More than measurements
By using state-of-the-art sensor technology, adding data processing and more advanced communication, it is possible to take advantage of innovative functions that have a positive impact on a system’s or machine’s productivity. For example, a photoelectric sensor can have new functions: high-speed counter, with a precise measurement of impulsion duration it can give the speed of the products, and with time-of-flight technology it can make distance measurement. Besides new measurements, smart sensor can also be configured through the network and, depending on the product to be detected or any known external information, an upper level system can send configuration data to the sensors.
Some of the most impressive smart sensors on the market are smart cameras. It is now possible to easily install a compact camera on a production line, which includes advance vision technology to offer many functionalities that used to require a dedicated complete vision system. Adding functionalities like non-contact measurements, part sorting identification, code reading and verification (barcode, Data Matrix, alphanumeric, etc.) to an existing manufacturing equipment is really simple. And the smart camera handles some logic that greatly simplifies the automation architecture because there is not necessarily a high speed data processing system to handle the information: it can trigger an external signal by itself for example to eject a bad product or send information to the upper level only in case of a detected default.
Smart sensor bring in a new, simplified architecture to the automation system.
With their more advanced data processing and communication possibilities, they can directly be integrated in the factory information system. Higher level system like Qubes can communicate directly with sensors without need for a PLC or dedicated PC system.
It is much easier to add new smart sensors to an existing installation since there is no need to modify an existing PLC program or to add a new one. Communication standards like IO-link define a communication layer for sensors that is simple to configure and to integrate in the Ethernet network.
It is a new way to make to manufacturing process smarter.
Smart sensors can add more than advance measurement; it can add condition monitoring and predictive maintenance too. For example, vacuum components used in gripping system can continuously measure flow resistance and leak tightness in the system. With such data, the factory information system can display real-time performance of the system and quickly alert in case of failure. It can also send these data to its predictive maintenance module in order to anticipate future failures.