The Evolution of RFID in Metalworking

RFID – A key technology in modern production

It’s not just IIoT that has focused attention on RFID as a central component of automation. As a key technology, radio frequency identification has been long established in production. The inductive operating principle guarantees ruggedness and resistance to environmental stress factors. This makes the system highly reliable in function and operation. With unlimited read/write cycles and real-time communication, RFID has become indispensable. The beginnings for the industrial use of RFID go far back. RFID was first successfully used on machine tools in the mid-1980’s. Since the usage of RFID tags on cutting tool holders has been internationally standardized (ISO 7388 for SK shanks, ISO12164 for HSK shanks), there has been strong growth of RFID usage in cutting tool management.

Cutting tool in tool taper with RFID chip

Track-and-trace of workpieces

Modern manufacturing with a wide bandwidth of batch sizes and ever compressed production times demands maximum transparency. This is the only way to meet the high requirements for flexibility and quality, and to minimize costs. Not only do the tools need to be optimally managed, but also the finished parts and materials used must be unambiguously recognized and assigned.

Workpiece tracking with RFID on pallet system

RFID frequencies LF and HF – both RFID worlds come together

In terms of data transmission for cutting tool identification, established systems have settled on LF (Low Frequency), as this band has proven to be especially robust and reliable in metal surroundings. Data is read with LF at a frequency of 455 kHz and written at 70 kHz.

When it comes to intralogistics and tracking of workpieces, HF (High Frequency) has become the standard in recent years. This is because HF systems with a working frequency of 13.56 MHz offer greater traverse speeds and a more generous read/write distance.

As a result, RFID processor units have been introduced that offer frequency-independent application. By using two different read-/write heads (one for tool identification and one for track-and-trace of workpieces) that each interface to a single processor unit, the communication to the control system is achieved in an economical manner.

RFID processor for both tool identification and workpiece tracking

New Hybrid Read-Write Head

Industrial equipment is designed for a working life of 20 years or even more. Therefore, in production you often find machines which were designed in the last century next to new machines that were installed when the production capacity was enlarged. In such a brown field factory you have the coexistence of proven technology and modern innovative equipment. For the topic of industrial RFID, it means that both low frequency and high frequency RFID tags are used. To use both the existing infrastructure and to introduce modern and innovative equipment, RFID read/write heads have been recently developed with LF and HF technology in one housing. It does not matter whether a LF RFID tag or a HF RFID tag approaches the RFID head. The system will automatically detect whether the tag uses LF or HF technology and will start to communicate in the right frequency.

This hybrid read-write head adds flexibility to the machine tools and tool setters as you can use the entire inventory of your cutting tools and tool holders.

RFID Tool ID tag ready for the Cloud

The classical concept of data storage in Tool ID is a decentralized data storage, which means that all relevant data (tool dimensions, tool usage time, machining data, etc.) of a tool/tool holder is stored on the RFID tag which is mounted on the single tool holder. The reliability and availability of this concept data has been proven for more than 25 years now.

With the Internet of Things IIOT, the concept of cloud computing is trendy. All — tool setter, machine tool and tool stock systems — are connected to the cloud and exchange data. In this case only an identifier is needed to move and receive the data to and from the cloud. For this type of data management Tool ID tags with the standard (DIN 69873) size diameter 10 x 4,5 mm are available now in a cost effective version with a 32 Byte memory.

Evergreen – more modern than ever: RFID Tool ID in Metalworking

Learn more about the Evolution of RFID in Metalworking from true experts at www.balluff.com  or at  Balluff events worldwide

How RFID Can Push Your Automotive Production Into the Fast Lane

The automotive industry is one of the technological trendsetters in the manufacturing industry. In 1913 Henry Ford invented the assembly line and forever changed automotive production. Now a bit more than a century later the automotive industry is again facing one the biggest innovations in its history.

The complexity of different models and the variety of equipment variations are enormous. This individuality comes with great challenges. The workers in the assembly process are confronted with countless, almost identical components. This requires accurate tracking of all items to avoid mistakes. Safety-relevant components are, therefore, often provided with a barcode that has to be scanned manually.

