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Tech Trends: The Internet Of Things — Actionable Insights For Pneumatics

We have only begun to grasp the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things, but it is already revolutionizing every aspect of plant operations, for example, the collection, transmission and storage of big data.

This article originally appeared in the September print issue of IMPO Magazine. To view the digital version, click here. 

The Internet of Things, the connection of the physical world to the Internet, will include 25 billion installed units by 2020, predicts research firm Gartner, Inc. Such a spectacular upheaval is transforming the way business operates. For example, in the past, GE interacted with its customers by promising to fix any of its products that broke. Now, this corporate giant earns more than $100 billion by making sure that its turbines and engines do not suffer service outages. Success is measured by the avoidance of downtime.

We have only begun to grasp the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things, but it is already revolutionizing every aspect of plant operations, for example, the collection, transmission and storage of big data.

Using Data From IIoT

The data we have already collected is overwhelming. There is so much of it and it continues to accumulate. Value that can be attained from all this information will be in the form of actionable insights that can be derived from it, the ability to discern what can be used. As these insights are implemented via different enabling technologies, including sensors and actuators, we will see and benefit from solutions for cost-effective production processes that preserve resources.

One such solution, which makes pneumatic actuators a part of the Industrial Internet of Things, is Bimba’s Intelli- Sense, which combines sensors, cylinders and software to deliver real-time performance data. It is a clear illustration of how the physical world is connected to the Internet. A remote monitoring device connected to Bimba cylinders using pneumatic fittings makes it possible for users to receive operational insights about such factors as cylinder condition, cycle time, pressure and temperatures.

For example, by monitoring the pressure in the line feeding the actuator, real-time insights can be used to improve efficiency and increase uptime. Connecting these monitoring systems to the Internet allows users to gain additional benefits including remote monitoring and closer collaborations with machine and component manufacturers.

A Case Study

Recently, this technology was installed on a machine that inserts paper filters into bottle caps. The throughput of this machine is limited by the cycle time of the cylinder. Instead of wasting time by making a close inspection of the actuator’s performance, the installation empowers an engineering team to remotely log into the actuator and monitor its functioning in real time. While reviewing the data, the engineering team noticed that the actuator was being slowed by the exhaust rate of the cylinder. Years of experience with pneumatic systems permitted the engineering team to quickly identify the source of the obstruction. The muffler the customer had installed on the valve was restricting the exhaust and slowing the cylinder. By replacing the muffler with a higher flow product the cycle time of the cylinder was reduced, increasing the output from the machine.

In addition to improving the cycle time in this application, engineers were able to identify a potential cause of increased cylinder wear. While analyzing the actuator data they identified an unusual resonance in the pressure data. They realized that the rubber bumper adjusting the cylinder stroke was the source of the resonance causing the piston to bounce when it was retracted. These micro strokes were generating extra heat and causing the seals to wear more quickly. By changing the stopper material the customer was able to reduce the oscillation and increase the cylinder’s life.

Industrial Internet of Things products must also integrate into existing controls equipment. By connecting the sensor to a PLC, users can enhance control of their equipment. One example of this is a pneumatic actuator that can be used to cut extruded concrete tiles to length. The equipment would continuously feed concrete through the extrusion die and, at set times, the cylinder would be extended and the tile cut to length. If the blade is not retracted quickly enough the extruded material would be liable to crash into the knife, ruining the product. The extrusion can’t be stopped until the batch of concrete is run through the equipment. But, by integrating IIoT solutions into a PLC that controls the extrusion rate, the retraction time of the cylinder should be reduced, slowing the extrusion rate to maintain production of good product until the current batch is finished. An intelligent solution is also able to alert the user to any change in performance, making it possible to install a new actuator as soon as the batch is complete. Together these changes cut down the amount of product scrap and the downtime that would otherwise occur while replacing the actuator.

Devices Moving Forward

Industrial Internet of Things products have, in these ways (and many surely to be conceived and implemented tomorrow), begun to change fluid power applications. By enabling customers to gain deeper insights about their equipment,- improvements in output, quality and component longevity can occur, rendering production more cost-effective without wasting company time and resources. As more devices are added to the Industrial Internet of Things, component manufactures, OEM’s and end users will happily discover more and even better ways to revitalize every aspect of their business.

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