QR Codes for Business vs Industry

QRCode

Example of a QR code for business use

In a previous post I discussed the different types of bar codes. Aside from the 1D bar codes that we see in the grocery store, the most common type of bar code today is the QR code.

The QR code was 1st designed for the automotive industry to track vehicles in the assembly process. The QR code system became popular outside the automotive industry due to its greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC bar codes. A QR code can have up to 7,089 ASCII characters and can read numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji. Businesses often use this type of QR code on vehicles and products for advertising. When a picture is taken with a cell phone, typically in a QR code reader app, the user will be taken to a website for more information.

Sharpshooter vision sensor for reading micro & QR codes

Sharpshooter vision sensor for reading micro & QR codes

Micro QR codes, on the other hand, have a limitation of 35 digits of numeric characters. These are usually seen in industrial applications. For example, they are seen on cam shafts, crankshafts, pistons, and circuit boards. An example of data that is often written to a micro QR code would be a serial number to track and trace through an assembly plant. An industrial vision sensor is typically needed to decipher micro QR codes.

ILoveBalluffQRCodes

An example of a QR code (left) vs a micro QR code (right)

For more information visit www.balluff.us/vision.

 

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Acids Can Put Your Sensors in a Pickle

In many types of metals production, pickling is a process that is essential to removing impurities and contaminants from the surface of the material prior to further processing, such as the application of anti-corrosion coatings.

In steel production, two common pickling solutions or pickle liquors are hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Both of these acids are very effective at removing rust and iron oxide scale from the steel prior to additional processing, for example galvanizing or rolling. The choice of acid depends on the processing temperature, the type of steel being processed, and environmental containment and recovery considerations. Hydrochloric acid creates corrosive fumes when heated, so it typically must be used at lower temperatures where processing times are longer. It is also more expensive to recover when spent. Sulfuric acid can be used at higher temperatures for faster processing, but it can attack the base metal more aggressively and create embrittlement due to hydrogen diffusion into the metal.

Acids can be just as tough on all of the equipment involved in the pickling lines, including sensors. When selecting sensors for use in areas involving liquid acid solutions and gaseous fumes and vapors, care must be given to the types of acids involved and to the materials used in the construction of the sensor, particularly the materials that may be in direct contact with the media.

PressureSensor

A pressure sensor specifically designed for use with acidic media, at temperatures up to 125° C.

A manufacturer of silicon steel was having issues with frequent failure of mechanical pressure sensors on the pickling line, due to the effects of severe corrosion from hydrochloric acid at 25% concentration. After determination of the root cause of these failures and evaluation of alternatives, the maintenance team selected an electronic pressure sensor with a process connection custom-made from PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride), a VitonTM O-ring, and a ceramic (rather than standard stainless steel) pressure diaphragm. This changeover eliminated the corroded mechanical pressure sensors as an ongoing maintenance problem, increasing equipment availability and freeing up maintenance personnel to address other issues on the line.

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Connectivity in Welding Environments

PrintWhen working in harsh environments and in heavy duty applications like welding, it is important to take a multi-angle approach to designing the application. When you are working with existing sensor installations, it is important to consider all the reasons for the sensor’s failure before determining a winning solution. An important step in any application is to protect the connection between the controller and the sensor. In a welding environment, whether the sensor cable fails from weld slag buildup or from physical damage from contact with a part, the cable can be the key to a successful weld-sensing application.

siliconecables

Silicone Cable vs Silicone Jacket Cable

That being said, the number of options available to protect the connection can be overwhelming and at times even confusing. For example, silicone cables vs silicone tube cables. Silicone cables have a jacket that is made out of silicone material over the conductors.  This usually allows for a smaller diameter and more variety with the cordsets i.e. length and connector types. On the other hand, a silicone tube cable is a standard sensor cable with a silicone pulled over the cable then over-molded.  The silicone tube is a second jacket and the air is a good insulator, prolonging the life of the sensor cable.