The major advantages of RFID over barcodes in automotive production

Another technology could relieve employees of this routine task and give them the security of having installed the right parts through automatic testing: RFID. These are the big advantages of RFID over barcodes:

  • While the barcode only contains the information about which type of product it is, the RFID tag provides additional information, such as in which vehicle the car seat is to be installed.
  • While the barcodes have to be read out manually one after the other with a handheld scanner, the RFID tags can all be detected simultaneously and without contact via a scanner – even if the parts are already installed.
  • RFID tags can be used to retrieve information in seconds at any time. During the production process, it can already be checked whether all the required components are installed –  provided they are all equipped with an RFID tag. Without RFID, this was only recorded in the final inspection, using visual inspection and paper list.
  • Additionally, nowadays it is indispensable for the automotive industry to make the production parts traceable and thereby assign them a unique identity. RFID has the advantage that without visual contact or even after a repainting of the component, the information can be easily retrieved. The function is not lost with dirt or oil coverage. Furthermore, tags with special encapsulation can retain their function even under high mechanical, thermal or chemical loads.

How does RFID work?

RFID is the identification of objects by electromagnetic waves.  A reader generates a high-frequency electromagnetic field. If a data carrier (also called “tag”) is brought into the vicinity of the reader, the specific structure of the tag ensures a change in the field and thus transmits individual information about itself – contactless.

RFID Tag and Reader
Functional principle of an RFID system

Increase process reliability and profitability with RFID

Several thousand parts are needed to build a car. But only those parts that are safety, environmentally or testing relevant get an RFID tag. For example, the motor cabling would get a tag that can be read out automatically. Without RFID a worker would have to manually enter the label in a database and errors can easily arise. RFID detects the part automatically and you don’t have to look for labels in transport boxes, etc.

With RFID you know exactly where a component is located at any time – from the moment of delivery until the belt run of the car. With this information you can react flexibly to changes in the process, such as delays in certain areas, and can reschedule at short notice. In addition, you can always retrieve the current stock and know whether the right component is mounted on the right vehicle. So it can significantly increase process reliability and efficiency. An RFID solution eliminates several manual steps in the documentation per vehicle, and it brings more transparency to the logistics and production processes. That means the effort is reduced and the profitability increases.

The implementation starts with the suppliers

Ideally, the implementation of RFID starts with the automotive suppliers. They attach the RFID tags to their components what allows them to use the technology within their own logistics and manufacturing facilities. On arrival to the car manufacturer, the parts are driven through an RFID gate that reads out the tags automatically and adds the parts to the inventory. If the car leaves the assembly hall after manufacturing you can screen again by the RFID gate. At the push of a button it can show which parts are under the hood.

Automatic configuration with UHF for your convenience

The processes in the automotive industry are versatile, but a broad selection of innovative RFID products can push your automotive production into the fast lane.

For more information on RFID, visit www.balluff.com.

Flexibility Through Automated Format Changes on Packaging Machines

Digitalization does not stop at the packaging industry. There is a clear trend toward more individual packaging and special formats. What does this mean for packers and packaging machine manufacturers? The variants increase for every single packer, and this leads to a decreased batch size. The packer needs highly flexible machines, which he can easily adjust to the different formats and special variants. The machine manufacturer, in turn, must make these flexible machines available. What does this format change look like? Which technologies can support the packer optimally?

There are two different format adjustment tasks to perform. One is the adjustment of guide rails, side belts or link chains so that they can be adapted to the new format. The other is the changing of parts when a new format is to be produced.

Both tasks have different demands concerning automation technology and therefore there are different solutions available.

Format adjustment

Format adjustment is the adjustment of guide rails, side belts or link chains. In order to carry out this adjustment quickly, safely and error-free, precise position information is required. This recorded position information can then be used to support manual adjustment on the display unit or it can be transferred to the PLC for fully automatic adjustment. One possible solution is to use different position measuring systems. Various standardized interfaces are available as transmission formats, including IO-Link.

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Fast format changes in secondary packaging

IO-Link has ideal features that are predestined for format adjustment: sufficient speed, full access to all parameters, automatic configuration, and absolute transmission of measured values. This eliminates the need for time-consuming reference runs. Since the machine control remains permanently traceable, the effort for error-prone written paper documentation is also saved.

