Stop Industrial Network Failures With One Simple Change

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It’s the worst when a network goes down on a piece of equipment.  No diagnostics are available to help troubleshooting and all communication is dead.  The only way to find the problem is to physically and visually inspect the hardware on the network until you can find the culprit.  Many manufacturers have told me over the past few months about experiences they’ve had with down networks and how a simple cable or connector is to blame for hours of downtime.

2013-08-19_Balluff-IO-Link_Mexico_Manufactura-de-Autopartes_healywBy utilizing IO-Link, which has been discussed in these earlier blogs, and by changing the physical routing of the network hardware, you can now eliminate the loss of communication.  The expandable architecture of IO-Link allows the master to communicate over the industrial network and be mounted in a “worry-free” zone away from any hostile environments.  Then the IO-Link device is mounted in the hostile environment like a weld cell and it is exposed to the slag debris and damage.  If the IO-Link device fails due to damage, the network remains connected and the IO-Link master reports detailed diagnostics on the failure and which device to replace.  This can dramatically reduce the amount of time production is down.  In addition the IO-Link device utilizes a simple sensor cable for communication and can use protection devices designed for these types of cables.  The best part of this is that the network keeps communicating the whole time.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits that IO-Link can provide to manufacturers, please take a look at this flyer.

2 Simple Ways to Protect from Arc Flash Hazards

If you are a manager at any level of a manufacturing facility, I hope you are aware of the dangers of arc flash.  For those who are not aware, “an arc flash, also called arc blast or arc fault is a type of electrical explosion that results from a low-impedance connection to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system.”  Typically this does not occur in 120V situations, but can occur in 480V+ installations if proper precautions are not taken.  Employees can be severely injured or even killed when an accident occurs while working with these kinds of electrical systems.   There are many standards  like OSHA, IEEE and NFPA that regulate these types of situations to provide a safe working environment for the employee.  In addition to those standards, I would propose two simple changes to controls architecture and design to help limit the exposure to working inside an electrical cabinet.

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“Gorilla” Warfare in Metalforming – How to Couple Stamping Die Segments Without a Hard Wire Connection

This post will show how to couple stamping die segments without a hard wire connection, AND prevent the potential gorilla-like effects of forklifts during die change! Have you ever experienced or heard about a forklift removing a stamping die with the giant Mil-Spec connector still attached (OOPS!!!!)? It certainly isn’t a pretty sight. Below is a typical Mil-spec connector, they aren’t cheap or easy to re-wire.

Or, have you ever tried to figure out a way to add sensors in very complex progressive die segments that will facilitate rapid die change?  If so, I have an answer for you with a non-contact connector system. Take a peek at the picture below.

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IO-Link is the USB for Industrial Automation

I’ve recently heard this comparison used a number of times and the parallels are quite interesting.  USB was designed to help standardize a dizzying array of connectors and configurations of supplementary devices that developed during the age of the Compaq vs IBM.  It always took days to configure and establish communication between devices and then finally you could never get all the functionality that the device promised because of your PC’s specific configuration.  USB revolutionized the personal computer by allowing for a standard interface for simple devices from hard-drives to keyboard lights, and best of all by offering a device drivers the functionality promised could be delivered.  If the device broke, you bought a new one, plugged it in and it worked.

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Distributed Modular I/O Demo on Demand!

Everyone likes things on demand right?  Movies, TV shows, chocolate, you name it.  My good friend, John Harmon, has prepared a YouTube video so that you have at your fingertips an on-demand presentation on Distributed Modular I/O.  It is a great overview of the available functionality of Distributed Modular I/O and what kinds of control products that are available utilizing this technology.  I realize the video is seven and a half minutes, which is pretty long for a web video, but I think he does an excellent job of keeping your attention and demonstrating the value of this technology.  Grab a soda and your favorite chocolate bar, put your phone on silent, and hit play on this excellent presentation.