CableOutvsQuickDisconnect

Sensor with Connector vs Sensor with Cable Out

Another important consideration is how to even connect your sensor. One option is to install a sensor with a connector. This allows for a quick disconnect from the cable. In this case, it may be better to use a right angle connector, so the bend radius of the cable is not hanging loose. A second option is to install a sensor with cable out. This can have flying leads or a connector added to the end.  At times, when there is not enough room to add a cordset, the cable out gives extra space.

To learn more about welding best practices visit www.balluff.us.

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IP Ratings and ECOLAB Basics

WashdownSensorsIntegrating sensors in washdown applications can be confusing when considering the various approvals.  So what do they all mean?  If a sensor is an IP69K rated sensor does that mean it will survive everything?  In the world of sensors there is IP54, IP67, IP68 and IP69 so if my sensor is IP69K that means it is the best right?  The short answer is no.  Let’s take a brief look at the differences.

IP ratings will generally have two digits with the first digit referring to the solid particle protection.  The second digit indicates the level of protection against the ingress of water.

Sensors rated for IP54 indicates they are dust protected, meaning that dust can get inside the sensor, however, it cannot be enough to interfere with the operation of the equipment –  this is designated by the 5.  The 4 indicates that the sensor withstands splashing water on the housing from any direction with no detrimental effect.  The test for the splashing of water lasts at least five minutes with a water volume of 2.64 gallons per minute with a pressure of 7.25 to 21.76 PSI.

IP67 rated sensors are the most commonly used sensors on the market.  Even most electrical enclosures used in automation are IP67 rated.  The 6 indicates these devices will not allow the entry of dust.  The 7 indicates that the sensor can be immersed in water to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes.

IP68 rated sensors are dust tight sensors that can be immersed in water continuously under conditions specified by the manufacturer.  Typically the depth of the immersion is 3 meters.

The IP69K rating is based on a dust tight sensor that can withstand high pressure sprays.  The devices are sprayed with a pressure of 1,160 to 1,450 PSI.  The water temperature can be as high as 176°F with a flow rate of 3.7 to 4.2 gallons per minute.  The distance from the nozzle to the device is 4 to 6 inches.  The sensor is placed on a rotary table that rotates at 5 revolutions per minute and the sensor is sprayed for 30 seconds at four angles 0°, 30°, 60°, and 90°.

The ultimate sensor would have a rating of IP67/IP68/IP69 indicating that it will survive submersion and high pressure washdown.  Also, some of these sensors are 316L stainless meaning they have low carbon content and are more corrosion resistant than other stainless steel grades.  Are all IP69K sensors stainless steel?  No, some sensors utilize polycarbonate-ABS thermoplastic.

Usually during washdown applications in the food and beverage industry the spray is not just water but some sort of cleaning chemical or disinfectant.  These aggressive cleaning and disinfecting agents can attack different housing materials.  This is addressed by the ECOLAB certification.

The ECOLAB test consists of testing the housing and sensor materials to exposure to these aggressive cleaning and disinfecting agents.  The devices are tested for 14 to 28 days at a room temperature of 68° F.  During this time the sensor is visually inspected for swelling, embrittlement, or changes in color.

Don’t forget that even though the sensor has the correct IP rating for your application that the mating connector has to meet the same specifications.  For example, if the sensor is IP69K rated and a IP67 mating cable is used then the lower IP rating has precedence.

If you are interested in what sensors and cables meet washdown requirements, please visit www.balluff.us.

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UHF making a big impact on manufacturing

RFIDUltra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID is quickly becoming the go-to identification system for flexible manufacturing lines around the world. While it was once considered to be a system designed primarily for distribution centers and retail stores, UHF technology has evolved to meet the rigors of the manufacturing environment.

