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Changing maintenance of products from an art into a science

Author : Paige West is Editor for Design, Products & Applications

07 October 2016

Industry 4.0 is creating many engineering challenges for a variety of industries. When I spoke with Matthew Aldridge, managing director of igus, he explained how the company is improving upon its current technologies to create smart plastics specifically for Industry 4.0.

Smart plastics

From the end of the 18th Century to the present day, industry has changed dramatically. The Industrial Revolution or Industry 1.0 brought about the creation of steam and water power, an engineering feat that stretched across the globe. The start of the 20th Century saw the introduction of mass production through the harnessing of electricity, with more manufacturing plants being built to cope with the high quantity of goods being processed. Industry 3.0 was the dawn of the digital age; computers were becoming widely available on the commercial market, soon to become a commodity. Now we have reached the era of Industry 4.0, where factories and plants are expected to become fully automated.

Already we are seeing developments in areas such as the Internet of Things, Big Data and Industrial Ethernet. What Industry 4.0 seeks to do is bring all these different technologies together to form one ecosystem. This ecosystem will deliver enhanced productivity for manufacturers.  

igus, who has been operating in the UK for 25 years, has met Industry 4.0 head on with a range of smart plastics. Smart plastics represent the next step for the company’s motion plastics; adding intelligence and networking to enable smart factories of the future, through automated condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, to improve reliability and reduce costs. Intelligent cables, energy chains and linear guides constantly monitor themselves, providing performance data and early warning of critical wear. 

The igus iSense system encompasses a range of sensing technologies and monitoring modules. There are five tried and tested sensing systems that are used by the iSense for predictive maintenance, helping to eliminate downtime:

1. iSense EC.W (Wear)

The RFID chip (wear sensor) is built into the final cross bar of the energy chain at a depth of 1mm. Based on the parameters of the installation, the measured condition of the energy chain and the data gained from the thousands of tests, the iSense EC.W signals the necessary replacement or repair requirements in good time.

2. iSense EC.P (Push/pull – formally the igus PPDS (push-pull detection system))

This technology is used to monitor the push/pull forces of energy chains over long distances. The EC.P is a combination of strain gauge and the EC.P evaluation unit. The strain gauge is either fitted on the connecting element of the energy chain or integrated into the floating moving end. Any fluctuations in force readings will indicate wear.  

Smart plastics in action

3. iSense EC.B (Breakage – formerly the igus EMA)

This sensing system indicates when there is a broken link, which could be due to obstruction by foreign bodies or vandalism. A plastic wire is mounted in the energy chain in special separators and linked to the sensor unit, which in essence is a potentiometer. The data from the sensor unit can either be read out by the iSense EC.P evaluation unit or it can be connected directly to the customers system on site.

4. iSense CF.Q (Electrical Conductor Quality)

This system is used to determine the service life of the chainflex cables laid in the installation. Two additional cores are inserted into the cable and terminated in the iSense CF.Q control unit. The conductive value of the wires are checked continually and compared with igus test data and the installation parameters. Any anomalies will indicate the end of service life for the cable is approaching, enabling planning of cable replacement in good time before critical downtime. Only one cable in the energy chain needs to be monitored so usually this would be the critical bus cable.

5. iSense DL.W (Wear)

This is used to detect the wear limit of drylin linear units when the wear of a linear guide has reached a level normally associated with the end of the guide’s service life. A plastic element that has an integrated RFID chip (wear sensor) signals the need for replacement in good time.

The iSense system communicates with the igus Communication Module (iCom) which collates information on the condition and maintenance status of the e-chain, cable or linear guide. This system provides direct integration with the customers IT infrastructure or the igus data cloud. The option to connect to the igus data cloud opens up the possibility of automatic ordering of external maintenance crews or replacement parts. 

Matthew Aldridge notes that this is where Industry 4.0 really comes into life. The electronic intelligence lowers maintenance costs even further and increases plant availability. 

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