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Smart sensors are bringing about a paradigm shift in production

Supplier: SICK Pty Ltd By: Michael Kaspar, Product Manager for Photoelectric Sensors & Fibers, SICK AG, Waldkirch
16 April, 2018

The intelligence and communication capabilities offered by Smart Sensor Solutions offer the potential for enhancing machine productivity.

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. Intelligence and the ability to communicate at field level are the order of the day – state-of-the-art sensor technologies by SICK are able to meet these requirements.

Industry 4.0 and the smart factory of the future are already with us. The development is being driven by the best possible flexibility, transparency, and availability of production and logistics, with human-machine collaboration and the optimisation of the deployment of resources also playing a part. With Smart Sensor Solutions, SICK is 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).

Whether initial commissioning or replacement: It's all systems go

The intelligence and communication capabilities offered by Smart Sensor Solutions offer the 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 (“configurations”) 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 (e.g., 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 quickly connected. 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 minimal downtime.

Optimizing availability: Self-diagnostics for predictive maintenance

Automation engineering components in a production setting or 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, SICK 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. Also, SICK's Smart Sensors support the option of visualising operating data and settings for machine operators. With just one look at the HMI terminal, an operator can 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), e.g., as intelligent equipment, support remote, responsive, and adaptable production and logistics control.  This requires the increased use of sensor information that is available remotely, 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. SICK's Smart Sensor Solutions offer a range of options for taking over intelligent functions such as these, which are known as Smart 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. SICK's 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,e.g., 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. The remote debouncing function supported by Smart Sensors proves useful in applications for the detection and counting of objects that involve large numbers of interference signals for reasons related to processes or the environment. They allow signals to be analysed with a configurable time delay and signals that are pending for just a few milliseconds to be identified as interference and suppressed. This analysis is carried out locally in the sensor – neither the control nor the network is loaded with a large number of time-critical signals whose analysis could be critical to the process. Traceability through a time-stamp function implemented in the sensor enables the functions of sensor/actuator units to be synchronised without being subject to a delay time. As such, jitter effects can occur during signal transmission to the PLC and in the context of program execution on the PLC are avoided through real-time synchronisation based on the time stamp. This enables machine speeds to be increased as well as facilitating the high-precision control of actuators.

Smart Sensors are opening up disruptive perspectives

On the one hand, the potential benefits of Smart Sensors are of an incremental nature – based on a gradual increase in the efficiency of existing tasks, e.g., parameter download for rapid retooling and easy device replacement, recipe management, and condition monitoring. On the other hand, the degree of innovation that is inherent in Smart Sensor Solutions is of a more radical nature. Their remote intelligence enables them to complete Smart Tasks and in so doing to generate new, better quality detection information. In conjunction with another sensor, this information can perhaps be made available to superordinate systems (PLC, ERP, Cloud). This incremental and radical potential for innovation is opening up disruptive perspectives in parallel with Industry 4.0. Smart Sensors combine a large number of integration and autonomy functions along with options for both the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services. Machines, systems, and factories are being networked intelligently, work autonomously to a large extent, collaborate – and in so doing achieve maximum flexibility at every level. The paradigm shift in production, triggered by intelligent and communication-ready sensors, is in full swing.