Not long ago I was in a discussion with one of my customers who had been using RFID for almost 25 years. He was caught in a tough spot because he had an application which required reading tags from as little as six inches away to as far as two feet away. The HF system he had could easily meet his needs for the six inch read range, but reading at two feet away limited him to using UHF. When I explained that, his bewildered look indicated to me he was reluctant to consider UHF as a real option. He went on to explain that about ten years prior he conducted tests in his plant with UHF and found a host of limitations with the technology. His main concern was how the operators’ two-way radios interfered with the UHF operating frequency of 902-928MHz. Having heard this from other manufacturing organizations who were early adopters I knew right away that he wasn’t aware of how the technology has evolved over the last decade.

Frequency hopping has pretty much eliminated interference with other radio signals. In addition to overcoming radio interference, being able to read and write to tags which are mounted on or near metal and liquids has become a reality with recent advancements. These improvements have led to more flexible read ranges which are a requirement in today’s flexible manufacturing applications.

In a nutshell, the demands of flexible manufacturing have spurred advancements in the process as well as the supporting technology. As it applies to identification of parts or pallets in the manufacturing process, the flexibility of UHF RFID enables manufacturers to gain visibility in their process and provides actionable data that is used to make complex business decisions.

You can learn more about the technology in Balluff’s white paper, What Makes RFID Systems Industrial Strength? or by visiting our website at www.balluff.us/rfid

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External Linear Position Sensors: Floating or Captive Magnet?

External Linear Position Sensors:  Floating or Captive Magnet? 
PFMagnetsLinear position sensors that are designed to be mounted externally on a machine (as opposed to those designed to be installed into a hydraulic or pneumatic cylinder) are available in a variety of form factors that suit a variety of different applications and application requirements.  One of the most common form factors, particularly for magnetostrictive linear position sensors, is a rectilinear aluminum extrusion that houses the sensing element, or waveguide, and the processing electronics.  Commonly, you’ll hear these referred to as profile-style linear position sensors.

CaptiveVSFloating

Captive magnet (left) and floating magnet (right)

With these types of sensors, the moving part of the machine to be measured or monitored is attached to a position magnet.  The position magnet can be either captive or floating (see image to the right).  Each of these magnet configurations offer some inherent advantages.  We’re going to take a closer look at each.

Captive Magnet

A captive magnet glides along in a track that is an integral part of the extruded aluminum sensor housing.  The magnet is attached to the moving part of the machine via a mechanical linkage.  Advantages of a captive magnet arrangement include:

  • Mechanical flexibility: The magnet usually incorporates an articulating swivel or ball joint that is attached via a linking rod to the moving machine part.  That means the sensor doesn’t need to be perfectly in line with the axis of movement.
  • Protection from damage – In some cases, it is necessary to move the sensor out of harm’s way (e.g., extreme heat, caustic chemicals, strong electromagnetic fields, etc.). The linkage can be as long as necessary in order to connect to the sensor, which will be located in a more hospitable environment.

Some things to consider when choosing to use a captive magnet configuration:

  • Binding of the magnet: A high-quality magnetostrictive sensor is going have a near-zero drag coefficient between magnet and extrusion.  The magnet should not bind or drag.  But in some applications, dirt, grease and particulates can accumulate and cause issues.  For these applications, a floating magnet may be a better choice.
  • Mechanical overtravel:  In a captive magnet arrangement, if the machine travel exceeds the physical length of the sensor, the magnet will (of course) fall off the track.  If this is a concern, consider a floating magnet instead.

Floating Magnet

In a floating magnet arrangement, the sensor is located adjacent to the moving machine part.  The magnet is attached to that machine part, usually on a rigid arm or bracket.  Advantages of a floating magnet include:

  • No mechanical contact: The magnet never makes contact with the housing.  This could be important in applications where dirt, grease or particulates tend to collect on the sensor (see photo below)
    harshenvironment
  • Machine overtravel: Since the magnet is completely uncoupled from the sensor, machine overtravel isn’t a problem.  Obviously, if the magnet leaves the sensor, position feedback is lost, but the sensor will resume normal operation once the magnet re-enters the sensor’s range.

