Imagine the Perfect Photoelectric Sensor

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?

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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.

To learn more about photoelectric sensors, visit www.balluff.com.

5 Ways Flexible Manufacturing has Never Been Easier

Flexible manufacturing has never been easier or more cost effective to implement, even down to lot-size-one, now that IO-Link has become an accepted standard. Fixed control and buried information is no longer acceptable. Driven by the needs of IIoT and Industry 4.0, IO-Link provides the additional data that unlocks the flexibility in modern automation equipment, and it’s here now!  As evidence, here are the top five examples of IO-Link enabled flexibility:

#5. Quick Change Tooling: The technology of inductive coupling connects standard IO-Link devices through an airgap. Change parts and End of Arm (EOA) tooling can quickly and reliably be changed and verified while maintaining connection with sensors and pneumatic valves. This is really cool technology…power through the air!

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#4. On-the-fly Sensors Programming: Many sensor applications require new settings when the target changes, and the targets seem to always change. IO-Link enables this at minimal cost and very little time investment. It’s just built in.

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#3. Flexible Indicator Lights: Detailed communication with the operators no long requires a traditional HMI. In our flexible world, information such as variable process data, timing indication, machine status, run states and change over verification can be displayed at the point of use. This represents endless creativity possibilities.

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#2. Low cost RFID: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has been around for a while. But with the cost point of IO-Link, the applications have been rapidly climbing. From traditional manufacturing pallets to change-part tracking, the ease and cost effectiveness of RFID is at a record level. If you have ever thought about RFID, now is the time.

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#1. Move Away from Discrete to Continuously Variable Sensors: Moving from discrete, on-off sensors to continuously variable sensors (like analog but better) opens up tremendous flexibility. This eliminates multiple discrete sensors or re-positioning of sensors. One sensor can handle multiple types and sizes of products with no cost penalty. IO-Link makes this more economical than traditional analog with much more information available. This could be the best technology shift since the move to Ethernet based I/O networks.

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So #1 was the move to Continuously Variable sensors using IO-Link. But the term, “Continuously Variable” doesn’t just roll off the tongue. We have discrete and analog sensors, but what should we call these sensors? Let me know your thoughts!

To learn more about RFID and IO-Link technology, visit www.balluff.com.

 

 

 

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.

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Position Sensor Mounted Internally in a Hydraulic Cylinder
(Image credit: Cowan Dynamics)

Advantages of in-cylinder sensor mounting include:

  • Simplicity. The cylinder manufacturer “preps” the cylinder for the sensor and may install it as an extra-cost option.
  • Ruggedness. The sensor element is protected inside the cylinder. Only the electronics head is exposed to the rigors of the industrial environment.
  • Compactness. The sensor is contained inside the cylinder, so it does not add to the cross-sectional area occupied by the cylinder.
  • Direct Position Measurement. Because the target magnet is mounted on the piston, the sensor is directly monitoring the motion of the cylinder without any interposing linkages that might introduce some position error, especially in highly dynamic, high-acceleration / deceleration applications.

Potential disadvantages of in-cylinder sensor mounting may include:

  • Sensor Cost. Cylinder-mounted position sensors require a rugged, fully-sealed stainless-steel sensor probe to withstand the dynamic pressures inside a cylinder. This adds some manufacturing cost.
  • Cylinder Cost. The procedure of gun-drilling a cylinder rod consumes machine time and depletes tooling, adding manufacturing cost over a standard cylinder. Refer to additional comments under Small Cylinder Bores / Rods below.
  • Cylinder Delivery Time. Prepping a new cylinder for a sensor adds manufacturing time due to additional processing steps, some of which may be outsourced by the cylinder manufacturer, increasing overall shipping and handling time.
  • Overall Installed Length. Because the sensor electronics and cabling protrude from the back end of the cylinder, this adds to the overall length of the installed cylinder. Refer to additional comments under Small Cylinder Bores / Rods below.
  • Service Access. In case sensor repair is required, there must be sufficient clearance or access behind the cylinder to pull out the full length of the sensor probe.
  • Small Cylinder Bores / Rods. Some cylinder bores and rod diameters are too small to allow for gun-drilling a hole large enough to install the ~10.2 mm diameter sensor tube and allow for proper fluid flow around it. In tie rod cylinders, the distance between the rod nuts may be too small to allow the flange of the position sensor to fully seat against the O-ring. In these cases, a mounting boss must be provided to move the mounting position back past the tie rods. This adds cost as well as increases overall installed length.

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In cases where the advantages of in-cylinder mounting are outweighed or rendered impractical by some of the disadvantages, an externally-mounted position sensor can be considered. The list of advantages and disadvantages looks similar, but reversed.

