A Smarter SmartLight

Just when you thought the SmartLight was the most flexible Tower Indicator light ever, it gets even more flexible with the addition of a new mode. This new mode is appropriately named “Flexible Mode”. The new Flexible mode enables two new applications: User defined segments and Point-of-use indication.

User Defined Segments

For traditional tower light applications, it’s now Figure 1possible to define the segments as you see fit. It works by taking control of every LED element. Each SmartLight segment is comprised of four LED elements that can be controlled anyway you want (see Figure 1).  For example, with the 3-segment SmartLight, you actually have 12 LED elements that you can organize any way you want. In Figure 2, we only use three LED elements per SmartLight segment, making it a four segment SmartLight. By using two LED elements we create six segments. Figure 3 is even more interesting, in this example we can see the size of the segments are sized by the intended users. Forklift Drivers need a larger light due to the distance and the fact that they are moving. Operators are closer than the forklift drivers, so their segment can be smaller, and maintenance can use the smallest segments because they are closest to the SmartLight when working on the machine.

Point of Use Indication

In these types of applications, the SmartLight is usedSocket Tray App in close proximity, usually within the work envelope of the operators. In the example shown, the SmartLight is used in a socket tray application. The SmartLight indicates to the operator which socket is required for a specific task. Inductive proximity sensors connected to an IO-Link Hub verify the correct socket was pulled. The photo is showing an All-Call (all lights lit). Here you can see the unique LED element grouping only available with the new Flexible mode. Other applications for operator guidance are essentially endless. There are no technical limitations to your creativity.

The Flexible mode is available in all SmartLights with firmware version 3.0 or greater. So go have some fun!

Learn more about the SmartLight at 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>>

4 (More) Smart Applications for Process Visualization

In a previous post, 3 Smart Applications for Process Visualization, we discussed how the term “process visualization” has evolved since the introduction of the SmartLight. While it can definitely be used as a stack light, its additional modes can be applied for all sorts of different operation/ process visualization tasks. Below are a few more examples we’ve come across.

Use Case #4:  Fill Level Status:

From micro-breweries to steel-mills and oil refineries, all have state-of-the art tack fill level detection systems measuring fill levels to the last millimeter or in some cases cubic inches. But when you want to take peek at the how much the reservoir is full at any given time- you have to go to the HMI in some corner to see that value. Nine times out of ten this fill indication provides you only with numerical value. What if SmartLight shows you the value visually using the level mode of operation? Then the decision to run another batch of bottle filling can be taken without going to that corner and punching some numbers. Additionally, the colors of the segments can be changed to indicate the temperature or pressure inside the tank or just different fill levels so the line supervisors can take decisions promptly on the next action.

Use Case #5: Interactive Operator Status:

Several times plants invest in huge TV monitors to provide a real-time visual feedback to their employees on how their operations are progressing compared to the quota assigned. At one plant, they found no increase in employee productivity with such investment because the TV monitors failed to provide a visual feedback. The television sets indicated 112/300 – which meant nothing to the operators. The SmartLight, however, provided them the feedback using the level mode of operation on how they are performing to the quota. The moment SmartLight turns yellow was an indication to the operator(s) that they are falling behind the level of the lighted LED indicated that they are closing the gap to their daily quota. If the operator notices problems with the batch of components or machine itself they could change the SmartLight to a run light mode with a push of a button indicating trouble in the workcell – the supervisor then can deploy the right maintenance person to the cell. Utilizing the SmartLight light not only provided instantaneous feedback on performance but also added efficiency in handling production issues.

Use Case #6: Improving Hazard Awareness:

In one automotive plant, the maintenance team designed an innovative solution with SmartLights for hazard communication. This plant has several automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The light indicators on these AGVs are the same type that was on the mast of most of the workcells in the plant. It was hard to notice when the AGVs were pulling out of and entering their parking stand. Maintenance engineers installed SmartLights on the mast of the AGV parking stand and with different color scheme and level mode indicated if the AGV is coming to stop or just starting the motion. This simple idea avoided daily occurrences of mishaps for the forklift drivers and operators.

Use Case #7: Identify Bottlenecks:

With linear assembly process it can be difficult to detect bottlenecks in the production process. With increase complexity of today’s production flows the bottlenecks dynamically change under various conditions. Installing SmartLights programmed to change their mode of operation depending on certain conditions (on-demand change of mode) could help point out bottlenecks in the current environment. For example, these days the automation controllers are equipped to calculate its overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). That information can be directed to the SmartLight. A specified segment may turn green when OEE >80%, turns yellow when 60% < OEE < 80% and red if the OEE falls below 60%.  Now, the plant supervisors can see the overall picture of the entire floor to make informed and timely decisions.

