soon become indispensable in manufacturing and highlight the aspects they will impact.

Beyond single sensing

Smart sensor products are engineered to offer more than just a single sensing function, such as a photoeye sensor detecting the presence of a pallet. They can also detect and respond to various environmental inputs like internal temperature, cycle count, vibration, and even inclination changes. This enables significantly greater insight into a changing manufacturing environment, possibly even prompting the need for human intervention before a failure occurs.

Efficiency, automation, and cost savings

In manufacturing, sensors play a crucial role in improving production processes, reducing waste, and enhancing quality control. But today’s smart sensors can also provide greater efficiency and speed in changes to the manufacturing environment and automate not only the manufacturing process but the detection of changes as well. This increased efficiency and automation not only saves time and resources but also holds the potential for substantial long-term cost savings by minimizing waste.

Real-time insights for informed decisions

Smart sensors can collect and report significant real-time data, providing valuable insights into various phenomena, as mentioned above. In manufacturing, imagine detecting a rise in temperature on the production line that could potentially affect product quality or the efficiency of the manufacturing equipment. Or consider identifying changes in a sensor’s inclination, possibly because the device has come loose or shifts in the machine’s mounting – both of which can negatively affect product quality and productivity, lead to waste, and even unplanned downtime.

Smart sensors and environmental conservation

The ability to collect and analyze precise environment and device performance data empowers manufacturers and industries to make informed decisions, encourage innovation, and significantly improve problem-solving processes.

Smart sensor products can play a pivotal role in environmental conservation efforts. By monitoring conditions like vibration and even inclination, these sensors can detect problems in motors and drive systems that can have a direct impact on energy consumption. Typically, they tend to consume more power to compensate for the impending mechanical failures. By detecting these conditions sooner rather than later, smart sensors can help optimize energy usage in manufacturing industries, contributing to the global push for energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.

Safety enhancement

Smart sensor technologies can also bolster safety measures across various systems. In manufacturing, they can detect hazardous conditions like excessive heat buildup and vibration. This enables prompt interventions and helps prevent accidents that could jeopardize safety.

IoT with smart sensors

And finally, smart sensors are at the heart of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0, connecting more devices and systems in seamless communication using protocols like IO-Link and Ethernet. This interconnectedness fosters innovation by enabling the development of new, more efficient manufacturing applications and services. For instance, smart sensors in industrial settings help predictive maintenance, which in turn reduces downtime, enhances overall productivity, and bolsters competitiveness. The integration of smart sensors is driving a wave of innovation, transforming ideas into tangible solutions.

Embracing the future: competitive advantage

The adoption of smart sensor products represents a paradigm shift in how we perceive and interact with machines in manufacturing. Their ability to enhance efficiency, improve data analysis, report on, and improve the environment, ensure safety, and foster innovation underscores the significance they can play in the modern manufacturing facility. As we continue to explore the boundless possibilities of interacting technology, embracing smart sensor products is not just a choice, but a competitive advantage. By integrating these intelligent devices into our machines and industries, we are paving the way for a future that is more productive, efficient, environmentally sustainable, and more interconnected. This marks another transformative leap toward a smarter and more interconnected manufacturing world.

IO-Link reduces waste due to sensor failures

In the last two blogs we discussed about Lean operations and reducing waste as well as Selecting right sensors for the job and the environment that the sensor will be placed. Anytime a sensor fails and needs a replacement, it is a major cause of downtime or waste (in Lean philosophy). One of the key benefits of IO-Link technology is drastically reducing this unplanned downtime and replacing sensors with ease, especially when it comes to measurement sensors or complex smart sensors such as flow sensors, continuous position monitoring sensors, pressure sensors, laser sensors and so on.

When we think about analog measurement sensor replacement, there are multiple steps involved. First, finding the right sensor. Second, calibrating the sensor for the application and configuring its setpoints. And third, hope that the sensor is functioning correctly.

Most often, the calibration and setpoint configuration is a manual process and if the 5S processes are implemented properly, there is a good chance that the procedures are written down and accessible somewhere. The process itself may take some time to be carried out, which would hold up the production line causing undesired downtime. Often these mission critical sensors are in areas of the machine that are difficult to access, making replacing then, let alone configuring, a challenge.