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Position Sensor Mounted Externally on Hydraulically-Actuated Equipment

Advantages of external sensor mounting include:

  • Sensor Cost. Externally-mounted magnetostrictive position sensors are typically made from an aluminum extrusion and die-cast end caps with gaskets, saving cost compared to all-stainless-steel welded and pressure-rated construction.
  • Cylinder Cost. The cylinder can be a standard type with no special machining work needed to accommodate installation of the sensor.
  • Cylinder Delivery Time. Since no additional machine work is needed, the cylinder manufacturer can deliver within their standard lead time for standard cylinders.
  • Overall Installed Length. Typically, the external sensor is mounted in parallel to the cylinder, so overall length is not increased.
  • Service Access. The externally-mounted sensor is easily accessible for service by simply unbolting its mounting brackets and pulling it off the equipment.

Disadvantages of external sensor mounting may include:

  • Complexity. The machine designer or end user must provide the means to mount the sensor brackets and the means to position a floating magnet target over the sensor housing. Alternatively, a captive sliding magnet target may be used with a length of operating rod and swivel attachment hardware.
  • Exposure to Damage. Unless guarded or installed in a protected area, an externally mounted position sensor is subject to being mechanically damaged.
  • Space Requirements. There must be enough empty space around the cylinder or on the machine to accommodate the sensor housing and operating envelope of the moving magnetic target.
  • Indirect Position Measurement. Any time a floating target magnet is mounted to a bracket, there is the potential for position error due to the bracket getting bent, flexing under acceleration / deceleration, mounting bolts loosening, etc. In the case of operating rods for captive sliding magnets, there will be some mechanical take-up in the swivel joints upon change of direction, adding to position hysteresis. There is also the potential for rod flexing under heavy acceleration / deceleration – particularly when the rod is acting under compression vs. tension. Take note of the amount of sliding friction of the captive magnet on the sensor rails; some sensor magnet designs offer high friction and stiff resistance to movement that can increase operating rod deflection and resultant position error.

In conclusion, be sure to consider all aspects of an application requiring cylinder position feedback and choose the approach that maximizes the most important advantages and eliminates or minimizes any potential disadvantages. It may be that an externally-mounted position sensor will solve some of the challenges being faced with implementing a traditional in-cylinder application.

For more information about internally- and externally-mounted cylinder position sensors, visit www.balluff.com.

How Hot is Hot? – The Basics of Infrared Temperature Sensors

Detecting hot objects in industrial applications can be quite challenging. There are a number of technologies available for these applications depending on the temperatures involved and the accuracy required. In this blog we are going to focus on infrared temperature sensors.

Every object with a temperature above absolute zero (-273.15°C or -459.8°F) emits infrared light in proportion to its temperature. The amount and type of radiation enables the temperature of the object to be determined.

In an infrared temperature sensor a lens focuses the thermal radiation emitted by the object on to an infrared detector. The rays are restricted in the IR temperature sensor by a diaphragm, to create a precise measuring spot on the object. Any false radiation is blocked at the lens by a spectral filter. The infrared detector converts radiation into an electrical signal. This is also proportional to the temperature of the target object and is used for signal processing in a digital processor. This electrical signal is the basis for all functions of the temperature sensor.

There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account when selecting an infrared temperature sensor.

  • What is the temperature range of the application?
    • The temperature range can vary. Balluff’s BTS infrared sensor, for example, has a range of 250°C to 1,250°C or for those Fahrenheit fans 482°F to 2,282° This temperature range covers a majority of heat treating, steel processing, and other industrial applications.
  • What is the size of the object or target?
    • The target must completely fill the light spot or viewing area of the sensor completely to ensure an accurate reading. The resolution of the optics is a relationship to the distance and the diameter of the spot.

  • Is the target moving?
    • One of the major advantages of an infrared temperature sensor is its ability to detect high temperatures of moving objects with fast response times without contact and from safe distances.
  • What type of output is required?
    • Infrared temperature sensors can have both an analog output of 4-20mA to correspond to the temperature and is robust enough to survive industrial applications and longer run lengths. In addition, some sensors also have a programmable digital output for alarms or go no go signals.
    • Smart infrared temperature sensors also have the ability to communicate on networks such as IO-Link. This network enables full parameterization while providing diagnostics and other valuable process information.

Infrared temperature sensors allow you to monitor temperature ranges without contact and with no feedback effect, detect hot objects, and measure temperatures. A variety of setting options and special processing functions enable use in a wide range of applications. The IO-Link interface allows parameterizing of the sensor remotely, e.g. by the host controller.

For more information visit www.balluff.com

Put Out the Fire

Every time I enter tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers, there seems to be a common theme of extreme sensor and cable abuse. It is not uncommon to see a box or bin of damaged sensors along with connection cables that have extreme burn-through due to extreme heat usually generated by weld spatter. This abuse is going to happen and is unavoidable in most cases.  The only option to combat these hostile environments is to select the correct components, such as bunker blocks, protective mounts, and high temperature cable materials that can withstand hot welding applications.

Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.
Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.

In many cases I have seen standard sensors and cables installed in a weld cell with essentially zero protection of the sensor. This results in a very non-productive application that simply cannot meet production demands due to excessive downtime. At the root of this downtime you will typically find sensor and cable failure. These problems can only go on for so long before a culture change must happen throughout a manufacturing or production plant as there is too much overtime resulting in added cost and less efficiency. I call this the “pay me now or pay me later” analogy.

Below are some simple yet effective ways to improve sensor and cable life:

Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
  • Apply flush sensors vs. non-flush sensor in fixtures
  • Bunker the flush sensors to protect the face of the sensor (Let the bunker block take the spatter)
  • Apply sensors with special coatings to combat weld spatter
  • Apply sensors with steel faces for added insurance against contact damage
  • Apply high temp cables such as full silicone high durability offerings
  • Protect cables with silicone tubing and high temperature weld jackets
  • Wrap cables with weld repel tape to insure spatter will not penetrate the ends of the cable

If these simple steps are followed, uptime and efficiency will result in increased productivity with immediate improvements and positive results.

For information on welding improvements visit our website at www.balluff.us.

Basic Sensors for Robot Grippers

Robot gripper with inductive proximity sensors mounted
Robot gripper with inductive proximity sensors mounted

Typically when we talk about end-of-arm tooling we are discussing how to make robot grippers smarter and more efficient. We addressed this topic in a previous blog post, 5 Tips on Making End-of-Arm Tooling Smarter. In this post, though, we are going to get back to the basics and talk about two options for robot grippers: magnetic field sensors, and inductive proximity sensors.

One of the basic differences is that detection method that each solution utilizes. Magnetic field sensors use an indirect method by monitoring the mechanism that moves the jaws, not the jaws themselves. Magnetic field sensors sense magnets internally mounted on the gripper mechanism to indicate the open or closed position. On the other hand, inductive proximity sensors use a direct method that monitors the jaws by detecting targets placed directly in the jaws. Proximity sensors sense tabs on moving the gripper jaw mechanism to indicate a fully open or closed position.

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Robot gripper with magnetic field sensors mounted

Additionally, each solution offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Magnetic field sensors, for example, install directly into extruded slots on the outside of the cylinder, can detect an extremely short piston stroke, and offer wear-free position detection. On the other side of the coin, the disadvantages of magnetic field sensors for this application are the necessity of a magnet to be installed in the piston which also requires that the cylinder walls not be magnetic. Inductive proximity sensors allow the cylinder to be made of any material and do not require magnets to be installed. However, proximity sensors do require more installation space, longer setup time, and have other variables to consider.

Inductive Sensors for Washdown Conditions

WashdownSensorsWhen selecting the proper Inductive sensor it is very important to understand the type of application environment the sensor will be installed in. In previous posts, I have blogged about various types of sensors and how they fit into the application mix. For example, a welding application will need specific sensor features that will help combat the normal hostilities that are common to heat, weld spatter and impact due to tight tolerances within the fixture areas.

Inductive sensors are also used more and more in aggressive environments including machine tools, stamp and die, and food and beverage applications. Many times within these types of applications there are aggressive chemicals and cleaners that are part of the application process or simply part of the cleanup procedure that also
mandates high pressure wash down procedures.

So, when we have a stamping or food and beverage application that uses special oils or coolants we know a standard sensor is on borrowed time. This is where harsh environment sensors come in as they offer higher IP ratings with no LED function indicators that seals the sensor to withstand the harshest processes. They also will have high grade stainless steel housings special plated electronics along with additional O-rings making them ideal for the most hostile environment.

InductiveWashdownFeatures:

  • High grade stainless steel housing
  • No LED indicator
  • Gold plated internal contacts
  • Additional sealing O-rings
  • Increased IP ratings
  • Higher temperature ratings

For more information on inductive sensors for harsh environments you can visit the Balluff website at www.balluff.us.

What’s best for integrating Poka-yoke or Mistake Proofing sensors?

Teams considering poka-yoke or mistake proofing applications typically contact us with a problem in hand.  “Can you help us detect this problem?”

We spend a lot of time:

  • talking about the product and the mistakes being made
  • identifying the error and how to contain it
  • and attempting to select the best sensing technology to solve the application.

However this can sometimes be the easy part of the project.  Many times a great sensor solution is identified but the proper controls inputs are not available or the control architecture doesn’t support analog inputs or network connections.  The amount of time and dollar investments to integrate the sensor solution dramatically increases and sometimes the best poka-yoke solutions go un-implemented!”

“Sometimes the best poka-yoke solutions go un-implemented!”

