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‘Smart’ guides, cables and energy chains will boost uptime

07 July, 2016

The plastics engineering specialist igus has announced a series of “smart” technologies that add sensing, monitoring and communications capabilities to its cables, energy chains and linear bearings. The company says that these technologies – which it is marketing under the “smart plastics” banner – will help to increase plant availability and uptime, and cut costs through condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Some of the technologies are renamed versions of existing systems, while others are new. They include:

• A system (called isense EC.W) for measuring wear in energy chains based on a pair of RFID chips built into the chain’s final crossbar at different depths. When the chain reaches about 80% of its service life, one of the chips is destroyed and this is sensed by a monitoring system.

• A similar system (called isense DL.W) detects wear in igus’ drylin linear guides using a plastic element incorporating RFID chips.

• A device (called isense EC.P) that uses a strain gauge to monitor push/pull forces in energy chains over long travel distances. The strain gauge is either fitted on the connecting element of the energy chain or integrated into the floating moving arm. This is based on an existing igus technology previously called PPDS (push-pull detection system).

• A system (called isense EC.B) that detects broken links in energy chains caused, for example, by foreign bodies or vandalism. A plastic wire is mounted in special separators along the whole length of the energy chain and linked to a sensor that is essentially a potentiometer. The data from can be read from an evaluation module or sent to a control system. This technology was previously known as EMA.

• A system (called isense CF.Q) that is used to determine the service life of igus’ chainflex cables used in energy chains. Two spare cores in the cable are connected to a controller which monitors their conductivity and compares the readings with test data and installation parameters. Any anomalies indicate that the cable is approaching the end of its service life, allowing it to be replaced before it fails. Only one cable in the energy chain needs to be monitored – usually the most critical cable.

Data from igus' new sensing technologies can be gathered wirelessly from energy chains and linear guides and sent to on-site controls or servers, or to a remote data centre

The measurements are compared with test data to predict real-world operation. When the measured values exceed thresholds, alerts are triggered, allowing maintenance or replacement before a failure occurs.

In addition to the sensing technologies, there are also communications modules (called icom) that connect wirelessly to the isense devices and link them into a company’s IT infrastructure, allowing continuous, automated condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. An optional connection to igus’ data centre opens up the possibility of automatic ordering of maintenance crews or replacement parts, with just-in-time delivery. The icom modules are not available yet but are expected to go on sale within 6–12 months.

The sensing technologies are designed to be incorporated into new energy chains and linear bearings – not retrofitted to existing systems. Igus UK managing director Matthew Aldridge says that they will add about £500 to the cost of an energy chain installation – a “negligible” amount compared to the potential savings, he suggests.

Aldridge describes the new monitoring technologies as “the start of a new area of competence for igus”.

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