How to boost productivity throughout a smart machine's life

Jan. 9, 2020
"Seldom have we focused on the machine itself."

We were fascinated by our sister publication’s recent webinar “Boosting Productivity Throughout the Life-Cycle of Smart Machines.” We wanted to learn more, so we connected with Shishir Rege, technical sales specialist with Balluff Inc., who shared his expertise during the webinar. Before you attend the webinar on demand, take a look…

Smart Industry: What's the key to boosting productivity throughout the lifecycle of smart machines? 

Shishir: The efforts in the industry over last three decades were focused primarily on plant-floor efficiency—Kanban systems, quality, 5S and lean operations. Seldom have we focused on the machine itself. Sure, we wanted faster production rates and reduced
product-production time, but that does not help when an unpredictable event occurs bringing the whole line production down. We call this unplanned downtime. There are plenty of perils for this unplanned downtime—wrong part in the machine, lack of proper adjustments for required for change of production, or as simple as a sensor failure. The reason these perils exist today is because the machines are not capable of understanding their own state. In packaging machines, there could be 30-40 touchpoints required to change machines and get them ready for the next batch. If machines are capable of providing alerts before the failure occurs (for example…out of 30 change points, only 28 were successfully completed) we can avoid those costly unplanned downtimes and boost productivity.

Now, if we focus on the lifecycle of smarter machines (from production to utilization) the question is this: How we can build these machines in a competitive way that machine builders can produce them in a cost-effective way?

One could build machines with Ethernet-based networks, but that is not feasible as you need IP addresses, power distribution and sensors/devices that are cost-effective and capable of Ethernet technology. IO-Link, on the other hand, offers all the required smartness to build machines faster, with more modularity and flexibility, and at much less cost premium. Utilizing this device-level technology, which plays well with Ethernet-based control level technology, is the key to boost productivity throughout the lifecycle of smart machines.

Smart Industry: What's the biggest productivity-killer in this digital era?

Shishir: The biggest productivity killer in the digital era is the unavailability of relevant and reliable data to act on promptly and prudently. The days of artificial intelligence on the plant floor are not far. We as an industry have already started implementing predictive maintenance, and the key to predictive maintenance is data about the system. The source of this data is in end-devices. There is so much intelligence in these devices that we are not tapping into today, which keeps us from reaching the ideal productivity on the production line or plant.

Most sensors on the market today already have intelligent chipsets and state-of-the art technology, but because we use these sensors and devices merely as signal-communication devices, we fail to tap into the intelligence they offer. For example, a pressure sensor that provides 4-20mA signal would not be able to provide information about its ambient temperature or any increased vibrations that it is experiencing primarily because we limited its ability to only provide pressure data as a signal.

Smart Industry: Why is utilizing IO-Link at the device level so critical?

Shishir: IO-Link is open and the first  standardized (IEC61131-9) I/O communication technology that is intelligent and flexible. It uses the same physical media (cable) that is used today for prox switches and photo-eyes—the unshielded three- or four-wire sensor cable. There is no programming needed for IO-Link as it is completely transparent to controllers. And, it is a point-to-point or peer-to-peer technology, where the IO-Link devices communicate with IO-Link master. The IO-Link master is an aggregator or gateway that passes on the events and data to the control level networks such as EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, EtherCAT, CC-Link IE and so on.

Because of the media and its openness to connect to any control-level network, the integration cost of IO-Link is near zero. Since it is a standardized open technology, there are numerous vendors for both devices and masters and all work together. Power routing and distribution features for masters may differ and should be considered for application suitability.

IO-Link encompasses three types of communication within itself, and that is the critical portion that adds tremendous benefits to the machine. The three types are:

Process-data communication

This is the primary data of the sensor or the device, for example a photo-eye providing ON/OFF status, or pressure sensor providing pressure value. This is continuous cyclical communication. The good part is, unlike traditional devices that communicate signals, here you get data corresponding to the measured property. That means instead of getting 4-20mA signal from pressure sensor, you get data that is Bar or PSI. You do not need to scale this data in your controller.

Configuration-data communication

This is acyclic communication to set up the devices to provide information in required units or adjusting set-points or incase of I/O hubs, setting up normally open or normally closed settings and so on.

Event-data communication

This is also acyclic communication originated from the device. The device informs the master about any abnormal situations that the device is capable of understanding. For example, a photo-eye could note the reduction in re-emitted light and inform the master that either it has been knocked out of alignment or the lens is cloudy and needs cleaning. This communication can help machines understand their own state and alert higher-level systems or maintenance about where the attention is needed.

IO-Link does not displace existing sensors or devices; it instead incorporates them to build more modular and resilient systems. For example, there are I/O hubs that can aggregate standard signal-communication devices (such as standard photo-eyes and prox sensors) and bring them on to the IO-Link. The analog I/O hubs can interface the analog signals and bring them on to the IO-Link, further reducing expensive analog I/O cards.

In summary, IO-Link adds tremendous intelligence to the machine while consolidating the number of interfaces to offer faster development cycles and boosting productivity throughout the lifecycle of the machines.  

Want more with Shishir? Click here to access the “Boosting Productivity Throughout the Life-Cycle of Smart Machines” webinar on demand.