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Today’s smart devices are ready to give lessons

Nov. 14, 2018

“An intelligent overload relay that detects an overtemperature problem can predict when it will trip, and communicate it over Ethernet to a PLC and the operator. This allows operators to reach a stopping point and prevent the consequences of a sudden, unplanned shutdown.” Bill Martin of Rockwell Automation explained how even sensors and other plant-floor components are increasingly smart, connected and communicative.   

The vision of seamless connectivity and smooth integration throughout automation and information systems became yet more real on the show floor at Automation Fair this week in Philadelphia, where Rockwell Automation is demonstrating the latest technologies of The Connected Enterprise.

Our tour of the Smart Devices and Systems displays begins with a reminder of the process- and self-diagnostics being incorporated into smart devices. From motor controls to safety systems and sensors, field devices are increasingly capable of delivering useful information. The newest smart sensors can be hard-wired or connected via IO-Link (it’s the same part number) and provide appropriate self-diagnostics, such as “lens is getting dirty” for an optical presence sensor.

Smart Safety components come in hard-wired or GuardLink versions, which are supplied power and communicate via the same cable. Smart diagnostics in this application includes information such as which emergency stop switch has been pushed or what sensor has been tripped, and when. Along with speeding repairs, this information can be integrated with context to identify systemic problems with products, lines or operators.

Smart motor controls include contactors and soft starters that can communicate information about their condition and load so users can plan maintenance activities and prevent failures. For example, “an intelligent overload relay that detects an overtemperature problem can predict when it will trip, and communicate it over Ethernet to a PLC and the operator,” said Bill Martin, program manager, networked components, Rockwell Automation. “This allows operators to reach a stopping point and prevent the consequences of a sudden, unplanned shutdown.”

Smart contactors and soft starters can record the reasons for their most recent trips, including times and dates, which technicians can access by connecting to a built-in Web server or by using an optional diagnostics station at the panel. If replaced, the new device can configure itself via the PLC. Firmware allows backwards compatibility so current versions can directly replace old or obsolete devices.

Variable frequency drives (VFDs) can do more. For example, the new PowerFlex 755T family, which expands the PowerFlex series range to 10-6,000 HP (7.5-4,500 kW), brings harmonic mitigation, regeneration and common bus-system configurations to a wider range of high-demand applications.

More powerful adaptive control capabilities allow the drives to monitor machine characteristics that can change over time, and automatically compensate for them. An adaptive tuning feature uses up to four automatic tracking notch filters to block resonance and vibration that can impact quality, waste energy and prematurely wear out a machine.

Predictive maintenance features provide real-time information about the health of the drive. By monitoring operational characteristics such as temperature, voltage and current, the drive is able to calculate the remaining life of critical components and notify users, again allowing them to prevent unplanned downtime.

Smart machines get what they want

Moving on, we come to the set of mixing, filling and packaging machines sometimes called the Rage Energy Drink bottling line, which is now demonstrating complete integration of IT and OT using the new FactoryTalk Innovation Suite, built with PTC ThingWorx and augmented reality (AR) technologies.

The mixer bears a ThingWorx ThingMark, a QR code of sorts that when viewed using a tablet, phone or VR headset brings up three-dimensional representations of the relevant equipment with information useful for monitoring, predictive maintenance, diagnostics, and training operators and technicians. Apps are being created by machine builders, component manufacturers, and end users, said Tiffany Pfremmer, market development manager, Integrated Architecture, Rockwell Automation. “The first one takes a while to develop, but then they get easier.”

The bottling and packaging machines demonstrate iTRAK and MagneMotion conveyors, a Fanuc robot, and Odos Imaging quality control technology, all monitored using FactoryTalk Innovation Suite. Moving to an embedded FactoryTalk Analytics DataView screen, we are able to see that a conveyor component is worn, and its predicted remaining life is 4.7 days. With a push of a button, we can issue a work order through Innovation Suite to the company’s existing computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

A nearby Catbridge M900 winder/unwinder machine is ready for its slicers to be set up. The machine uses safe-speed monitoring, a safety function Catbridge says can be used as an alternative to lockout/tagout in certain instances.

Safe-speed monitoring allows a worker to access a machine for “routine, repetitive and integral” tasks while the machine continues to run at a reduced speed. This can deliver big productivity gains when it’s appropriately used in place of the lockout/tagout process.

The M900’s Compact GuardLogix 5380 controller has integrated safety and SIL2/PLd compliance; a Kinetix 5700 servo drive with advanced safety functions that allow the machine to remain active while being safely monitored; SafeZone 3 safety laser scanners and a 450L-E GuardShield light curtain; and a Stratix 5950 security appliance to help prevent potentially malicious firmware updates and program downloads.

It also uses FactoryTalk Analytics for devices integrated with an augmented-reality app developed on the PTC Vuforia platform. A Microsoft HoloLens headset provides digital work instructions and guidance for operators and maintenance. The VR application on the HoloLens can walk us step-by-step through the slicer setup, allowing even an editor such as me to perform this critical and non-routine procedure.

Using FactoryTalk Analytics DataView and FactoryTalk Innovation Suite with PTC ThingWorx and VR technologies, smart machines can now be connected—from contactors and sensors to a plant’s CMMS—and to the engineers, technicians, operators and managers they serve.