Some things to consider when choosing a floating magnet configuration:

Magnet-to-sensor gap:  In some cases the movement of the machine does not allow a consistent magnet-to-sensor gap to be maintained.  In some sensors, this can lead to inconsistent or erratic sensor operation.  Fortunately, there are sensors available with innovative technology that automatically compensates for such gap fluctuations and maintain full performance and specifications even as the gap varies.  Click below to see such technology in action.

Ultimately, the choice between a floating magnet and a captive magnet arrangement is going to be driven by the requirements of your particular application.

Click the link for more information on external-mount linear position sensors.

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The basics of IP69K Washdown explained

Ask 10 engineers working in Food & Beverage manufacturing what “washdown” means to them and you will probably get about 12 answers.  Ask them why they wash down equipment and a more consistent answer appears, everyone is concerned about making clean healthy food and they want to reduce areas of harborage for bacteria.  These environments tend to be cool & wet which usually leads the engineers to ask for 316L stainless steel & ingress protection of IP69K from component manufacturers and also ask for special component ratings.

So what are the basic elements of the washdown procedure?

  • Hot! – Minimum 140F to kill microbes & bacteria.
  • High Pressure! – Up to 1000psi to blast away soiled material.
  • Nasty! – Water, caustics, acid detergents, spray & foam everywhere.
  • Hard Work! – Typically includes a hand cleaning or scrubbing of key components.
  • Regular! – Typically 15-20hrs per week are spent cleaning equipment but in dairy & meat it can be more.

What requirements are put onto components exposed to washdown?

  • Stainless Steel resists corrosion and is polished to level the microscopic roughness that provides harborage for bacteria.
  • Special Component Ratings:
    • ECOLAB chemical testing for housings
    • FDA approved materials
    • 3A USA hygienic for US Equipment
    • EHEDG hygienic for European Equipment
  • IP69K is tested to be protected from high pressure steam cleaning per DIN40050 part 9; this is not guaranteed to be immersion rated (IP67) unless specifically identified.

If you are interested in what sensors, networking & RFID products are available for use in food and beverage manufacturing with a washdown environment, please visit www.balluff.us.

 

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Reed Switches vs. Magnetoresistive Sensors (GMR)

In a previous post we took a look at magnetic field sensors vs inductive proximity sensors for robot grippers. In this post I am going to dive a little deeper into magnetic field sensors and compare two technologies: reed switches, and magnetoresistive sensors (GMR).

Reed Switches

PrintThe simplest magnetic field sensor is the reed switch. This device consists of two flattened ferromagnetic nickel and iron reed elements, enclosed in a hermetically sealed glass tube. As an axially aligned magnet approaches, the reed elements attract the magnetic flux lines and draw together by magnetic force, thus completing an electrical circuit.

While there are a few advantages of this technology like low cost and high noise immunity, those can be outweighed by the numerous disadvantages. These switches can be slow, are prone to failure, and are sensitive to vibration. Additionally, they react only to axially magnetized magnets and require high magnet strength.

Magnetoresistive Sensors (GMR)

PrintThe latest magnetic field sensing technology is called giant magnetoresistive (GMR). Compared to Reed Switches GMR sensors have a more robust reaction to the presence of a magnetic field due to their high sensitivity, less physical chip material is required to construct a practical GMR magnetic field sensor, so GMR sensors can be packaged in much smaller housings for applications such as short stroke cylinders.

GMR sensors have quite a few advantages over reed switches. GMR sensors react to both axially and radially magnetized magnets and also require low magnetic strength. Along with their smaller physical size, these sensors also have superior noise immunity, are vibration resistant. GMR sensors also offer protection against overload, reverse polarity, and short circuiting.

You can learn more about this topic and many others by visiting www.balluff.us/basics.

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Is IO-Link only for Simplifying Sensor Integration?

