Recap of our top 5 posts of 2015

goodbye-2015-hello-2016As we wrap up the old and begin to open up the new, let’s take a moment to reflect on what this past year has brought us.  Apart from the triumphs and the hard lost battles, we want to bring you some of our top posts from 2015.  These posts are as follows:

#5: 5 Tips on Making End-of-Arm Tooling Smarter

Everyone wants their robot to work faster, smarter, and more efficiently.  In this post we review five easy tips to help you improve the efficiency of your end-of-arm tooling.

Example of discrete sensors used to detect tank level
Example of discrete sensors used to detect tank level

#4: Liquid Level Sensing: Detect or Monitor

Who doesn’t like complicated concepts broken down into easy to understand terminology? In this post we break down the differences between point level detection and continuous position sensing as well as provide you with technologies to put into practice.

#3: How Can I Convince My Boss to Send Me to Training?

As Aristotle once said “All men (and women) by nature desire knowledge.”  Here we are giving you the tools needed to break down the barriers your boss (or you) might have against investing in training.

#2: Back to the Basics: How Do I Wire a 2-Wire Sensor?

So you just got a brand spanking new 2-wire sensor for the holidays but you realize you don’t know exactly what wire goes where.  In this post we make wiring that bad boy easy and even break down what polarized and non-polarized mean.

So we have covered four of the top posts from 2015, are you ready for the number one post from the past year? So are we! And we will have it for you right after a quick message from our sponsors! (just kidding!)

power&dataexchange#1: Inductive Coupling – Simple Concept for Complex Automation

Through the use of magnetic induction, we are able to reduce the downtime of a machine due to the failure of a slip ring.  Inductive couplers pass power and data over an air gap creating a maintenance free, non-contact environment to operate a variety of machinery.

We want to thank you for the wonderful year that is behind us and be sure to be on the look-out for even more exciting news to come this year!

Why Train on Industrial Ethernet?

trainingAn industrial Ethernet network is vastly different from an office Ethernet network in several key ways, and the key to optimizing your industrial network in light of these differences, is hands-on training.

First of all, the environment in industrial applications can degrade the actual cable itself. Some cable manufacturers actually rate their cables’ ability to withstand these environmental factors. They use the acronym MICE, and rate the cable as appropriate for one of three environments: M1I1C1E1 for office environments, M2I2C2E2 for light industrial environments, and M3I3C3E3 for industrial environments. The letters actually stand for: Mechanical factors such as shock and vibration, Ingress from moisture, Climatic factors such as temperature and sunlight, and Electromagnetic interference such as noise caused by inductive loads, welders, variable frequency drives, etc. Other cable vendors observe the recommendations of ODVA and offer cables that are ODVA compliant.

Secondly, industrial Ethernet networks can have a high amount of multicast traffic. In the early years of Ethernet hubs were used to link devices. The problem is that information coming into one port of a hub was redirected to all of the other ports on the hub. With the advent of switches, unicast traffic was now directed to only the port for the intended recipient device. This is true for both managed and unmanaged switches: they both handle unicast traffic well. The problem for the unmanaged switch comes when you encounter multicast traffic. Since an unmanaged switch does not employ IGMP Snooping (Internet Group Management Protocol), the switch does not know what to do with multicast traffic. It starts acting like the old hubs: it directs all multicast traffic to all ports. With a managed switch and with IGMP Snooping turned on, the switch knows exactly where to send this multicast traffic and directs it only to the intended recipients. Multicast traffic can be anything from produced tags to input modules configured for multicast. These can be very common in industrial applications using PLCs.

Thirdly, we now have tools available in many switches and routers to prioritize the traffic on an Ethernet network. This becomes especially important when you have high-speed applications, motion applications, or time synchronization applications. In the past all Ethernet data was equal. The feedback coming from a servo drive had to wait just as long as a person trying to get online with a PLC. Now many automation vendors are marking their data with priority codes. Allen-Bradley marks their data in layer three with DSCP markings, and Siemens uses layer two markings with PCP marks, for instance (a VLAN tagging mechanism). In either case, if your switch or your routers are not configured properly to recognize and use these priority codes, you are not taking advantage of the QoS feature that could help get your important data through first (Quality of Service).