Use Case #8: Time Lapse Counter:

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how long it takes to replenish the stack of pallets in the robotic palletizing cell? Or how often the operator has to go into the cell (causing stop operations) for mis-fired sensor or dropped package? How about break-times for the operators? Well SmartLights can be used for all these types of operations. This can be done by changing the blinking frequency of the SmartLight segment, and changing the colors or modes of operations, a multitude of information can be displayed for various purposes.

We want to hear from you! Do you have a unique application for the SmartLight? Share your story with us here.

You can also learn more by visiting our website at www.balluff.us.

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 new 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.

smartlightmodesThe 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.

Use Case #1: Stack Light Mode for Operation Status – The number of segments can be programmatically changed from 1 to the max segment number provided by the light (up to 5 in a five-segment SmartLight). Colors can be changed to red, blue, green, orange, yellow, white, or any other color of choice. This is the most traditional application of the SmartLight.

Use Case #2: Format Change Indicator – Many of our customers use the level mode to provide feedback to the operators when they are making adjustments to the machine. For example: red might indicate that the machine is out of alignment, yellow might mean the machine is getting closer to the specified alignment, and green might mean the machine is in the zone of alignment. Using the SmartLight in this fashion helped our customers save time in product changeovers because the operators didn’t have to come out of the cell to view the alignment status on a small HMI.  When the alignment of the machine is complete, the SmartLight can be programmed to switch back to the status indication mode or whatever mode of operation desired.

smartlightgifcroppedUse Case #3: Run Light Mode for Maintenance Indication – In this mode there are two colors – one color for the background and another color for the running segment. Along the assembly line where there are multiple work cells continuously processing raw materials in lock-step operation, downtimes are extremely costly. The standard status indicator will only indicate a problem at the work cell when the system stops, but it will not indicate a lack of raw material, for example. The moment the stack light turns red, the operator or the maintenance person is rushed to the site to first figure out what’s wrong before solving the problem. In Run Light mode, the SmartLight can be programmed to indicate different colors for the running segment and the background to show that attention is required at the cell. For example, as long as the running segment is running the machine is operational, but the background color can be changed to indicate raw material shortage, the need for mechanical adjustment of the machine, or the need for some electrical maintenance. Using a SmartLight, whoever is rushing the cell has a very good idea of what is required of them to get the system back up and running.

There are several more applications we want to share. Before we do that, we want to hear from you! Do you have a unique application for the SmartLight? Share your story with us here.

You can also learn more by visiting our website at www.balluff.us.

IMTS 2016 Review: IO-Link Enables Industry 4.0 Installations

We have been talking about IO-Link for a long time.  The benefits to manufacturers like “hot-swapping” a smart device.  One of the benefits for machine builder is reducing commissioning time.  So it was not surprising to me to find IO-Link on the exhibit floor at IMTS 2016, but it was surprising how much IO-Link was used on equipment and demonstrations.

Makino IO-Link I/O Hubs

On a cool demo of robotic load and unload of two machining centers from the team at Makino Machine IO-Link was used for I/O applications driving solenoids and collecting sensor inputs.

What is neat about I/O hubs regardless of the brand is the ability to collect many simple discrete sensor inputs and drive outputs over one IO-Link channel.  It can save tim dramatically over traditional hardwired applications.

Beckhoff IO-Link Master for EtherCAT
Beckhoff IO-Link Master for EtherCAT
Molex IO-Link Inter-operability

At Beckhoff they were showing their IO-Link master options for a slice in the PLC.

Molex displayed their Profinet IO-Link master and slave devices like analog converter and digital I/O hubs.  What I liked about their demo is they showed how open and easy the IO-Link technology is to integrate other company’s devices like the Balluff SmartLight.

Klingelnberg IO-Link

In the Klingelnberg booth on one of their flagship machines IO-Link masters and SmartLight were installed on the machine. IO-Link inductive positioning Smart Sensors from Balluff were used for measurement of the chucking position.

And inter-operability was also shown with multiple manufacturer’s process sensors with IO-Link installed tied back to a Profinet master.  Since IO-Link is an open standard with over 90 automation vendors, it was nice to see the inter-operability in action.

Caron Eng Demo of SmartLight

The SmartLight was shown all over the IMTS show due to Caron Engineering’s easy integration into a PC without an industrial network.  Too many booths to name had the SmartLight integrated with the Caron IO-Link Master solution.

The fact that IO-Link can be used with multiple master interfaces and options, really makes it an easy to select and universal choice for a variety of applications.

 

I look forward to seeing what unfolds in the two years before the next IMTS show.  I anticipate there will be a dramatic and continued adoption of IO-Link as it enables and scales Industry 4.0 and IIoT applications.

To see more or join the conversation check out #IMTS2016 on Twitter.