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A 3-Step Plan to Improve Your Design of Pneumatic Systems

I’ve been talking pneumatic systems (valves, cylinders, actuators, etc.) recently with my customers and I’m finding among these engineers some common pains coming out of the system design.  It seems that many people are researching networked valve islands with I/O built-in.  These seem to be a great way to consolidate lots of I/O into one IP address, but there are some new issues cropping up similar to the above photo:

  • When assembling these at a machine builder the routing of cables with piping is more cumbersome  with cables hanging off the valves, larger cable tray installations  and large amounts of piping all running to the same spot.
  • For machine builders, with all of the valves centralized in one place, the pneumatic lines have to be longer.  This causes many issues such as slower responsiveness due to air volume, air inertia, and lower air quality.
  • When trying to perform maintenance at an end-user, it becomes a nightmare to troubleshoot with a cluster of cables and pipes.  The zip-tied and clean runs installed by the machine builder are cut, tangled and re-routed as the machine ages and becomes more difficult to troubleshoot.
  • Also at end users, if the manifold needs to be expanded, updated, retrofitted with new valves or I/O, there are big hurdles to jump when doing this: re-piping the valve due to mounting position shifting or even having to edit and repair code in the PLC to adapt to new bitmaps generated by the new valve manifold configuration.
  • When closing the loop with magnetic field sensors mounted on the cylinders, typically reed switches are used which are prone to failure.  In addition, these switches typically have two sensors & cables per actuator to give extend or retract position, these cables cause larger cable trays and long cable runs back to the centralized manifold and I/O.

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Machine Mount I/O: Get out of the Cabinet

In April, Jim Montague of Control Design wrote an interesting article on Machine Mount I/O entitled “Machine-Mount I/O Go Everywhere.”  I think the article makes some very good points as to the value of why someone wants to move from inside an enclosure, or controls cabinet, to mounting I/O products directly on the machine.

He summarizes, with the help of a number of industry experts, the below points:

  • Same or Better control performance out of IP67 products versus IP20 products.  
    • Installation time alone “is reduced by a factor of 5 to 10″
    • Assemble more controls equipment faster with the same people & workspace
  • Smaller & Simpler components take up less real-estate on the machine
    • Smaller Controls cabinets are needed
    • Less terminations required 2 versus “4 or more” for one connection
    • standard & simple quick disconnect i/o and network cables
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Intelligent Interfaces and IO-Link Innovation

I recently had the opportunity to attend Hannover Fair in Germany and was blown away by the experience… buildings upon buildings of automation companies doing amazing things and helping us build our products faster, smarter and cheaper.  One shining topic for me at the fair was the continued growth of new products being developed with IO-Link communications in them.

All in all, the growth of IO-Link products is being driven by the need of customers to know more about their facility, their process and their production.  IO-Link devices are intelligent and utilize a master device to communicate their specific information over an industrial network back to the controller.  To learn more about IO-Link, read my previous entry, 5 Things You Need to Know about IO-Link.

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3 Production Problems Solved by Intelligent Sensors

In typical sensors all you get is ON or OFF… we just hope and assume that the prox is working, until something doesn’t work properly.  The part is seated but the sensor doesn’t fire or the operator can’t get their machine to cycle.  This can sometimes be tricky to troubleshoot and usually causes unplanned interruptions in production while the maintenance teams attempt to replace the sensor.  On some recent customer visits on the east coast, I have had a number of  interesting conversations about the customer’s need to collect more information from their sensors; specifically questions like:

  • How do I know the sensor is working?
  • How do I predict sensor failure?
  • How do I know something has changed in the sensor application?
  • How do I get my sensor to provide adaptive feedback?
  • How do I plan preventative maintenance?
  • How can I increase the overall equipment throughput?
  • How can I increase my process reliability?

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Valve Manifolds on Ethernet for Cheap!

Valve manifolds, or islands or banks, are used by many automation engineers in their machine design. They are a great way to easily implement a large number of pneumatic motion applications while keeping the air infrastructure minimal.  Recent demand in the market has driven manifold manufacturers to reluctantly embed network interfaces and remote I/O into their products.   Customers tell me while manufacturer’s expertise may lie with the pneumatic side of the product; there is usually less knowledge with-in their organizations to work on the Ethernet side of the product.

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