One example for a non-contact absolute position measuring system

BML SL1, IO-Link

A magnetic encoded position measuring system is ideally suited for position detection during format adjustment. It is insensitive to dust, dirt and moisture, offers high accuracy and a measuring length of up to 8,190 mm. Therefore, the position determination and the speed control during the change of guide rails, sidebands or link chains are no problem.

For more information read our previous blog post “Boost Size-Change Efficiency with IO-Link Magnetic Encoders and Visualization”.

Changeable part detection

When changing to a different format size, it is often necessary to not only adjust guide rails but to also replace changeable parts. Machines are becoming more and more flexible, which means that the number of changeable parts per machine is growing.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for the machine operator to find the right part and even more difficult to find the correct mounting position. This conceals some avoidable sources of error. If the replacement part is installed incorrectly, it can cause machine damage, which can lead to downtime.

Therefore, a fast recognition of changeable parts is all about reliably detecting the changeable part at the correct position in the machine. It is also important to make it as easy as possible for the operator to detect possible faults before they happen via a visualization system.

One way of identifying exchangeable parts is industrial identification with RFID.

The right part at the right position

When changing a machine over to a new format you can use RFID data carriers or barcodes to ensure that the correct new parts are being used. Vision sensors also detect whether the part was installed correctly or incorrectly. These solutions help you prevent errors and machine damage, which in turn increases throughput and reduces production costs.

Implement predictive maintenance

With RFID data carriers, the operating times of each change part can be documented directly on the part itself. If a part needs to be cleaned, replaced or reworked, a notification or alarm is issued in the machine controller before fault conditions can arise. RFID data carriers also allow regular cleaning cycles to be logged.

Automate machine settings

Since you can store the individual setting parameters for the change part on the data carrier, the part itself also provides the information to the machine controller. Thus, the change part can trigger a format change in the PLC and change the production process. This is an important step toward intelligent production in the Industry 4.0 concept.

Simple visualization enables expert free operation

With an LED signal lamp, the operator can recognize the operating status of the machine quickly, easily and at a glance. Among other things, it serves to monitor the operating windows and signals whether all settings have been made correctly. The segments of the signal lamp can be configured so that one machine lamp meets a wide range of requirements.

Summary

Format adjustment involves changing guide rails, sidebands or link chains due to a new format. This can be semi-automated or fully automated on the machines. It requires displacement measuring systems whose sensors provide feedback on the respective position.

If format parts on the machine have to be replaced, it must be ensured that the correct changeable part is installed at the correct position in the machine. Industrial identification systems such as RFID are suitable for this purpose. Each changeable part is equipped with a tag and, with the help of the read/write heads, it recognizes whether the correct changeable part is installed in the correct place.

Both automation options offer the following advantages:

  • Short set-up times and increased system productivity
  • Efficient error prevention
  • Increased machine flexibility
  • Avoidance of machine damage due to wrong parts when starting up the machine
  • Simple visualization for the operator

To learn more about format change visit www.balluff.com.

Optimized Utilization and Increased Transparency with RFID

Unscheduled downtimes in production due to worn out or unserviced molds in machines can cause high costs and are a well-known problem for a lot of companies. In order to prevent these issues and optimize the use of their injection molds, a Swiss chocolate mold producer installed a predictive maintenance system via industrial RFID technology.

Maintaining oversight during frequent mold changes with RFID

Complex and expensive injection molds are typically used in manufacturing parts. Due to wear and contamination, they require regular cleaning, care and maintenance. The regularity often depends on handwritten records in a molds log-book, post-its or on the experience of the employees. In more modern companies, databases or excel sheets may be used to store this information. Regardless of the method, real-world experience shows that manual recording is often prone to errors. Maintenance and inspection are often only carried out if a mold malfunctions, when it tends to be too late.

