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SICK’s high-flying sensors take off

SICK’s high-flying sensors take off

Where would you begin if you had to completely rethink the optical sensor? What would be top of your wish list? David Hannaby explains how SICK’s next generation W16 and W26 photoelectric sensors with “BluePilot” alignment got ready for a dramatic take off.

When SICK consulted users of photoelectric sensors all over the world and asked them what they considered most important to the future development of object detection, the answer we got was a little surprising…

You might have expected users to insist, above all, on robust reliability and maximum availability or that Industry 4.0-ready smart sensing would be their future goal. But these were not top of their list. What our customers really demanded was simple selection, quick configuration and ease of use – this was their ‘dream ticket’ to an easier, more efficient and productive working life whatever their industry, from automotive to food processing, from machining to timber manufacture.

Then, we realised our customers already took it for granted that SICK sensors would deliver robust performance every time. They simply expect our sensors to always be 100% reliable, always available and ready for the future.

However, all the great technological advancements and incremental improvements that sensing technology has enjoyed in recent years have had the unintended consequence that there are now many different products to select from, many different ways to set up, align and program sensors, with different designs, detection types, LED displays and light spots. So, at SICK we decided to set out on a journey towards simplification of our optical sensor range. We developed the new, easy-operating concepts our customers wanted, as well as bringing together all of SICK’s leading optical sensing technologies.

The result is the SICK W16 and W26 smart sensors with “BluePilot” alignment, announced with a global launch in February. The radically-upgraded family of sensors are at the helm of a new streamlined portfolio which optimises ease-of-use while still achieving complete detection reliability.

The new proximity, reflex and through-beam photoelectric sensors will be manufactured at a purpose-built, fully-automated production facility in southern Germany. They mark the culmination of a two-year, €multi-million research and development project involving extensive consultation with SICK customers worldwide.

BluePilot Alignment

The first and most significant development is SICK’s BluePilot assistant. Sensor applications that use a reflector, or a transmitter and receiver, need careful adjustment to ensure optimal alignment – tricky especially over longer distances. If the light spot is not in the correct position it could lead to production failures or stoppages, sooner or later.

The BluePilot assistant uses a line of five LEDs mounted on the top of the sensor for quick, easy and accurate alignment of the light spot even over long distances. The blue LEDs also provide an ongoing visual status indication to verify that the sensor is still in alignment. Thus, both set-up and maintenance time is minimised.

In the proximity sensor, the BluePilot combines a potentiometer and teach-in button together to simplify set-up. These LEDs provide an indication of the distance from the sensor to the target.

Best-in-Class Optics

Next, SICK turned its attention to the optical technologies that have kept the company at the forefront of sensor developments for 70 years. We looked for the best technologies in our existing photoelectric sensing ranges and developed new technologies alongside them. We incorporated them in the new W16 and W26 family to deliver the best of all worlds.

Twin-Eye technology

SICK’s patented Twin-Eye technology achieves reliable detection for reflective materials such as films, foils, contrast-rich or uneven surfaces when they need to be detected from above. False signals lead to production failures that cause machine downtime while an operation is reset, or lead to unnecessary product wastage. In some proximity sensors, films, foiled designs, print on glossy foils, high-gloss UV varnish, high-contrast prints, fluorescent or reflective inks could all lead to deflections which mean the light spot is not reflected consistently to the receiver.

With Twin-Eye technology such challenges are a thing of the past. Thanks to the Twin-Eye’s unique second receiving channel, ‘belt-and-braces’ process stability is built in. Even when the light spot is deflected by a shiny or wavy surface, the light is reflected back onto both receivers, causing the sensor to switch on and detect the object. Or, if the reflected light is still detected by at least one of the two receivers, the switching signal is maintained and operation continues reliably.

LineSpot

SICK has incorporated LineSpot linear optics to provide highly-reliable detection where the object has mesh, perforations, integral gaps or breaks. For proximity sensing of open-mesh objects such as baskets with lattice surfaces, the line spot creates a wider line to maximise the detection area and ensure accurate sensing every time.

SICK’s robotic production facility ensures consistent manufacturing accuracy so every device is made to the same consistent plug-and-play settings for quick installation and set-up.

ClearSens

SICK ClearSens technology makes light work of semi-transparent and transparent objects, such as bottles and plastic trays. Intuitive mode selection on the device makes it easy to set up the sensor according to the characteristics of the object to be detected, and the on-board BluePilot potentiometer enables maximum detection certainty to be combined with maximum accuracy.

ClearSens provides a solution for object detection where the light may be refracted, magnified or diffused, depending on the packaging or the properties of the contents, or even scatted by inclusions within a transparent product such as a gel.

In this regard, detection of clear glass bottles filled with water are the ultimate challenge. Due to an optical effect, the detection can be interrupted as soon as the light beam reaches the centre of the glass bottle. The ClearSens technology in the new WLG16 photoelectric sensor solves this problem. The effect is compensated for through the intelligent evaluation of light intensity and scatter, in combination with switch-on and switch-off thresholds that have been specifically designed for use in detecting bottles and trays.

Mechanical Robustness

To deliver outstanding performance stability, a photoelectric sensor not only needs the best optics, but also be unaffected by the harsh industrial environment surrounding it. The ambient lighting of a factory, flashes of light or reflections from surrounding machinery can all affect an inferior sensor’s performance and lead to false or missed signals.

With SICK’s revolutionary new OptoFilter technology onboard, the W16 and W26 sensors are completely immune to interference from unwanted light sources and reflections, including LED lighting, which is increasingly common in factories, and hi-viz safety workwear.

SICK’s AutoAdapt function means if the reflector or the front screen of the sensor becomes contaminated, the photoelectric sensor automatically adjusts its threshold settings to retain its switching point

Every W16 and W26 comes in a robust Vistal housing to withstand all chemical, thermal and mechanical environmental conditions as well shocks and vibrations. They are designed for long life with IP66, IP67 or IP69K protection (depending on model) and operating temperatures of -40°C to +60°C.

The casing is laser-etched with full product identification so that the sensor is still easy to identify even after years of service and the effects of being coated with product, oils or cleaning fluids.

Smart Sensors

Finally, the new streamlined portfolio incorporates IO-link two-way communication as standard on all devices. These Industry 4.0 ready sensors therefore offer rapid set up and plug-and-play replacement through the ability to clone the sensor’s parameters via IO-link. That means no more manual adjustment of sensors, which can be a challenge especially if they are located on difficult-to-reach parts of a machine.

The IO-link connection also enables each sensor to be located and its diagnostics made visible to the control system, so maintenance can be planned and any faults addressed immediately.

The Smart Sensors also offer the opportunity for the sensor to undertake smart tasks such as counting and time measurement at the local machine level, taking processing load off the PLC.

An industry-first in-built Bluetooth wireless option also allows easy monitoring and advanced commissioning from smart phones or tablets.

The Future of Sensing

Whether you have been a SICK user for years, or are new to our technologies, in future we want to streamline our products so they are consistently easy for you to select, while reducing your stock levels.

The W16 and W26 sensors represent the future of sensing. Easy to set up and maintain, they all work in the same way, with the same design, to save time and costs. Any detection challenges are handled easily, every time, no matter what the manufacturing conditions.

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