Industry 4.0 or the ‘Smart Factory’ is a vision for automation in which connectivity and data sharing between machines, not only in a production plant, but across the supply chain, is practically seamless. By David Hannaby, Sick UK product manager for presence detection

Embedding a high-speed counting function into Smart Sensors enables high-performance monitoring and measurement of machine speeds


f the ultimate goal for the Smart Factory is to achieve communication

between any machine, then the corresponding goal of sensor technology must be to first sense any object, no matter what it is, or what the environmental conditions are. The good news is, sensors are already

well on the way to detecting and measuring any object, in virtually all industrial automation applications. Sensors are the ‘unsung heroes’; the glue that holds together automated environments. The accuracy and consistency now

achievable with modern sensing means tasks such as picking, placing, labelling and printing can be performed at production speeds, to higher performance levels than ever before, with resultant benefits in low wastage, minimal line downtime and better quality control.

DETECTING ANY OBJECT To begin with, sensor manufacturers like SICK found reliable ways to sense difficult-to-see objects, such as transparent, semi-transparent, uneven and highly reflective objects like glass and plastics in bottling plants, or foil blisters used in pharmaceutical packaging. The new SICK TranspaTect photoelectric sensor, for example, means that reliable and consistent detection of transparent packaging is easy to achieve. By eliminating the need for a reflector

and simply referencing the sensor to a convenient machine component surface, alignment problems and false readings are virtually eliminated. As a different approach, the SICK Glare

photoelectric sensor actually uses reflective properties of different materials to reliably detect surface changes and product borders under what could be highly challenging conditions to most conventional sensors.

ONE SENSOR, MANY TASKS These are fairly specialist sensing tasks, but could one sensor be developed with the versatility to perform general sensing tasks across the whole range of high-speed industrial production applications? Such an achievement could enable a production engineer to replace most distance and proximity sensors in a production store with a single range of sensors. SICK believes it has achieved this

milestone with the new PowerProx range. This technology has packed the benefits of laser Time-of-Flight (ToF) technology into a compact housing to deliver high- performance distance sensing, proximity and object detection. Engineers can choose from a range of

just four sensors to achieve accurate results over a wide distance range between 10cm and 3.8m without the need for reflectors and receivers. As a result, even objects being

conveyed at high speed, small and flat objects and products with jet-black and shiny finishes, can now be reliably detected over extensive sensing distances and the false readings from spray, dust and reflective lights can be supressed.

THE BEST TECHNOLOGY FOR THE JOB Incorporation of other technologies, including ultrasonics and wave radar, can be used where difficult products must be accurately measured. Sensor development teams work very closely with customers to innovate and adapt to solve real problems. For example, an application which

often defeats sensors is level sensing in low dielectric fluids and foaming liquids, hot or even highly corrosive fluids. Physical factors may also adversely affect conventional level sensing, including challenging tank shapes and materials or locations where tight dimensions limit access by probes and sensors. The SICK LFP fluid probe enables instrument engineers to obtain




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