Industry 4.0 would not be possible without intelligent sensors

The possibilities of today’s sensor
intelligence

The
Information Age for the industry is just
getting off the ground. The limitless exchange of manufacturing, product, and
logistics data means it is now possible to make better decisions and experience
complete transparency across all levels of the value chain. At the start of the
process chain, this world of greater resource efficiency depends largely on the
equipment that supplies this data: the intelligent sensors. It is essential for sensor technology to be
intelligent, rugged, and reliable when it comes to dealing with challenges such
as the safe interaction between people and machines, high levels of variance,
and controlling fluctuations in demand at short notice.

Sensors
provide the senses for machines. The feedback they provide is what makes
intelligent machines possible in the first place. Sensor intelligence focuses
on one aspect of sensor technology: equipping machines with the ability to see,
recognise and communicate intelligently.
Intelligent sensors contribute the ability to classify and interpret
information. This is characterised by intelligent signal processing, which derives
the truly relevant information from large quantities of data and makes it
available to various levels. This is why
– in addition to the primary control system for machines and systems – information
is provided for monitoring production systems and making it possible to detect
faults. Transparency of the processes and material flow produces the additional
potential for optimisation. Processes are
becoming more efficient and cost-effective, increasing competitiveness.

Examining the four challenges throughout the production
levels – “Quality Control” at the sensor and drive level, “Flexible Automation” at the machine level, “Safety” at the production level
and “Track and trace” at the corporate level – makes it clear that we as a
driver of technology in Industry 4.0 are already capable of presenting and
implementing solutions.

Flexible
automation requires basic variable
conditions. Manufacturing plants have to be flexible and adapt to what the
individual customer wants. Due to high product diversity even as the part batch
sizes continue to decrease, intelligent components (smart sensors) have to be
capable of adjusting and controlling themselves.

The
essential driver for the area of safety is the interaction of people and
machines while taking into account workplace ergonomics and safety. The central
questions here are what role people are to play in the production of the future and how sensors can support and keep them
safe in that role.

Vertical
integration – that is the keyword for track and trace. Traceability of products
during complex manufacturing and logistics processes is a priority for this
integration. Logistics for production and transport merge until delivery is
made to the customer, requiring the flow of goods to be transparent so that
decisions can be made more quickly.

Increasing
quality requirements and the desire for resource efficiency necessitate
autonomous fault detection through comprehensive product and production data.
In the area of quality control, goods in the production process and supply
chain must be reliably and uniquely identified
so that they can support efficient automated control.

Flexible automation: customising goods in the packaging process

Using
a packaging machine as an example shows how an automatic batch change without
manual intervention by using intelligent components with automated control
generates higher product diversity with a general increase in productivity.
Maximum productivity with product variation down to a batch size of 1 is a
central goal of the Industry 4.0 concept. Manufacturing plants have to be
flexible and adapt to what the individual customer wants. Due to high product
diversity even as the part batch sizes continue to decrease, intelligent
components (smart sensors) have to be capable of adjusting and controlling
themselves.

As
an example: final packaging of prepackaged batches with bottle sizes of
0.5 l and 1.5 l capable of being packaged in one system using detection
of smart sensors with automatic format
changeover. The sensors detect the product changeover and tell the control
system that the system has to readjust so
that the right box can be set up, the bottles can be fed in, and the box can be labelled
and transported away. The changeover steps are listed on a monitor while the
machine adjusts. The system keeps running automatically and does not have to be
put back into operation manually. If the sensors detect an incorrect placement
when measuring the length of the product, they notify the control system. The
product is sorted out without the system coming to a stop. Also, the sensors provide data for pro-active
maintenance, such as monitoring the system for fine particles to automatically
implement measures that safeguard the packaging process.

Intelligent,
communicative sensors are what make Industry 4.0 possible in the first place.
Smart sensor solutions – the use of state-of-the-art sensor technologies in
combination with complete integration into the control level – focuses heavily
on decentralising certain automation
functions to the sensor. This takes some
of the load off of the control system and increases the productivity of
machines.

Safety: Robot protection using laser scanners

Sensor
intelligence is a prerequisite for safe interaction between people and machines
in the era of Industry 4.0. Safe laser scanners reliably monitor the hazardous
area of stationary or mobile machines and systems, such as welding robots or
automated guided systems. Protection of people is the top priority here. If a
person enters the area, the dangerous movement must be stopped safely. On established systems,
people are protected, but production is stopped.

In
the future, smart sensors in the context of Industry 4.0 will be used to only
to ensure the safety of people, but also to implement ever-increasing production
specifications. Today SICK is already providing up to four simultaneous
protective fields, thereby considerably increasing the ergonomics and
efficiency of complex machines such as tire heating presses. The digitally
switching protective fields currently in use are being replaced with flexible ones. Flexible protective fields are automatically calculated during highly
dynamic movements and adjusted corresponding to the hazardous areas of the
robot. Commissioning is also made considerably simpler and faster thanks to
smart sensors. The optimum interaction of smart sensors and state-of-the-art
machine designs increases the productivity of the machine and always guarantees
the safety of the employees. The compact systems use an integrated swivel
mirror as an optical radar to scan their surroundings in two dimensions and
measure distances according to the time-of-flight measurement principle. This results in freely definable safety zones.