PossibilitiesOn several occasions, I was asked what other applications IO-Link is suitable for? Is it only for sensor integration? Well the answer is no! There are several uses for IO-Link and we are just beginning to scratch the surface for what IO-Link can do. In this blog post I will cover at least 7 common uses for IO-Link including sensor integration.
IO-Link in essence provides tremendous flexibility. Each available IO-Link port offers the possibility to connect devices from hundreds of manufacturers to build a resilient distributed modular controls architecture — that is essentially independent of the fieldbus or network. IO-Link is the first standardized sensor/actuator communication protocol as defined in IEC61131-9.

USE-CASE #1: Simplify sensor integration
Multitudes of IO-Link sensors from 100+ manufacturers can be connected using the simple 3-wire M12 prox cables. No shielded cables are required. Additionally, using IO-Link provides a parameterization feature and anti-tampering abilities- on the same 3 wires. The sensor can be configured remotely through a PLC or the controller and all the configuration settings can be stored for re-application when the sensor is replaced. This way, on your dreaded night shift changing complex sensor is just plug-n-play. Recipe changes on the line are a breeze too. For example, if you have an IO-Link color sensor configured to detect a green color and for the next batch you want to start detecting red color- with IO-Link it is simply a matter of sending a parameter for the color sensor – instead of sending a maintenance person to change the settings on the sensor itself — saving valuable time on the line.
color sensors

USE-CASE #2: Simplify analog sensor connections
In one of my previous blogs, “Simplify your existing analog sensor connection”, I detailed how connecting an analog sensor with single or multi-channel analog-to-IO-Link (A/D) converters can eliminate expensive shielded cables and expensive analog cards in the controller rack and avoids all the hassle that comes with the analog sensors.

USE-CASE #3: Simplify RFID communication
IO-Link makes applications with RFID particularly intriguing because it takes all the complexity of the RFID systems out for simple applications such as access control, error-proofing, number plate tracking and so on. In an open port on IO-Link master device you can add read/write or read only RFID heads and start programming. A couple of things to note here is this IO-Link based RFID is geared for small data communication where the data is about 100-200 bytes. Of-course if you are getting into high volume data applications a dedicated RFID is preferred. The applications mentioned above are not data intensive and IO-Link RFID is a perfect solution for it.

USE-CASE #4: Simplify Valve Integration
valve manifoldTypically valve banks from major manufacturers come with a D-sub connection with 25 pins. These 25 wires are now required to be routed back to the controls cabinet, cut, stripped, labeled, crimped and then terminated. The other expensive option is to use a network node on the valve bank itself, which requires routing expensive network cable and power cable to the valve bank. Not to mention the added cost for the network node on the valve bank. Several manufacturers now offer IO-Link on the valve manifold itself simplifying connection to 4-wires and utilizing inexpensive M12 prox cables. If you still have the old D-sub connector, an IO-Link to 25-pin D-sub connectors may be a better solution to simplify the valve bank installation. This way, you can easily retrofit your valve bank to get the enhanced diagnostics with IO-Link without much cost. Using IO-Link valve connectors not only saves time on integration by avoiding the labor associated with wire routing, but it also offers a cost effective solution compared to a network node on the valve manifold. Now you can get multiple valve manifolds on the single network node (used by the IO-Link master) rather than providing a single node for each valve manifold in use.

USE-CASE #5 Simplify Process Visualization
Who would have thought IO-Link can add intelligence to a stack light or status indicator? Well, we did. Balluff introduced an IO-Link based fully programmable LED tower light system to disrupt the status indicator market. The LED tower light, or SmartLight, uses a 3-wire M12 prox cable and offers different modes of operations such as standard stack light mode with up to 5 segments of various color lights to show the status of the system, or as a run-light mode to display particular information about your process such as system is running but soon needs a mechanical or electrical maintenance and this is done by simply changing colors of a running segment or the background segment. Another mode of operation could be a level mode where you can show the progress of process or show the fork-lift operators that the station is running low on parts. Since the Smartlight uses LEDs to show the information, the colors, and the intensity of the light can be programmed. If that is not enough you can also add a buzzer that offers programmable chopped, beep or continuous sound. The Smartlight takes all of the complexity of the stack light and adds more features and functions to upgrade your plant floor.