Is IO-Link only for Simplifying Sensor Integration?

PossibilitiesOn several occasions, I was asked what other applications IO-Link is suitable for? Is it only for sensor integration? Well the answer is no! There are several uses for IO-Link and we are just beginning to scratch the surface for what IO-Link can do. In this blog post I will cover at least 7 common uses for IO-Link including sensor integration.
IO-Link in essence provides tremendous flexibility. Each available IO-Link port offers the possibility to connect devices from hundreds of manufacturers to build a resilient distributed modular controls architecture — that is essentially independent of the fieldbus or network. IO-Link is the first standardized sensor/actuator communication protocol as defined in IEC61131-9.

USE-CASE #1: Simplify sensor integration
Multitudes of IO-Link sensors from 100+ manufacturers can be connected using the simple 3-wire M12 prox cables. No shielded cables are required. Additionally, using IO-Link provides a parameterization feature and anti-tampering abilities- on the same 3 wires. The sensor can be configured remotely through a PLC or the controller and all the configuration settings can be stored for re-application when the sensor is replaced. This way, on your dreaded night shift changing complex sensor is just plug-n-play. Recipe changes on the line are a breeze too. For example, if you have an IO-Link color sensor configured to detect a green color and for the next batch you want to start detecting red color- with IO-Link it is simply a matter of sending a parameter for the color sensor – instead of sending a maintenance person to change the settings on the sensor itself — saving valuable time on the line.
color sensors

USE-CASE #2: Simplify analog sensor connections
In one of my previous blogs, “Simplify your existing analog sensor connection”, I detailed how connecting an analog sensor with single or multi-channel analog-to-IO-Link (A/D) converters can eliminate expensive shielded cables and expensive analog cards in the controller rack and avoids all the hassle that comes with the analog sensors.

USE-CASE #3: Simplify RFID communication
IO-Link makes applications with RFID particularly intriguing because it takes all the complexity of the RFID systems out for simple applications such as access control, error-proofing, number plate tracking and so on. In an open port on IO-Link master device you can add read/write or read only RFID heads and start programming. A couple of things to note here is this IO-Link based RFID is geared for small data communication where the data is about 100-200 bytes. Of-course if you are getting into high volume data applications a dedicated RFID is preferred. The applications mentioned above are not data intensive and IO-Link RFID is a perfect solution for it.

USE-CASE #4: Simplify Valve Integration
valve manifoldTypically valve banks from major manufacturers come with a D-sub connection with 25 pins. These 25 wires are now required to be routed back to the controls cabinet, cut, stripped, labeled, crimped and then terminated. The other expensive option is to use a network node on the valve bank itself, which requires routing expensive network cable and power cable to the valve bank. Not to mention the added cost for the network node on the valve bank. Several manufacturers now offer IO-Link on the valve manifold itself simplifying connection to 4-wires and utilizing inexpensive M12 prox cables. If you still have the old D-sub connector, an IO-Link to 25-pin D-sub connectors may be a better solution to simplify the valve bank installation. This way, you can easily retrofit your valve bank to get the enhanced diagnostics with IO-Link without much cost. Using IO-Link valve connectors not only saves time on integration by avoiding the labor associated with wire routing, but it also offers a cost effective solution compared to a network node on the valve manifold. Now you can get multiple valve manifolds on the single network node (used by the IO-Link master) rather than providing a single node for each valve manifold in use.

USE-CASE #5 Simplify Process Visualization
Who would have thought IO-Link can add intelligence to a stack light or status indicator? Well, we did. Balluff introduced an IO-Link based fully programmable LED tower light system to disrupt the status indicator market. The LED tower light, or SmartLight, uses a 3-wire M12 prox cable and offers different modes of operations such as standard stack light mode with up to 5 segments of various color lights to show the status of the system, or as a run-light mode to display particular information about your process such as system is running but soon needs a mechanical or electrical maintenance and this is done by simply changing colors of a running segment or the background segment. Another mode of operation could be a level mode where you can show the progress of process or show the fork-lift operators that the station is running low on parts. Since the Smartlight uses LEDs to show the information, the colors, and the intensity of the light can be programmed. If that is not enough you can also add a buzzer that offers programmable chopped, beep or continuous sound. The Smartlight takes all of the complexity of the stack light and adds more features and functions to upgrade your plant floor.