Poured chocolate molds endure wear and need regular maintenance

Poured chocolate molds, that are used in continuous operation on the production lines of chocolate manufacturers, are known worldwide for their perfection and durability. In most cases, they are made in comparatively small batch sizes of 1500 to 2000 units. For this reason, the injection molds have a modular structure. The base is a master mold with exchangeable inserts which leads to quick and frequent mold change cycles. Additionally, there are certain things that require increased maintenance, like replacing hoses, lines or connecting components, that involve removing the master mold. This is why it is especially important to keep track of how many times a master mold has been used. A control system via industrial RFID technology can be installed to solve this problem.

Continue reading “Optimized Utilization and Increased Transparency with RFID”

DMC vs. RFID in Manufacturing

The increasing discussions and regulations on complete traceability and reliable identification of products is making identification systems an inevitable part in manufacturing. There are two specific technologies that are very well received: The Data Matrix Code (DMC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

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One critique of RFID is the market maturity regarding practicability and price-performance ratio is not reached yet. Compare this to DMC; DMC is practical and cost-effective which is an advantage over RFID. In order to choose DMC or RFID for your application, you have to understand the fundamental differences between the two technologies. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the wrong decision could have costly consequences. The technology you choose will mainly depend on the object being identified. The decision will be based off of size, shape and the environmental conditions.

A New World of Opportunities with DMC

A Data Matrix Code is a two-dimensional data point pattern that has a variable, rectangular size in the form of a matrix. The matrix consists of symbol elements with a minimum of 10×10 and a maximum of 144×144 . It is a binary code that is interpreted with zeros and ones and can hold up to 1,556 bytes.

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A horizontal and a vertical border describe a corner, which serves as orientation for the reading – called the “Finding Pattern”. On the remaining sides, the border must alternate with light and dark square elements in order to describe the position and size of the matrix structure – the “Alternating Pattern”. The data storage area is inside the symbol.

Advantages of DMC

This machine-readable coding form was invented to encode higher amounts of data in smaller areas compared to 1D code. Camera scanners can already reliably read dot patterns of only 2mm by 2mm. Thus DMC is suitable for very small products or round surfaces where there is little room for marking on the product.

With the technology of DMC you can place a lot of information in a very small area. Article or batch numbers, manufacturing or expiration dates as well as other important manufacturing data can be stored permanently on the work piece across all processing steps.

A particular strength also lies in the fact that the code can be directly applied to a part (without a label) using different printing or embossing methods. It can be needled, lasered or printed with inkjet or thermal transfer printing. It works with various materials: plastics, papers, metals and many more. Since you have to use special cameras to read the DMC, not barcode scanners, they can be read in any orientation (from 0°-360°).

Additionally, the error correction when reading a DMC is very high due to information redundancy and error correction algorithm, even 25-30% contamination or damage of the data field can be fully compensated.

Disadvantages of DMC

As it is not possible to read a DMC with linear barcode scanners, you have to use camera-based image processing systems that are more expensive. In addition, it is imperative that the entire surface (not just a part of it) is decoded, because the arrangement of the modules on the surface determines the contained data. Otherwise you don’t get any valuable information.

Although DMC can accommodate low-contrast printing (20% contrast are sufficient), glossy surfaces are difficult to handle because either the light used by the camera for reading is not optimally reflected or it is too scattered. The angle at which the camera is mounted can also play a role.

Last but not least, the location of the DMC or its attachment determines whether it is readable or not. Unlike RFID, a DMC can only be read with visual contact. A hidden DMC cannot be read by the cameras. Even if there is a line of sight you can read the DMC only within a specific reading distance.

Gain Visibility into the Manufacturing Process with RFID

This technology makes it possible to identify every item that is equipped with an RFID data carrier contactless and unambiguously. An RFID system in manufacturing consists of thousands of data carriers (also called tags or transponders) and a minimum of one read/write device (usually called a reader) with an antenna.

The reader generates a weak electromagnetic field via its antenna. If you bring a tag into this magnetic field, the microchip of the tag is supplied with energy and can send data (without contact) to the reader or store new information on the chip. If the tag leaves the magnetic field, the connection to the reader breaks off and the chip is inactive again. The stored data will remain in the tag memory.

RFID tags are available in many different designs, it can be just a simple adhesive tag but also a hard tag as a disc, bolt or glass tag. Only a few millimeter tags can be used for tool identification and very large transponders for container identification.