USE-CASE #6: Non-contact connection of power and data exchange
Several times on assembly lines, a question is how to provide power to the moving pallets to energize the sensors and I/O required for the operation? When multi-pin connectors are used the biggest problem is that the pins break by constantly connecting or disconnecting. Utilizing an inductive coupling device that can enable transfer of power and IO-Link data across an air-gap simplifies the installation and eliminates the unplanned down-time. With IO-Link inductive couplers, up to 32 bytes of data and power can be transferred. Yes you can activate valves over the inductive couplers!  More on inductive coupling can be found on my other series of blogs “Simple Concepts for Complex Automation”

USE-CASE #7: Build flexible high density I/O architectures.
IO PointsHow many I/O points are you hosting today on a single network drop? The typical answer is 16 I/O points. What happens when you need one additional I/O point or the end-user demands 20% additional I/O points on the machine? Until now, you were adding more network or fieldbus nodes and maintaining them. With I/O hubs powered by IO-link on that same M12 4-wire cable, now each network node can host up to 480 I/O points if you use 16 port IO-Link masters. Typically most of our customers use 8-port IO-Link masters and they have the capacity to build up to 240 configurable I/O on a single network drop. Each port on the I/O hub hosts two channels of I/O points with each channel configurable as input or output, as normally open or normally closed. Additionally, you can get diagnostics down to each port about over-current or short-circuit. And the good thing is, each I/O hub can be about 20m away.

In a nutshell, IO-Link can be used for more than just simplifying sensor integration and can help significantly reduce your costs for building flexible resilient controls architectures. Still don’t believe it? Contact us and we can work through your particular architecture to see if IO-Link offers a viable option for you on your next project.

Learn more about our IO-Link solutions at www.balluff.com/io-link

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Quick field replacement for linear sensor electronics

Micropulse Transducers BTL 7 Rod-style with Rapid Replacement Module

Micropulse Transducers BTL 7
Rod-style with Rapid Replacement Module

When maintenance technicians replace linear position sensors (also known as probes or wands) from hydraulic cylinders, it can leave a terrible mess, waste hydraulic oils, and expose the individual to harmful hot fluids.  Also, the change out process can expose the hydraulic system to unwanted contaminants. After the sensor replacement has been completed, there can also be more work yet to do during the outage such as replacing fluids and air-bleeding cylinders.

Hydraulic linear position sensors with field-replaceable electronics/sensing elements eliminate these concerns.  Such sensors, so-called Rapid Replacement Module (RRM) sensors, allow the “guts” of the sensor to be replaced, while the stainless steel pressure tube remains in the cylinder.  The hydraulic seal is never compromised.  That means that during the replacement process there is no danger of oil spillage and no need for environmental containment procedures. There is also no need to bleed air from the hydraulic system and no danger of dirt or wood debris entering the open hydraulic port. Finally, there is no danger of repair personnel getting burned by hot oil.

The RRM is an option for Balluff’s BTL7 Z/B Rod Series used in applications for the lumber industry, plastic injection and blow molding, tire and rubber manufacturing, stamping presses, die casting, and all types of automated machinery where a continuous, absolute position signal is required.  Applications in industries such as Oil & Gas and Process Control are especially critical when it comes to downtime.  For these applications, this Rapid Replacement Module capability is especially advantageous.

You can learn more about linear position sensors with hazardous area approvals, by visting http://www.balluff.com/balluff/MUS/en/products/explosion-proof-hazardous-position-sensor-btl7.jsp

The video below shows a demonstration of the Rapid Replacement Module in action.

For more information on this topic, please visit www.balluff.com/balluff/MUS/en/news/micropulse-generation7-with-rapid-replacement-module.jsp

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