Smart sensors are bringing about a paradigm shift in production

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.

Optimising 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, detect directions of rotation, or detect and count objects. Signal evaluation takes place in the sensors;
central counter modules are not required.
Instead of 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 that 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
timestamp. This enables machine speeds to
be increased while also 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, combining 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.

Written by Michael Kaspar, Product Manager for Photoelectric Sensors
& Fibers, SICK AG, Waldkirch

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