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Advantages of RFID

An RFID tag has 3 main advantages:

  • The tag can be read or written contactlessly without visual contact to the reader
  • The tag has almost unlimited rewritability
  • Several tags can be read simultaneously (multitag/bulk reading)

These features open up completely new possibilities that DMC cannot provide. If the RFID tag is integrated in a pallet or tool and you can’t even see it, it can still be identified. RFID tags can also be read with the greatest possible contamination as no visual contact is needed. With the rewritability of the tags you have the chance to change, delete or supplement the data on the chip – at any time.

Once an RFID system is integrated into a process, the system can be run with just minimal human participation. For a new order, the new information is written automatically on the tag. This can be up to 128 kbyte of data on a single tag. The detection of RFID-equipped parts happens within less than a second, much faster than using a barcode. This leads to reduced administrative errors, increased transparency and significant increase of speed.

With RFID, even after a post-treatment, parts can be tracked down for a lifetime. Every production step can be documented, read and written directly on the RFID tag in or on the part. To avoid security issues, data can be encrypted, password protected or set to include a “kill” feature to remove data permanently.

Disadvantages of RFID

RFID also has some disadvantages. Depending on the used frequency, physical conditions are often the reason for issues. For example, metal containers or contents made of metal can create problems or even non-readings as metals reflect and shield. Products with a high proportion of water absorb radio waves and it could cause the reader to not detect certain objects.

Another sore point is the cost. RFID tags are always more expensive than a DMC because even with a large amount, the integrated antenna and the transponder must be paid. However, with having almost unlimited read and write capabilities, the higher initial acquisition costs pay off over the time with tens of thousands of uses of the tags – at least with closed-loop applications.

Different frequencies for different applications

There are 3 established radio frequency ranges that have specific characteristics:

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The application determines which frequency you should choose. As Low Frequency (LF) systems only have a moderate sensitivity for potential metallic reflections they are designed for applications where the tag has to be mounted flush in metal, for example, with tool identification. High Frequency (HF) systems score with a high transmission speed for large volumes of data and are therefore ideal for work in progress (WIP) applications. High reading ranges make Ultra High Frequency (UHF) very attractive when the plant or process does not allow a close proximity between reader and tag, RFID tags on various positions on an item can be read with just a single UHF antenna. As all tags can be read out almost simultaneously in the read range of a reader, UHF systems are ideal for detecting complete pallet loads.

Main Differences Between DMC and RFID Tags

Here is an overview of the most important differences between Data Matrix Code and RFID:

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Which Option is Better for Your Application?

Ultimately, the decision to opt for one or the other technology is always a case-by-case decision. Here are some fundamental questions you can ask yourself in order to choose the right one:

  • Will the marked object be reused or will it be lost at the end of the processing chain? → closed-loop application = RFID, open loop application = DMC
  • Is there only a one-time marking or a repeated writing/ change of the stored data needed within the processing chain? → One-time marking = DMC,  rewriting = RFID
  • How big are the detection distances? → Short = DMC, large = RFID
  • What about the data volume on the object? → Low = DMC, high = RFID
  • Should process data be stored on the object? → Yes = RFID, no = DMC
  • What about the processing speed? Not relevant = DMC, high = RFID
  • What about the lighting conditions and contrasts? → Good = DMC, bad = RFID
  • How big is the space available for the marking? → Small = DMC, sufficient = RFID
  • Is the direct line of sight to the object difficult? → Yes = RFID, no = DMC
  • Are there potential sources of interference like dirt or damage? → Yes = RFID, no = DMC
  • Are there potential sources of interference like metals or liquids? → Yes = DMC, no = RFID

It’s Not Always About “Either/Or”

DMC and RFID do not necessarily have to compete. Sometimes it may be beneficial to have a combination of both technologies. An example of a combination solution is an RFID label with a printed DMC. While the DMC can be read directly on the object with a scanner, the RFID tag fulfills further tasks. Thanks to the special technology, goods can be identified even when packaged. In addition, all relevant process data can be stored on the RFID data carrier and offer added value throughout the value chain.

To learn more about RFID technology, please visit www.balluff.com.

