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Robotics Industry News

Industry 4.0 ready: Vacuum Solutions for the Intelligent Factory

Schmalz, Inc.

Schmalz launched a vacuum generator with IO-Link interface back in 2008 – long before the subject of Industry 4.0 became known to a wide professional public. Today, the vacuum specialist markets numerous vacuum solutions that make production processes more productive, efficient and flexible, thus making a vital contribution to the intelligent factory. The company is also the first manufacturer to combine sensor and actuator functions in 4.0-compatible devices.

Using the example of a gripper spider for fiber composite components, it is possible to see how significant this contribution to the intelligent factory can be in practice. The spider in this example is equipped with 15 needle grippers, a production changeover takes around 12 minutes when using conventional needle grippers. This time includes processes, such as stopping the machine, reparameterizing the components and also tests that are required after the changeover. If the grippers are changed once a day, the approximated costs for downtime are around EUR 600 for each working day (EUR 50/minute). If the spider is running 300 days each year, this results approximated annual downtime costs of EUR 180,000 when using conventional grippers. With the needle gripper SNG-AE from Schmalz, set-up times and downtime for this spider can be almost completely eliminated using remote parameterization via IO-Link.

The example describes an important feature of Industry 4.0: A modern production system is made more flexible, more productive and more efficient by using an intelligent component. A further feature enabled by the needle gripper SNG-AE is greater manageability of the increasing complexity of products: Using fixed definable process profiles, the gripper's needle stroke can be adjusted freely. The profiles can subsequently be called up in any order for each individual cycle. At the same time, the gripper communicates with the higher-level controller and provides complete condition data. This not only allows continuous stroke monitoring but also comprehensive process control, which in turn enables ongoing process optimization.

In addition to the needle grippers, Schmalz also produces a range of intelligent vacuum generators – identifiable by the "i" in the product name. They also facilitate intelligent process communication, contributing to increasing levels of networking. This kind of networking also means the gradual break up of traditional automation pyramids with their rigid hierarchical information structures. An automation cloud is formed in which intelligent devices and services interact with one another and organize themselves. Real-time availability of all process data is the basis for the implementation of Industry 4.0. The "smart field devices" from Schmalz, such as the compact ejector X pump, collect this data, interpret it and communicate it up to the master level. For this, they use IO-Link as the interface for communication in all standard field-bus systems. Their diagnostic and forecasting functions derive information regarding the condition of the unit (e.g. wear or contamination) and detect subtle changes and imminent malfunctions. This enables avoidance of unplanned machine downtime and an increase in system availability . These comprehensive energy and process control functions are integrated in the i-series compact ejectors and in the needle gripper SNG-AE from Schmalz as standard. This means that the devices already have the necessary intelligence to make Industry 4.0 a reality today.

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