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Advanced Engineering 2021

NEC Birmingham(B40 1NT)

03/11/2021 - 04/11/2021

Join us in our 12th and most important edition to date, as we invite engineers and management from all (more)

Embedding intelligence into motion plastics

Embedding intelligence into motion plastics

One of the keys to Industry 4.0 will be condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Embedding intelligence into its motion plastics, Igus is offering exactly that, increasing plant availability.

Industry 4.0 means lots of different things to an equally large number of different people, and sometimes a workable definition of what it’s really about can seem elusive. But perhaps the problem is that Industry 4.0 is not a single thing, but rather lots of different things coming together to form a new style of system. Linking all of these different elements will deliver enhanced productivity and a whole host of benefits.

Perhaps what complicates the picture is that not all of these ‘things’ exist yet. There are a number of missing pieces. But now Igus says it has added a new piece to the puzzle with the launch of its smart plastics. This is an evolution of the company’s cable, energy chain and linear bearing products – motion plastics – that embeds intelligence for sensing, monitoring and communications. These smart plastics promise an increase in plant availability, maximised uptime and a reduction in costs through condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Igus motion plastics are already used extensively worldwide throughout industry and everyday life in moving applications. The company’s high performance engineering plastics are self-lubricating and maintenance free, as well as being lighter, harder-wearing and more energy efficient than traditional materials. For dynamic applications, this results in more reliable and cost-effective solutions which also defy rain, salt and extreme temperatures, as well as being resistant to UV, oil and chemicals. Thanks to extensive testing in its 2,750m² test lab in Cologne, the largest facility of its kind in the world, Igus is able to accurately predict the service life of its motion plastics, offering reliability guarantees. 

Such statistical predictions are a great start point for scheduling maintenance, but suppose the components could give us live, real-time information on wear? That is just what Igus is delivering with smart plastics – adding intelligence and networking to enable Industry 4.0 smart factories of the future via automated condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Intelligent cables, energy chains and linear guides constantly monitor themselves, providing performance data and early warning of critical wear.

So what exactly does Igus mean by embedded intelligence? Under the banner of ‘isense’ there are four key technologies in play, all communicating to wireless isense modules. First, isense EC.W is wear monitoring technology for energy chains. An RFID chip (wear sensor) is built into the final cross bar of the energy chain at a depth of 1mm. It monitors wear of the energy chain, and sends an alert when 80% of the 1mm depth has been worn away, giving the user plenty of time to schedule maintenance for a replacement.

Conceptually similar is isense DL.W – wear technology used to detect the wear limit of Igus drylin linear units, again based around an embedded RFID chip.

Next is isense EC.P – a push-pull detection system. This monitors the push-pull forces of the energy chain over long travel distances. The EC.P is a combination of strain gauge technology and the isense EC.P evaluation unit. The strain gauge is fitted on the connecting element of the energy chain or integrated into the floating end. Any fluctuations in force readings will indicate wear, giving users the opportunity to investigate and rectify any potential problems before costly damage is caused. Another sensing technology is isense EC.B. This sensing system indicates when there is a broken link, which could be due to obstruction by foreign bodies or vandalism. 

Finally, there is isense CF.Q, 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 is checked continually and compared with Igus test data and installation parameters. Any anomalies indicate that the end of the service life of the cable is approaching. 

Right now, isense modules provide local indication at the machine/installation, with options to integrate the alert outputs into the wider control system. A development of the smart plastics technology, which Igus says is coming soon, is the icom module, which will provide direct integration with the user’s IT infrastructure or the Igus data cloud. This could open up additional possibilities for customised service life calculation and optimisation of business processes, including maintenance commissioning, spare parts ordering and just-in-time delivery. In this way, electronic intelligence lowers maintenance costs even further and increases plant availability. 

Commenting that each of the isense technologies adds only marginal additional cost to the price of a system, Igus managing director Matthew Aldridge says: “This is the beginning of a journey for us. We don’t have all of the answers as to where this is going to go, but we’ve added intelligence where we’ve seen a need for it. This is the beginning of a new area of competence for Igus.

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