IO-Link offers an inherent feature to solve this problem and eliminates the uncertainty that the sensor is functioning correctly. The very first benefit that comes with sensors enabled with IO-Link is that measurement or readings are in engineering units straight from the sensor including bar, psi, microns, mm, liters/min, and gallons/min. This eliminated the need for measurements to be scaled and adjusted in the programming to engineering units.

Secondly, IO-Link masters offer the ability to automatically reconfigure the sensors. Many manufacturers call this out as automatic device replacement (ADR) or parameter server functionality of the master. In a nutshell, when enabled on a specific port of the multi-port IO-Link master, the master port reads current configuration from the sensor and locks them in. From that time forward, any changes made directly on the sensor are automatically overwritten by these locked parameters. The locked parameters can be accessed and changed only through authorized users. When the time comes to replace the sensor, there is only one step that needs to happen: Find the replacement sensor of the same model and plug it in. That’s it!

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When the new sensor is plugged-in, the IO-Link master automatically detects that the replacement sensor does not have the correct parameters and automatically updates them on the sensor. Since the readings are directly in the units desired, there is no magic of scaling to fiddle with.

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It is also important to note, that in addition to the ADR feature, there may be parameters or settings on the sensors that alert you to possible near-future failure of the sensor. This lets you avoid unplanned downtime due to sensor failure. A good example would be a pressure sensor that sends an alert (event) message indicating that the ambient temperature is too high or a photo-eye alerting the re-emitted light value is down close to threshold – implying that either the lens is cloudy, or alignment is off.

To learn more about IO-Link check out our other blogs.

Process Audits – the most powerful tool you probably aren’t using

For a myriad of reasons, when industrial machinery is being designed and constructed, the right sensing/connectivity product with the right application-specific attributes doesn’t always get designed into the zone of the machinery for the function it’s intended to perform.  This can result in consumption, excessive and expensive machine downtime and increased overall cost to operate the machinery.  A process audit, which is used in end-user environments to document specific sensing/electronic measurement/network/connectivity issues, can assist with reducing machine downtime, increasing productivity and reducing material consumption on the plant floor.

Getting to Root Cause of Failure

Finding out and documenting exactly why things prematurely fail in specific electronic locations by Cell Number and OPS Number, photographing each problematic sensor location and offering solutions to areas where components are prematurely failing is the heart and soul of an audit. It’s pretty amazing, but once problem areas are documented, and shared with every pertinent player from the corner office to the operator, it’s hard to refute and even harder to ignore.

Understanding the problem and why it is happening, allows a company to establish a timeline and an action plan for retrofitting sensor locations and developing best practice solutions that will enhance productivity, decrease machine downtime, build better parts with efficiency, and save the organization money.

Pictured below is a plain Jane, plastic faced, M5 inductive proximity sensor with minimal rated sensing distance (Sn) in a hostile spot that a customer is using to detect small “L” brackets on a huge welded panel.  If five of these are used per day (common), and the purchase price for the device is approximately $56 each, this equates to $280 per day or $1,680 per six-day work week. That totals to $84,000 spent per year for one inductive sensor in one individual sensor location.  If machine downtime is a nominal $250/minute (a very low estimation) and it takes five minutes to change out this sensor, machine downtime equates to $375,000 (1,500 sensors x $250).  One sensor can potentially cost this customer $459k per 50 week manufacturing year when factoring in material and downtime.

Dave Bird

If best practice solutions save the customer 50% (In fairness, most customers will only go so far to improve the process.), the business will see a savings of $229,500!

This is a significant payoff for the relatively small cost of an audit. Some businesses will provide them at no charge in the hope that the customer will then use that business to implement the best practice solutions — a win-win situation.

A small price to pay

Audits aren’t reserved for only harsh manufacturing environments like metal stamping and robotic welding. Any end-user manufacturing discipline that integrates sensors, connectivity, RFID, and networking systems that are consumed in the process of a hostile manufacturing environment is a candidate for an audit.

Hostile manufacturing can show up in all industries in all parts of the country.  The process audit can be a valuable tool for you and for your customers.