Track and trace: production and logistics chains grow together

As
an example from the automotive industry: Comprehensive data acquisition
directly at the vehicle makes it possible to identify a customised dream car throughout the entire production process up
until delivery. Using the example of this track
and trace process, it becomes clear how increasing product customisation
can be implemented in the context of
Industry 4.0. The sensors detect right at the car body which assembly steps
have to be introduced, making mix-ups impossible. As a result, they ensure
comprehensive transparency up until delivery. Processing
steps on the object are updated by rewritable RFID tags. Reading
reliability is a necessity because any read errors could cause misdirection,
mix-ups or production downtime. This is
where RFID data cards – which can be attached to components or even integrated
out of sight within them – are coming into play more and more. In practice,
they have the highest possible availability. For example, they are capable of
withstanding high temperatures on a painting line and can be reliably
identified even once covered in paint.

The basic concept of a batch size of 1

Aspects
such as transparency and traceability are playing an ever more important role
for manufacturers because the level of
variability in the production lines of large automobile plants is constantly
increasing and assembly lines are seeing more and more variants being built in parallel. Vertical integration – that
is the keyword for track and trace. Traceability of products during complex
manufacturing and logistics processes is a priority for this integration.
Production and logistics require transparent material flow so that production decisions can be made faster.

Delivery

Transparency
of the material flow based on RFID also plays a critical role in delivery.
Until the completed cars are ready to be picked up and transported to the
dealership, they are kept in a large
parking lot. But how do you find the car that still needs to go on the truck?
Every single car is made-to-order. No two are alike. Thanks to the information
stored on a RFID tag, the customer’s
dream car is located quickly and can be loaded up for transport in no time.
Transparency and monitoring of tracking until delivery to the customer.

Quality control: reliable data acquisition
and tracking

The
future holds continued increases in the speed that packages are transported. The distances between the
packages are becoming smaller. This means the quality of products is even more
important. To accomplish this, the
package data is scanned on the conveyor belt and read into the software. The
packages are identified and compared. Is
the package damaged? Is the code complete? Are the weight and volume the same?
Is there a pileup of packages, or is a package possibly even missing? Automatic
fault detection is made possible by comprehensive product and production data.
The data is completely synchronised in
seconds. Defects can be tracked by all centres,
and it is possible to trace where the weak point is. Also, quality defects can be identified and resolved in the
process. Since the speeds on the conveyor belts are
further increased, maximum productivity is ensured – not
just within a location, but also globally.

This
example of an intralogistics process shows how increasing quality requirements
and the desire for resource efficiency can be
implemented in the context of Industry 4.0. The sensors detect changes
to the object and enable seamless data acquisition. The software solution analyses the process data and implements
actions. The combination of a variety of data and the analysis software is an
important prerequisite for Industry 4.0 and the issue of sustainability. Goods
in the production process and the supply chain must be reliably and uniquely identified so that these can support
efficient automated control. From an individual package on a conveyor belt to a
complete overview of millions of packages transported every day – there
must be a convenient way to call up and analyse
the status of all acquired data.

Smart
sensors acquire and communicate this data. However, users do not experience
true added value until this data can be used as a basis for improving business
processes. This data offers extensive opportunities but also presents the
significant challenge of preparing it in a way that allows companies to make
the right decisions. This is the cornerstone of Industry 4.0: the seamless flow
of data and information from the sensor to the control system and back.

From sensor to sensor intelligence

SICK
has always developed and built intelligent sensors. The fact that the company
has been on the scene for ten years with a focus on sensor intelligence
underscores the consistent further development of the corporate strategy. This
is embodied in the literal meaning of the term sensor intelligence. As a
result, SICK had the future of automation in sight back in 2004. This is a
vision known today by terms such as “Industry 4.0”.

Further
development of intelligent sensors does not mean that the future and past are
independent of each other. Rather, they form an inseparable unit of
technological developments that build upon each other. The company’s founder,
honorary Dr. Erwin Sick, worked out his vision of sensors with optical and
mechanical precision. Starting in the 1950s, he used his vision to create intelligent
solutions that had never before existed, such as for safeguarding machines and
monitoring emissions. Before long, advances in electronics allowed for
miniaturisation of the devices and provided the essential driving force behind
technology in automation engineering. The triumph of microelectronics continues
even today. An eloquent example of this is seen in the powerful ASICs, which
SICK developed and uses in devices such as optical and inductive sensors. The
increasing speed in the computing power of state-of-the-art chips enables
remote processing of substantially larger amounts of data and capabilities like
the associated use of complex mathematical methods. This is resulting in
completely new dimensions for the scope, accuracy and ruggedness of
measurements. Sensor solutions measuring in multiple dimensions, such as camera
systems and laser scanners, would also be impossible without this development
due to their high data volume.

The
computing power enables even more intelligent sensors, but they do not turn
into sensor intelligence until equipped with the right software and application
knowledge. The intelligent linking of application knowledge with the
flexibility of state-of-the-art software architectures enables the next
development stage for sensors. This is characterised by the possibility of
sensors that can perform more extensive analysis, automatically adapt to
changes, communicate in the network and remotely solve complex tasks within a
larger manufacturing network. In other words, the sensor links to the machine,
system, factory, and the entire value-creation chain and provides for
transparency in production. As a result, it provides the entry point into the
world of Industry 4.0. For all virtual worlds, however, sensor intelligence remains
one thing above all – part of a sensor. Even the cloud and apps need to have a
physical basis in the real industrial environment, namely, a rugged and
reliable piece of hardware. And building this hardware requires one thing above
all: decades of experience.

Written by Christoph Müller, Manager
Global Marketing & Communication, SICK AG, Waldkirch

Leave a Reply