Inspection, Detection and Documentation – The Trifecta of Work in Process

As the rolling hills of the Bluegrass state turn from frost covered gold of winter to sun splashed green of spring, most Kentuckians are gearing up for “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, otherwise known as The Kentucky Derby. While some fans are interested in the glitz and glamour of the event, the real supporters of the sport, the bettors, are seeking out a big payday. A specific type of wager called a Trifecta, a bet that requires picking the first three finishers in the correct order, traditionally yields thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in reward. This is no easy feat.  It is difficult to pick one horse, let alone three to finish at the top. So while the bettors are seeking out their big payday with a trifecta, the stakeholders in manufacturing organizations around the globe are utilizing the trifecta to ensure their customers are getting quality products. However, the trifecta of work in process is valued in millions of dollars.

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Work in process, or “WIP”, is an application within manufacturing where the product is tracked from the beginning of the process to the end. The overall goal of tracking the product from start to finish is, among other things, quality assurance. In turn, ensuring the product is of good quality creates loyal customers, prevents product recalls, and satisfies regulations. In a highly competitive manufacturing environment, not being able to ensure quality can be a death sentence for any organization. This is where the trifecta comes back into play. The three processes listed below, when used effectively together, ensure overall product quality and eliminate costly mistakes in manufacturing.

  1. Inspection – Typically executed withWorkinProcess Trifecta a vision system. Just like it sounds, the product is inspected for any irregularities or deviation from “perfect”.
  2. Detection – This is a result of the inspection. If an error is detected action must then be taken to correct it before it is sent to the next station or in some cases the product goes directly to scrap to prevent the investment of any additional resources.
  3. Documentation – Typically executed with RFID technology. The results of the inspection and detection process are written to the RFID tag. Accessing that data at a later time may be necessary to isolate specific component recalls or to prove regulatory compliance.

Whether playing the ponies or manufacturing the next best widget, the trifecta is a necessity in both industries. Utilizing a time tested system of vision and RFID technology has proven effective for quality assurance in manufacturing, but a reliable system for winning the trifecta in the derby is still a work in process.

To learn more about work in process, visit www.balluff.com.

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.

The Human Body as an Analogy for Automation

A machine’s automation system operates very much like the human body. Just as we humans perceive our surroundings using our sensory organs, a machine registers its surroundings using presence sensors, input devices, and measuring systems. It continually receives status information and command inputs, and its control network transports this information as input signals to the controller. The controller interprets these signals, makes a program decision, and responds by sending output signals to actuators and indicators. For example, it may send a signal to cylinder valves and motor drives to move the machine, or to stack lights to signal status and condition to the human operators.

A machine’s automation system is the technical counterpart to the actions of the human body:

  • Sight, taste, smell, touch – Vision, pressure, temperature, flow, photoelectric, inductive, capacitive, position/distance measurement sensors
  • Listening/reading – Vibration sensors, RFID tag readers
  • Nervous system – Control network, cables, connectors
  • Brain – Controller, PLC
  • Muscles – Valves, drives, motors
  • Voice – audio signaling devices, numerical output devices (RFID data to tag)
  • Body language (visual signals) – stack lights, display screens, indicator lights, panel meters

Check out the video below to dive deeper into the world of industrial automation and learn the similarities between a machine and the human body.

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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.

Top 5 Automation Insights Posts from 2017

Kick off the New Year by taking a look at the top 5 Automation Insight blog posts from last year.

#5. Make sure your RFID system is future-proof by answering 3 questions

With the recent widespread adoption of RFID technology in manufacturing plants I have encountered quite a number of customers who feel like they have been “trapped” by the technology. The most common issue is their current system cannot handle the increase in the requirements of the production line. In a nutshell, their system isn’t scalable.5

Dealing with these issues after the fact is a nightmare that no plant manager wants to be a part of. Can you imagine installing an entire data collection system then having to remove it and replace it with a more capable system in 3 years or even less? It’s actually a pretty common problem in the world of technology. However, an RFID system should be viable for much longer if a few simple questions can be answered up front. Read more>>

#4. IO-Link Hydraulic Cylinder Position Feedback

Ready for a better mousetrap?  Read on…..