Only through proper training can you learn not only what the key issues are but also how to properly deploy your hardware to fully optimize your network. Balluff offers hands-on training with actual automation equipment, switches, and routers to help you do just that. You can learn more about the courses Balluff has to offer at

How Manufacturing Can Easily Invest in STEM Programs

I continuously hear from manufacturers, machine builders and integrators across our industry that they can’t find qualified people for the job openings they have.  Technicians or Engineers, Controls or Mechanical, all positions are in short supply and heavy demand.

“The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s “Made in America” research series estimates the shortage at 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers.” SHRM

In addition, according to the same study, the average age in 2013 of these workers was 56 years.  In conference presentations, I have seen segments like Steel or Metalworking show average ages up to 62.  And the demand for Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) jobs is only growing.

“Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs grew three times faster than non-STEM jobs, and they are projected to continue to grow by 17% through 2018, compared to 9.8% for all other occupations.” SME – Anna Maria Chávez
CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA


“The United States has one of the lowest shares of college degrees awarded in science and technology.” McKinsey

This collection of data screams to me that we MUST work on encouraging our youth with an interest in manufacturing and automation.  Manufacturers have the opportunity to drive this interest even with small investments that can have a large impact.

  • Participating in events like Mfg Day
  • Providing internships or coop opportunities
  • Investing in the education system with equipment
  • Providing training to students 
  • Opening your doors to tours.

Especially important is that we invest in programs for the K-12 level according to McKinsey as relatively few incoming freshmen choose these STEM subjects and less than half complete their degrees.

I am personally passionate about encouraging people of all ages into STEM careers and I love sharing my passion for automation.  We, at Balluff, are investing in technical labs, capstone projects and even middle school after school programs.

If you are interested in how you can get more involved in promoting STEM careers in your community, please reach out to me.

@WillAutomate on Twitter

How can I convince my boss to send me to training?

trainingWith responsibilities expanding, resources declining, and margins narrowing, companies today must scrutinize every dollar spent. Bad decisions are often based on bad data. An informed decision, on the other hand, can be defended in the light of the facts. In this article, we examine three misconceptions –  misconceptions which too often lead to poor decisions about training.

  1. If I train my people, they will leave.

In today’s companies where people change positions frequently, training is seen as a risky investment.  The correct perspective is seeing the risk involved in NOT training your people.  Do you really want your people making costly mistakes by the trial-and-error method of on-the-job training? Lack of training does not just affect the untrained person. Those that have been trained and are doing the job correctly often get pulled aside to explain procedures to the untrained. The bottom line is that people are going to be trained one way or another. What is the most efficient way to do this?

  1. I can’t afford the downtime to send my people to training.

Tools need to be sharpened.  This means they can’t be “productive” 100% of the time.  “Productivity” needs to be seen as a totally different thing from being “busy.”   Once a tool is sharpened, it is far more productive.  A dull tool can be “busy” 100 % of the time accomplishing nothing of value.  The correct perspective then is that you can’t afford the loss of productivity caused by a lack of training.

  1. All training offered out there is basically the same, so just take the cheapest one.

Training is not a one-way dump of information.  Training means that a change has taken place in a cognitive domain, an affective domain, or a psychomotor domain.  For automation companies, these three domains are intricately linked.  For example, it is not enough to just sit through a safety presentation:  you need to know the safety regulations (cognitive), you need to be passionate about why these are important (affective), and you need the skill necessary to implement these regulations by specifying, configuring, and integrating systems (psychomotor).

The best way to train in the psychomotor domain is through hands-on training.  Students learn skills best by practicing those skills.  For many companies who offer training, training is just a presentation of ideas without the necessary opportunity for participants to try anything for themselves. At Balluff, we have made a substantial investment in equipment, an investment in writing courseware properly, and an investment in training those who conduct the training with platform skills, adult learning skills, and teaching skills.  These investments make world-class, performance-based training available to our customers.

To see all that Balluff has to offer in Automation Training, click on our training web page link: