MechChem Africa October 2017

Smart sensors for smart factories: At the crux of Industry 4.0

Parts of the so-called ‘smart factory’ are already reality, and many processes and functions between information and operations spheres are becoming increasingly coordinated. Mark Madeley of SICK Automation Southern Africa explains.

classic production structures. This is where smart sensors can open up new innovation potential. Furniture, for example, can nowadays be configured on the Internet. Dimensions, de- sign elements, the type of wood and colours canbefreelyselected,combined,andordered. The customer order reaches the production system and the machines via the Internet. The machines are equipped with intelligent sensors that the controller can parameterise appropriately for the particular product, so that the desired piece of furniture can be pro- duced automatically. Production, inspection, packaging and dispatch all take place accord- ing to the individual order – and without any manual interventions. The customer receives their personal one-off piece at the price of a mass-produced item. This, however, is by no means the limit of the potential of smart sensors. Structures that are more autonomous; plants and fac- tories with greater networking; production and products that involve more software and IT – all this can already be seen – making smart sensors a critical technology of future production processes. Flexibility will therefore be in greater demand in future. Industry 4.0will be created with high levels of individuality at production sites and manufacturers will have to be able to react rapidly and precisely to customer- specific requirements. This will all lead to a continuing need for advanced functionalities in smart sensors. q

A t thecentreof implementing Indus- try 4.0 in our production processes is the requirement for smart, intel- ligent andcommunication-enabled sensors to provide the smart factory the data it needs. A communicating, intelligent sensor network, where sensor data is exchanged with a machine controller or a cloud-based application, allows automatic adaptation of process parameters to new production orderswithin seconds. Thatmeans increased agility and better process efficiency across the enterprise. ‘Sensor Intelligence’ has been at the core of the SICK brand since 2004, manufactur- ing sensors that are best in their detection class. They also support the communication standard IO-Link, in whose development SICKplayed amajor role. They become smart through wide-ranging potential for self- and process diagnosis, and through integrated logic functions for processing signals directly at the sensor itself. However, what, in concrete terms, does intelligence through diagnostic capabilities and integrated functions mean in the smart factory? Smart photoelectric sensors, for example, can detect patterns in an object structure and any changes in them. This takes place directly and autonomously in the

sensor – not in the PLC. Machine processes are therefore accelerated and the control program streamlined. This means greater plant efficiency and lower costs for custom- ers. Thewide-ranging diagnostic functions of smart sensors can detect critical situations, and correct them, promptly – before the ma- chine undergoes unplanned downtime. This increases operating reliability, and thus the productivity of the entire plant. The addition of intelligence via upgrading proventechnologyusingsmartsensorsisseen in the case of inductive sensors. The SICK portfolio includes a range of inductive smart sensors that, for example, detect the distance between the object and the sensor. These can detectwhenmachine processes deviate from the target state andprovide awarning ingood time, or even make autonomous statements regarding product quality. Smart sensors for the smart factory Ultimately consumers also profit from in- telligent sensors and dynamic interactive production processes. A key phrase is ‘batch size 1’. Many people are searching for ways to express their individuality. They want to have products that are perfectly adapted to their individual needs. Such true one-offs are either impossible or very expensive using

Smart sensors ensure efficient machine communication.

26 ¦ MechChem Africa • October 2017

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