Some time ago here on Sensortech, we discussed considerations for choosing the right in-cylinder position feedback sensor.  In that article, we said:

“…….Analog 0-10 Vdc or 4-20 mA interfaces probably make up 70-80% of all in-cylinder feedback in use…..”

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And while that 70-80% analog figure is still not too far off, we’re starting to see those numbers decline, in favor a of newer, more capable interface for linear position feedback:  IO-Link.  Much has been written, here on Sensortech and elsewhere, about the advantages offered by IO-Link.  But until now, those advantages couldn’t necessarily be realized in the world of hydraulic cylinder position feedback.  That has all changed with the availability of in-cylinder, rod-style magnetostrictive linear position sensors.  Compared to more traditional analog interfaces, IO-Link offers some significant, tangible advantages for absolute position feedback in hydraulic cylinders. Read More>>

#3. External Position Feedback for Hydraulic Cylinders

The classic linear position feedback solution for hydraulic cylinders is the rod-style magnetostrictive sensor installed from the back end of the cylinder. The cylinder rod is gun-drilled to accept the length of the sensor probe, and a target magnet is installed on the face of the piston. A hydraulic port on the end cap provides installation access to thread-in the pressure-rated sensor tube. This type of installation carries several advantages but also some potential disadvantages depending on the application. Read More>>

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#2. 3 Smart Applications for Process Visualization

Stack lights used in today’s industrial automation haven’t changed their form or purpose for ages: to visually show the state (not status) of the work-cell. Since the introduction of SmartLight, I have seen customers give new2 meaning to the term “process visualization”. Almost every month I hear about yet another innovative use of the SmartLight. I thought capturing a few of the use-cases of the SmartLight here may help others to enhance their processes – hopefully in most cost effective manner.

The SmartLight may appear just like another stack-light.  The neat thing about it is that it is an IO-Link device and uses simply 3-wire smart communication on the same prox cable that is used for sensors in the field. Being an IO-Link device it can be programmed through the PLC or the controller for change of operation modes on demand, or change of colors, intensity, and beeping sounds as needed. What that means is it can definitely be used as a stack light but has additional modes that can be applied for all sorts of different operation/ process visualization tasks. Read More>>

#1. What is a Capacitive Sensor?

Capacitive proximity sensors are non-contact devices that can detect the presence or absence of virtually any object regardless of material.  1They utilize the electrical property of capacitance and the change of capacitance based on a change in the electrical field around the active face of the sensor.

A capacitive sensor acts like a simple capacitor.  A metal plate in the sensing face of the sensor is electrically connected to an internal oscillator circuit and the target to be sensed acts as the second plate of the capacitor.  Unlike an inductive sensor that produces an electromagnetic field a capacitive sensor produces an electrostatic field. Read More>>

Passive RFID Still the Way To Go For Work In Process (WIP)

With the rapid evolution of manufacturing technology it’s pretty tough to keep up with the latest and greatest products designed to help automate the manufacturing process. The big “buzz” surrounding RFID about a decade or so ago was Wal-Mart declaring that their top one hundred vendors would be required to tag every single item with an RFID tag. Well, that never came to fruition. Around the same time there was a lot of talk about active RFID systems as a new technology for work in process. Well, that didn’t ever quite materialize either.

While the active systems certainly have made an impact on yard and container management applications, passive RFID still rules the roost in WIP. In essence, the main difference between passive and active RFID is active tags require a battery which helps tagsto yield a much larger read range. One can imagine the benefits of an extremely long read range in a shipping yard, but on a production line the engineers are just fine with mounting the read head within a few inches of the work pieces. Eighty to ninety percent of the new WIP applications that we deal with still require High Frequency (HF) technology.   The other ten to twenty percent are using Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) which is still passive technology, just a longer read range. This is usually the case where the actual item being built is very large and it is very difficult to place a HF reader within inches of the work piece.

Ultimately, using active RFID for work in process is similar to using a sledge hammer to put a nail in a wall. It is simply overkill. So, while automation technology is on a course of change, it is clear that some of the “old faithful” equipment is still adequately addressing the needs on the production line.

To learn more about active vs. passive RFID tags, click here.