By Nikolaus Fecht
Industrie 4.0 has high demands, and measurement is no exception. "Today there is demand for more measuring points directly at the point of application, which deliver much more data than before and perhaps even preprocess it. The need to optimize processes and procedures is growing in every industrial sector," observes Jerome Stocker, Marketing Director at Wika Alexander Wiegand SE & Co. KG in Klingenberg. But simply collecting data is not enough, adds Thorsten Seefried, responsible for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) at Wika: "Available measured values are increasingly being recorded centrally and enhanced with existing information, for example from laboratory analyses."
Independent and wireless
"Many customers like to use these measuring points to optimize their maintenance or logistics processes," reports Seefried. "We are seeing a rise in demand for wireless measuring technology, and ideally with an independent energy supply. Users want measured values that are available without the need for installation." To achieve this, this year Wika took over a technology company in France that specializes in low-power wireless technology.
Many measuring devices harbor untapped resources, known as "stranded data", which can be crucial in reducing system shutdowns or even preventing them altogether. Dr. Ralf Huck, Vice President Product Management Process Instrumentation at Siemens AG in Karlsruhe, explains: "This data can often only be interpreted by experts, while data collection is complex and laborious." One solution is an electric station that automatically reads configuration and diagnostic data from the field device at regular intervals, gives it a time stamp and saves it. The result is a kind of long-term trace for each field device, including its current state of health.
Searching for documentation
Difficulty in accessing documentation is another challenge. Users of brownfield systems are often not sure exactly what is installed and where it is documented. This is therefore where digitalization usually starts - where the need is greatest.
More cost-effective maintenance
Experts call the process "asset performance monitoring": By recording key performance indicators (KPIs), the monitoring process enables unusual behavior in all assets and components in a system to be recognized.
The benefits are clear: "Extrapolating wear KPIs generates recommendations for predictive maintenance," explains Huck. The process involves not only digitalization and networking, but also remote service. Customers who are worried about the state of the plant valves, for example, can send the relevant data to manufacturers like Siemens in encrypted form to find out more.
Measuring more and measuring differently
Exploiting the full potential of digitalization, however, will take far more measured values than before - for example on vibration states, humidity or temperature distributions. Cost-efficient sensors transmit their measured values directly via the process control system for further analysis. Customers can choose whether to tackle the challenges of networking and reliability themselves or to make use of cloud-based IoT operating systems.
Bürkert Fluid Control Systems in Ingelfingen is devoted to processes in which reliability is the top priority. Some 70 years ago, company founder Christian Bürkert did this using temperature controllers. Today, the company’s fluid control systems do the same job. "Checking and optimizing process reliability is our main focus here. The first step is to collect as much data as possible," explains Martin Schramm, Field Segment Manager at Bürkert.
In addition, a new flow meter now measures the volume flow acoustically, without the need for sensor elements. And that is not all this method, known as surface acoustic waves, can do: It also detects media and air bubbles in a fluid, such as those that arise when pumps leak. "This kind of technology gives the customer a large quantity of information from the lowest process field, the plant level," explains Schramm. "Knowing what is happening down there is a key aspect of Industrie 4.0 for me."
The process brings together a large number of measured values that were previously forwarded to the typical programmable logic controller (PLC) of the process level as analog electrical signals. The PLC then decides on further measures such as adjusting parameters, sounding an alarm in critical situations, or even shutting down the system in an emergency.
By working together with a manufacturer of forming machines, Bürkert has now implemented an interesting solution for pharmaceutical glassware. These mass flow controllers (MFC) monitor the gas fed to the burner that heats the glass bodies before forming. Between 50 and 100 MFCs in each machine, connected to one another via the digital platform, control the flow accurately and reliably. As such, quality problems such as uneven glass thicknesses are a thing of the past.
Added value through data
"Process measuring technology, and with it sensor technology, are essential parts of industrial processes," says Stephan Langer, Head of Industry Portfolio Management in the Packaging, Food & Beverage division at Balluff GmbH in Neuhausen auf den Fildern. "The demands on all production processes in terms of precision and accuracy are growing all the time."
Balluff sees itself as an enabler in the Industrie 4.0 environment. Firstly, the Swabian company makes sure that the devices generate the additional information needed for condition monitoring. It then provides solutions for transporting this information into any IT levels and supports users in analyzing, interpreting and using the data.
After all, Langer is well aware of the biggest challenge facing both analysis providers and system operators: "It lies in defining which data is useful and necessary and how it can be processed most effectively, in order to offer the user the greatest possible added value."