10 Noteworthy Developments in Sensors and Controls
The November 2013 FABTECH show was a delightful showcase of the latest and greatest in electronics for metalforming and assembly. Seemingly every aisle featured at least one stunning new development in sensor or controls technology. Here I share 10 such pillars of technology, gathered as I put on my consultant hat during the show and explored it with the eyes and needs of my metalforming and assembly clients.
Note: I am not endorsing nor recommending the products described here, but I certainly encourage readers to explore them further to determine their potential applicability to their plant’s needs. The brief comments below (in alphabetical manufacturer order) are a hybrid of my show observations, conversations with the various vendors at FABTECH and materials published by the respective manufacturers.
1) Balluff Flatpack SteelFace sensor: Literally not a week goes by in my error-proofing consultations where a client does not ask about sensors that can better survive their harsh welding environments. This important new sensor offers an alternative to the more common tubular types of sensors that find use throughout the welding processes in our industry. Its rectangular flat packaging can potentially make its installation within welding fixtures more flexible. Its survivability within harsh welding environments stems, in part, from its one-piece stainless-steel housing and Balluff’s new patent-pending coating.
2) Cieco Automator II control: With as many as 48 die-protection sensor inputs and 32 cam outputs, this controller offers numerous features including a 15-in. touchscreen; versatile rack system; paperless press setup and technical documentation access; field upgradability; and function-specific I/O cards, including functions such as automated adjustments of shut height and counterbalance, analog sensor input, servo-feed interface and Ethernet process monitoring and reporting.
3) Helm Compass RLG: What appears to be a first in its field, this system offers smartphone and tablet-PC communications, via Bluetooth and Helm’s RLG-2/4 load monitor. Using the Android OS, a metalformer can use a smartphone or tablet to download, in real time, tonnage values and force signatures. This exemplifies a new trend in our industry of having at one’s immediate access the latest status of shopfloor activity—on demand and wirelessly.
4) Link OmniLink 806 operator terminal: With the explosion in servo-press technology worldwide, the timely arrival of an operator die-protection control specifically aimed at those types of presses is most welcomed. The flexibility of a servo press stroke, including its pendulum mode, can be an interesting die-protection programming challenge. This new controller addresses specifically and in an easy-to-understand visual manner the timing-window setups for the various sensors embedded in a die running in a servo press, and the various press and tooling cam outputs.
5) Pinnacle Universal Safety Controller Hub: This device integrates what usually is a set of multiple, separate and freestanding safety relays into one unit. Thus, the monitoring and control of devices such as interlock switches, safety light curtains, E-stop switches and safety mats can be accomplished with this one controller. Dry contact safety relays and solid-state outputs also are incorporated within this one system. The device promises substantial cost savings by avoiding the installation, wiring and hardware complexity of separate safety relay systems.
6) Schwer+Kopka Impax-SK 400 process monitor: Force monitoring via sensors embedded in tooling has been further enhanced with the release by Impax of this new Mandonic auto-enveloping system, developed “to provide a solution to the old conflict between detecting errors reliably but avoiding machine shut downs without reason,” say company officials. The typical envelope that is selected around a given force signature has been made much more reliable and dynamic. In a sense, this new enveloping technique is a living system that continuously adjusts itself for improved detection of a true tooling failure without nuisance machine stoppages for most processes.
7) Starrett KineScope microscope: This handheld microscope combines a digital video camera, precision optics and LED lighting in a unit that comfortably sits in the palm of the hand. With 40X to 140X magnification, it connects directly to a computer via USB port—no dedicated video monitor required. The included VLink imaging and measuring software captures stills and videos, adds labels, makes measurements and allows users to draw on the live or captured images. It can be most useful for part-quality and tooling-inspection purposes.
8) Toledo Maximizer TPC: This PLC-based press control features a 19-in. touchscreen for easy operator setup of tonnage monitoring, die protection, feed-line integration, programmable limit switches (cams), brake monitoring, motion detection, counters and more. An interesting feature includes the ability to bypass die-protection sensors on specific coil-fed progressive-die stations until the strip material feeds completely through the die, to reduce nuisance alarms during coil changes.
9) Turck inductive sensor for material ID: This inductive eddy-current sensor can distinguish all types of metal alloys that pass in front of it—ferrous and nonferrous. Turck’s technology for this analog sensor incorporates the processing of amplitude and phase signals mathematically to perform the material differentiation. The distance between the sensor and the target is of no consequence to the ability of the sensor to distinguish material type.
10) Wintriss ShopFloorConnect: Tracing its origins back to 1985 when Wintriss introduced its first industrial downtime data-collection and efficiency-reporting software, ShopFloorConnect has evolved to include the ability to monitor virtually all industrial shop-floor machine processes. It displays real-time shop-floor status via a web browser, and uses wired and wireless Ethernet connections to interface with the various production machines on the factory floor. Its reports are fully customizable with automated distribution of the reports as needed.Of course, to truly cover the entire spectrum exciting new and improved sensor and control products at FABTECH proves virtually impossible within the scope of a brief article. Nevertheless, I hope the above items will perk a desire by the readers of MetalForming to contact these and other vendors of the latest and greatest in electronics for error-proofing metalforming and assembly operations. MF
Related Enterprise Zones: Sensing/Electronics
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