USE-CASE #6: Non-contact connection of power and data exchange
Several times on assembly lines, a question is how to provide power to the moving pallets to energize the sensors and I/O required for the operation? When multi-pin connectors are used the biggest problem is that the pins break by constantly connecting or disconnecting. Utilizing an inductive coupling device that can enable transfer of power and IO-Link data across an air-gap simplifies the installation and eliminates the unplanned down-time. With IO-Link inductive couplers, up to 32 bytes of data and power can be transferred. Yes you can activate valves over the inductive couplers!  More on inductive coupling can be found on my other series of blogs “Simple Concepts for Complex Automation”

USE-CASE #7: Build flexible high density I/O architectures.
IO PointsHow many I/O points are you hosting today on a single network drop? The typical answer is 16 I/O points. What happens when you need one additional I/O point or the end-user demands 20% additional I/O points on the machine? Until now, you were adding more network or fieldbus nodes and maintaining them. With I/O hubs powered by IO-link on that same M12 4-wire cable, now each network node can host up to 480 I/O points if you use 16 port IO-Link masters. Typically most of our customers use 8-port IO-Link masters and they have the capacity to build up to 240 configurable I/O on a single network drop. Each port on the I/O hub hosts two channels of I/O points with each channel configurable as input or output, as normally open or normally closed. Additionally, you can get diagnostics down to each port about over-current or short-circuit. And the good thing is, each I/O hub can be about 20m away.

In a nutshell, IO-Link can be used for more than just simplifying sensor integration and can help significantly reduce your costs for building flexible resilient controls architectures. Still don’t believe it? Contact us and we can work through your particular architecture to see if IO-Link offers a viable option for you on your next project.

Learn more about our IO-Link solutions at www.balluff.com/io-link

A Simple Way to Improve Speed and Efficiency

We are all efficiency-hungry. We want everything from service in restaurants to production on our plant done efficiently. Sometimes we use the term “speed” interchangeably with efficiency. Is that really a big deal? Of course it is.  How many times have you placed an order at the drive-through window of a fast-food chain and gotten wrong items or incomplete orders? Why do they make mistakes? Because, they are measured on customer response time (speed) and not on accuracy of the delivery (efficiency) — again speed replaced efficiency.

So is the maintenance team at your production plant efficient or speedy?  In my opinion, once you have the right maintenance person for the problem at hand they would be both efficient and speedy. The point I want to make is that identifying what type of maintenance service your system needs is the important part in making your maintenance team efficient in responding. Another way would be hiring all-rounder maintenance person who can handle electrical, mechanical and all other issues that your system can throw at him/her. How many of those all-rounders you can find and keep?

Today, in most plants we see three-segment or five-segment stack lights on almost all sorts of equipment that tells you the status of the work-cell: Green = everything good; Red = Need maintenance now!!! But, does it tell you about type of maintenance? So, what do we do? We send our maintenance tech out to the system; he looks up error codes on the small 8×10 HMI and figures out that the system needs an electrical tech to handle the situation. Wouldn’t it be nice, if that stack-light was a little smarter to tell you that “Hey, this system needs {electrical, pneumatic or mechanical} maintenance” instead of just flashing a red light? If it was that intelligent it would probably also tell you that this work-cell is running out of raw materials, or how the system is performing to the production quota etc.

SmartLightWell, I have great news: since the introduction of our one of a kind SmartLights our customers shared so many novel uses of this intelligent LED tower light that it is hard to capture all of them in one blog. I would like to share some quick examples though. As this SmartLight has three programmable modes of operations; stack-light mode, run-light mode and level mode, there are several possibilities of showing different information about the system using the single SmartLight. In one application, when the system needs operator/maintenance intervention, the controller (PLC or computer) switches the SmartLight in run-light mode and utilizes different combinations of foreground and background colors to indicate what type of maintenance and what severity of maintenance is needed. In another application, our customer utilizes the level mode of operation to show how different stations are performing so that plant supervisor and pin-point the bottleneck of the process and provide needed support to ensure efficient operations in the plant. Furthermore, lots of these applications were done as an after-thought to the existing systems in place.

SmartLight is one of the ways to improve your efficiency and speed. If you have unique SmartLight application to share feel free to comment on this blog.

Learn more about the SmartLight in our video library or on our website at www.balluff.us/smartlight.

RFID Journal Live…It was all about the “Bolt”

I have to be honest. It didn’t take much to lure me to Orlando following the Arctic winter which haunted pretty much everybody who lives north of Dallas. And, just as I had hoped, the sunshine was in full force and the bonus was Balluff being at center stage thanks to the Databolt and its recent success at GM.

If you missed this year’s edition of RFID Journal Live then you missed an opportunity to hear first-hand about the famous Databolt. Mark Chiappetta, The manufacturing Engineering Superintendent at GM in Tonawanda, explained to conference attendees how technology has improved overall efficiency in the manufacturing process at the plant. Of course, the Databolt was featured in his presentation which was followed by a wave of interest in the Balluff booth. Read the GM Databolt story: http://www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?11329

Continue reading “RFID Journal Live…It was all about the “Bolt””