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The smart factory employs smart sensors to intelligently detect and process data to improve productivity. Article by Michael Kaspar

Smart Sensors Are Bringing About A Paradigm Shift In Production

Smart Sensors Are Bringing About A Paradigm Shift In Production

The smart factory employs smart sensors to intelligently detect and process data to improve productivity. Article by Michael Kaspar, Product Manager For Photoelectric Sensors & Fibres, Sick.

Sensors that monitor themselves; workstations in which sensors and actuators coordinate their own sequences and functions; production structures with autonomous units that manage and optimise themselves – the emergence of the smart factory means a paradigm shift in the implementation of production and intralogistics processes.

Industry 4.0 and the smart factory of the future are already with us. The development is being driven by best possible flexibility, transparency, and availability in production and logistics, with human-machine collaboration and the optimisation of the deployment of resources also playing a part. With Smart Sensor Solutions, we are offering a network-enabled portfolio of sensors that is future-ready and supports both these requirements and the remote execution of automation functions (Smart Tasks).

The intelligence and communication capabilities offered by Smart Sensor Solutions mine rich seams of potential for enhancing machine productivity. A variety of parameter settings can be visualised, tested, and optimised even as early as the integration and initial commissioning phases. Various sensor parameter sets can also be stored in the automation system for specific jobs, formats, or configurations, ready to be loaded to the sensor during live operation without any loss of time.

Machines and systems that are affected by frequent changes in products (eg: different package sizes or batches) in particular benefit from this function, which facilitates rapid and reliable conversion. The flexible and simultaneous use of any number of sensors directly from the control system thanks to the ability to download parameters such as sensing distance, hysteresis, or switching threshold saves time, prevents errors, and can be documented at any point.

When a Smart Sensor indicates the presence or imminent threat of a malfunction to the automation system, a replacement can be made quickly. Once the replacement sensor has been connected, it is tested and confirmed by the automation system. After this, the last valid application-specific data from the predecessor sensor is automatically transmitted directly to the new sensor. As no other manual settings are necessary, the machine can be restarted after only minimum downtime.

Self-Diagnostics For Predictive Maintenance

Automation engineering components in a production setting or in intralogistics systems are permanently exposed to environmental influences such as dust, cardboard dust, moisture, or vibrations. As well as being specified for the harshest of application conditions in terms of their mechanical. electrical, and optical components, with their self-monitoring functions, our sensors improve the performance and availability of machines even when operating at high capacity and throughput. To detect faults in good time, the diagnostics data can be used in analysis tools either close to the machine or based on the Cloud, and faults can also be avoided altogether with predictive maintenance. Service intervals can be optimised pro-cyclically; a scheduled machine standstill can be used to clean or maintain a sensor, for example.

In this way, the condition monitoring of the sensor has a direct effect on overall machine availability. In addition, our Smart Sensors support the option of visualising operating data and settings for machine operators. With just one look at the HMI terminal, an operator is able to see how the sensor is working currently, which switching thresholds have been configured, and how close the sensor may be to critical tolerance values.

Autonomous Working (almost) Without An Automation System

In the implementation of Industry 4.0, Cyber-Physical Production Systems (CPPS), eg: as intelligent equipment, support remote, responsive, and adaptable production and logistics control. This requires the increased use of sensor information that is available remotely, in order to set up local control circuits for specific situations, for example.

The Smart Sensor Solutions concept is thus an enabling technology for the self-organising factory. Functions can be executed autonomously in interplay with other communication-enabled and intelligent sensors or actuators. When a smart photoelectric proximity sensor detects the presence, direction of movement, and speed of a device, for example, it can send this information directly to an intelligent gripper, which will pick up the part dynamically and reposition it for the next stage of the process. Once this is complete, the automation system simply receives an I/O signal so that the next process step can be started.

However, the automation system is no longer charged with being in direct control of the autonomous detection/gripper function. The example shows how intelligent sensors can work together in an automation network to relieve the load at control level by taking over specific tasks.

Smart Tasks – The Specific Added Value Of Intelligent Sensors

The distribution of intelligent functions – in other words, the shifting of them from automation system to field devices – is a future-ready approach to improve the efficiency and performance of automation networks. Our Smart Sensors offer specific added value that sets them apart from other technologies on the market. Smart Tasks benefit from the option of direct communication between sensors and actuator engineering – without the need to make a detour via an automation system, something that has a significant impact on time in many cases. High-speed counting is a typical function.

Inductive and opto-electronic sensors can be used to detect and check speeds, to detect directions of rotation, or to detect and count objects. Signal evaluation takes place in the sensors; central counter modules are not required. Rather than pulses, speed, velocity, or counter values that can undergo further processing directly are output to the controller. The measurement of time and length is another example of a function that can be executed remotely. Smart Sensors detect and directly report the dimensions of a product, eg: the length, the size of the gaps between single objects, or the speed of a conveyor. All of this happens without any intervention from the central automation system and relieves the load on that central automation system accordingly; in some cases, Smart Sensors can even replace complex automation components. Hardware and programming costs are cut as a result.

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