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What’s the next big thing in sensing technology?

06 January 2015

IO-Link is the first standardised IO technology worldwide for the communication with sensors and also actuators. But what does that mean for the food industry?

Widely used in the food industry, sensing systems are becoming even more important as food manufacturers look to gain higher quality and consistency across their production lines. Demand for sensing systems has increased as automated controls have become more sensitive to measuring, regulating and recording a range of specifications.

So what is the next step for sensing systems? There’s been a lot of buzz about IO-Link technology, which provides a control system from start to finish, right down to the lowest sensor / actuator level. “IO-Link is poised to play a comparable role as an installation system for connecting sensors, actuators, operating and display elements in machine building,” says Bryan Hall, Sales Development at Balluff UK, a manufacturer of components for sensors and systems solutions. “IO-Link’s versatility means that it can be integrated seamlessly into a manufacturer’s existing system. Its ability to work within existing machinery control systems, large or small, means that it can be used across many different types of plant.”

The IO-Link interface requires only a common 3-conductor standard cable from the BUS node / master, and one key feature is its downward compatibility with all standard sensors is immune to noise. This means that costly long runs of bus cables and shielded cable are not needed, simplifying the entire installation process and saving both time and money.

Advantages for the packaging industry
Balluff sees this technology as particularly well suited for the confectionery and pre-packed food sectors, which continue to grow across Europe. “For manufacturers, a streamlined, efficient packaging system is needed to keep a vast, high-speed operation going,” says Hall. “A particular challenge is presented by the variety of movement within such a system which interact with each other at high speed, having to run with strict coordination and absolute reliability.” Many manufacturers of packaging rely on the combination of mechanical, cam-controlled drives using a central drive shaft together with servo-driven movements such as high-performance fold wrapping machines with high run cycle rates. The aim for these machines is to implement the most logical combination of mechatronic systems which remain highly reliable in the long-term, and the ability to reduce these often complex control requirements down to the simple steps that productivity demands is key. An IO-Link installation saves the cumbersome wiring of multiple sensor circuits by use of system sensor hubs concentrating 8 or 16 inputs / outputs into a single BUS node / master port.

“A major advantage of IO-Link is that this point-to-point connection system is fieldbus independent and the system is equally at home with Profibus, Profinet, EtherNet / IP, CC-Link, Devicenet or EtherCAT,” explains Hall. “This brings familiarisation to both the machine builder / integrator and the user of the installation, thus reducing costs in area such as engineering, maintenance, stores and training. At the end of the day, in the complex world of the packaging industry, IO-Link helps to simplify the connection of both sensor and actuator signals from the control system downwards, whilst at the same time maximising technical capability, making life that bit easier for both those building and using the technology.”

IO-Link has more potential and could provide the food packaging with a number of other benefits. “As a new communications standard, it represents not only time-saving, lean cabling, but also simplified parameterisation and diagnostics concepts,” says Hall. “If configurable IO-Link sensors and actuators are installed in the system, their parameters can set centrally via software using data and function modules, regardless of where the devices are located.” This would not only shorten start-up time but the entire time-to-market phase, which could be an enormous advantage for the food packaging industry. With food packaging machinery being, by necessity, incredibly intricate and complex, IO-Link helps to simplify the process whilst being highly technologically advanced.

Integration
Rockwell Automation has added IO-Link to their currently available sensors, which allows their customers to utilise IO-Link technology in their application without having to order and install additional sensors. IO-Link technology is embedded in IO-Link enabled sensors, and the advanced features can be accessed through an IO-Link master. The sensors act like standard sensors when not interfaced to an IO-Link enabled control system, which enables users to stock the same sensors for traditional standard applications and IO-Link applications, which simplifies the selection process and reduces stocking costs. “One of the benefits of this implementation is that we have been able to seamlessly integrate the IO-Link controller and sensors with the EtherNet / IP network, which reduces the knowledge and expertise the customer must have regarding IO-Link since the data is accessible through standard EtherNet / IP messaging, truly making the IO-Link products an integral part of the Internet of Things and a key aspect of the complete Connected Enterprise,” says Udo Fueger, European Product Manager Sensing, RFID & Connectivity at Rockwell Automation. “As a result, our customers can receive diagnostic information down to the sensor/field device level to validate the overall health and productivity of their machines.”

IO-Link allows users to monitor the health of the machine and its individual components, including the local sensor temperature monitoring and constant communication of sensor status and functionality. “For example, proximity sensor heads can be sheared off due to product getting too close to the sensor and making contact,” explains Fueger. “Without IO-Link, the machine would not be notified the sensor is not detecting product. With IO-Link enabled proximity sensors, the sensor can send an event or warning to the control system indicating that the oscillator is no longer operating and a controlled shutdown can be performed if needed. Diagnostics such as these allow the user to closely monitor all aspects of the machine and optimise preventative maintenance by identifying and correcting issues before failures can occur.”

Fueger also points out that IO-Link can help lower production line changes. With IO-Link’s ability to save and download multiple job-specific configurations or profiles, users can perform line changes in a matter of minutes. Or with photoelectric sensors in cutting processes where dirt and dust can accumulate on the lens. Rather than installing air jets to blow debris periodically from the sensors, which is both a cost and inefficiency as the air is blown at pre-set intervals, IO-Link capable sensors can monitor when the sensor needs to be cleaned only when required.

Rockwell Automation has implemented the IO-Link technology to make it transparent to the rest of the control system. “Since IO-Link is a point-to-point communication technique, there is no network configuration required,” says Fueger. “Sensor configurations can be saved at the controller and downloaded by OEMs to their future machine builds. Ultimately, by using IO-Link, OEMs can effectively build more machines while offering their customers the most efficient and reliable machines possible.”

This transparency of sensors as an integral part of the whole system is a definite movement towards smart manufacturing. “We will need considerably more sensor systems in the factory of the future due to the required flexibility, regardless of the extent to which Industry 4.0 becomes reality,” says Roland Schricker, Industry Manager for Packaging at Leuze electronic. “The sensors will need to supply much more information about the object that is to be produced and the process. Today, for example, measuring sensors are performing asks that were previously solved by simple presence monitoring. Usability is a topic that makes the use of even complex solutions as simple as possible for the customer. With its incredible variety of shapes, colours and materials, we view the packaging industry in particular as a challenge here. With the trend towards a packaging material, the things that need to be detected will become lighter and, in the foil sector, for example, increasingly transparent.”


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