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Smart Sensors For The Smart Factory

Data is the essence of manufacturing. Operations that take better advantage of data can create efficiencies that drive a more profitable production line. Making the transition to a smarter and more connected factory does not have to be complicated. Machines have had different types of sensors on them for years, and the main job of those sensors is to help manufacturers run the work smoothly.

However, they can do more than that. Adopting more sophisticated ‘smart’ sensors that can deliver more detailed data offers growing opportunities for more efficient operations and for quicker-to-market capabilities.

Behave in a Smart Manner

Smart sensors are a way to future-proof machines. They are enabled with IO-Link technology, which empowers the sensor to communicate more data, allowing machines to operate more effectively.

IO-Link is a worldwide open-standard protocol that provides a standard interface for machine automation environments. The IO-Link masters are gateways that allow IO-Link devices to connect to other networks on the machine — such as EtherNet/IP — that share the information with the control system, bringing a wealth of detailed, machine-health diagnostics to operators and maintenance personnel.

In fact, standard sensors are limited to indicating the presence and/or absence of an object, while smart sensors can provide up to 32 bytes of cyclical data including diagnostics not only for the sensor but about the application environment.

Also, smart sensors offer other advanced functions that make setup, maintenance and troubleshooting much more efficient, including the storage of multiple machine profiles to simplify parameter adjustments during line and shift changes as well as automatic device replacement, which feeds previous sensor configurations directly to new sensors as they are replaced.

Sensor Applications for Smart Operations

Smart sensing technology is fulfilling this need, bringing deeper insight into the health of industrial machines to help current and future generations of operators optimize plant processes.

Take a look at some of the common application scenarios of how smart sensors help merging disparate data into streams of actionable information and allow assets to be monitored and optimized from anywhere in real-time.

Smart Commissioning

After a new machine is installed into an existing production line, the new machine with pre-installed smart sensors requires commissioning. During machine commissioning, the operator can access all relevant sensor data with FactoryTalk software from Rockwell Automation on a mobile device. The operator identifies that sensor on a channel needs a set point adjustment.

In the software sub-menu, the operator is able to change that set point value instantly. Having the change of set point value, they can see the sensor dashboard adjusting to the required set point and that no further alerts are shown.

Smart sensor solutions allow continual smart monitoring of sensor signal and offer the ability to make fast readjustment. This can provide actionable data to help maximize overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and mean time between failure (MTBF).

Smart Replacement

The smart sensor automatic device configuration function can help minimize installation and increase equipment uptime.

For example, when a sensor is damaged on the packaging line, a maintenance person receives a warning on a mobile device that there is a sensor failure and the exact location of the issue. Application specific naming information (ASN) guides him directly to the fault, with eBOM providing device vendor data and part number for fast replacement.

After physical installation of the new smart sensor, the automatic device configuration function downloads all sensor parameters to the new sensor in milliseconds. The warning alarm on the mobile device will be reset, allowing production to continue uninterrupted.

Smart Tracking and Tracing

A range of smart sensors can be used for production tracking and historical trace requirements. When a high-speed code reader captures the barcode or 2D code data, item level identification is connected to a Logix controller over the EtherNet/IP network. Tracking and identifying packed products takes place with real-time data processed in FactoryTalk ProductionCentre software suite to maximize production efficiency.

Since all smart sensors can be integrated into Studio 5000 software, the products and raw materials are tracked at every stage, from manufacture to dispatch and beyond, in one single engineering environment.

Production Optimization

In most flexible manufacturing applications, there are numerous sensors that require re-teaching. And many times, the configuration methodology for the sensors differs from one sensor family to another.

As a result, there is heightened responsibility on the operator to recognize the exact process required to update all the sensors. It could take as long as an hour to manually reconfigure the sensors on a single machine. In addition to the hourly rate required to complete the reconfiguration, the loss in production time for that one hour could bring a greater cost.

With smart sensors, those operations that involve frequent line changes with different-sized products can be streamlined. Rather than requiring manual reconfiguration for each product coming down the line, smart sensors can store multiple profiles in the controller that can then be pushed down to the sensor as needed to support the various products.

The data that is being retrieved can also be used to improve the manufacturing operation. Improvements in technology and broadband capabilities mean faster processing of large amounts of disparate data that can be used to analyze production and improve efficiencies over time.

The Eyes and Ears of Machines

Unless machine operators can aware what is happening on machines installed in factories minute-by-minute, it is impossible to maintain optimum productivity and efficiency at all times, or to avoid unplanned downtime and loss of production.

Whereas sensors historically communicated just one message, provide only a limited amount of information, but lack the capability to offer diagnostic or parameter data to exchange with a controller, the modern, smart sensor performs that basic task while also providing real-time updates on its own performance, analysis of its own condition, and projection of its own lifespan. This information enables predictive maintenance, rather than reactive one.

Likewise, an integrated smart sensor solution further provides the data required to create a comprehensive picture of the status of the operation process as well as an enterprise at any particular moment.

As the essential components of The Connected Enterprise, smart sensors can also facilitate the introduction and operation of smart machines, for even greater efficiency and productivity.

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