Many of our customers are finding that the best controls architecture for their continuous improvement processes involves the use of IO-Link integrated with their existing architectures.  It can be very quickly integrated into the existing controls and has a wide variety of technologies available.  Both of these factors make it the best for integrating Poka-yoke or Mistake Proofing due to the great flexibility and easy integration.

Download this whitepaper and read about how a continuous improvement technician installed and integrated an error-proofing sensor in 20 minutes!

Let’s Get Small: The Drive Toward Miniaturization

minisensorGoing about our hectic daily lives, we tend to just take the modern cycle of innovation for granted. But when we stop to think about it, the changes we have seen in the products we buy are astonishing. This is especially true with regard to electronics. Not only are today’s products more feature-laden, more reliable, and more functional…they are also unbelievably small.

I remember our family’s first “cell phone” back in the ’90s. It was bolted to the floor of the car, required a rooftop antenna, and was connected to the car’s electrical system for power. All it did was place and receive phone calls. Today we are all carrying around miniature pocket computers we call “smartphones,” where the telephone functionality is – in reality – just another “app”.

Again going back two decades, we had a 32″ CRT analog television that displayed standard definition and weighed over 200 pounds; it took two strong people to move it around the house. Today it’s common to find 55″ LCD high-definition digital televisions that weigh only 50 pounds and can be moved around by one person with relative ease.

LabPhotoThese are just a couple of examples from the consumer world. Similar changes are taking place in the industrial and commercial world. Motors, controllers, actuators, and drives are shrinking. Today’s industrial actuators and motion systems offer either the same speed and power with less size and weight, or are simply more compact and efficient than ever before possible.

The advent of all this product miniaturization is driving a need for equally miniaturized manufacturing and assembly processes. And that means rising demand for miniaturized industrial sensors such as inductive proximity sensors, photoelectric presence sensors, and capacitive proximity sensors.

Another thing about assembling small things: the manufacturing tolerances also get small. The demand for sensor precision increases in direct proportion to manufacturing size reduction. Fortunately, miniature sensors are also inherently precision sensors. As sensors shrink in size, their sensing behavior typically becomes more precise. In absolute terms, things like repeatability, temperature drift, and hysteresis all improve markedly as sensor size diminishes. Miniature sensors can deliver the precise, repeatable, and consistent sensing performance demanded by the field of micro-manufacturing.

For your next compact assembly project, be sure to think about the challenges of your precision sensing applications, and how you plan to deploy miniature sensors to achieve consistent and reliable operation from your process.

For more information on precision sensing visit balluff.us/minis.

DC Does Have Its Benefits

My blog this time was supposed to be about photoelectric basics, however, I recently had a discussion with an individual who asked why the market does not offer more AC sensors.  In thinking about our discussion I thought this would make an interesting blog and perhaps would spark (no pun intended) some comments from our readers.

 Why DC control circuits are more common than AC and what benefits do they provide? 
minifamilyWith machines getting smaller and faster, and costs becoming more of a concern DC sensors and components solve these issues.  The circuit boards are smaller which means the sensors can be smaller and lighter thus the machines can move faster due to lighter loads.  DC sensors are typically less expensive and a larger selection of products exists to solve more of the demanding applications seen today.

Some regulations go into effect at the 50 – 60 volt threshold and since a vast majority of DC control circuits are 24 volt these regulations can be avoided.  DC control circuits are more universally accepted than AC plus the fact DC power supplies are getting less expensive.  Today’s newly designed DC circuits consume less power which means smaller power supplies can be used.  Another advantage of the DC power supply is if there is a short circuit the power supply folds back and will resume full power when the short is removed.

Not only are there more sensor options available there are more and faster interface cards for the most common control device used today, the PLC.  DC sensors and components do not have the current leakage that their AC counterparts have.  That being said, when using an AC sensor with the higher leakage, frequently pull down resistors are required to prevent the leakage current from causing false inputs to the PLC.

In addition to the PLC interface, more and more manufacturers use DC interfaces to their electronic devices.  With AC controls you have to use relays for interface which can add to cycle times.  A real money saver is being able to run instrumentation and communication cables with DC controls in the same conduit or cable tray.

DC is inherently faster than AC which means faster response.  With more and more cycle times being reduced to achieve faster processes milliseconds can really add up.  An AC signal introduces approximately an 8 msec delay in actuation of a device, however, this delay time is very unpredictable.

Typically, AC is used on the outputs of PLC’s to turn on motor control starters, larger solenoid valves, and higher current devices.  Also, AC circuits are going to be more immune to noise that would cause problems on DC circuits.  In some cases it makes sense to use an AC sensor especially if there is a long run of conduit down a conveyor with one motor and one sensor.  Those wires can be run together saving installation time and money.

When it comes to speed, size, and costs DC controls seem to provide more benefits than AC.  What are your thoughts?