New Solutions for Smart Weighing Applications with Open Automation

Open Automation means that digitization can also be easy – with a freely expandable cloud platform for the process industry. It incorporates the open programming interface for smart weighing. This way, production and weighing technology applications such as checkweighing, control functions and filling checks can also be integrated with ease.

To put smart weighing into practice, the use of smart sensors, load cells and smart weighing electronics is indispensable. Components must already have intelligence built-in, in the form of open interfaces or edge computing, for example, to enable efficient and targeted data processing. This article takes a look at the demands placed on such systems, with special emphasis on software integration.

Optimize processes, reduce costs and, thus, increase turnover

The advent of Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things, has given rise to far-reaching new possibilities in the world of technical weighing.

With better process control, both the speed and quality of weighing processes can be improved at the same time. Early detection and elimination of quality problems prevent costly rejects. Likewise, the potential for quality improvements can be recognized more easily thanks to more efficient monitoring of weighing processes, enabling faster improvement of the process yield. In the weighing and packaging sector, production times can be minimized while legal requirements for accuracy can simultaneously be monitored and documented.

Intelligent measurement chains flag up the status of individual machines and enable pending critical material wear to be diagnosed promptly. This way, required parts can be ordered early on, short wait times planned for work, and longer machine downtimes avoided.

In the production environments of today, PLC applications are increasingly being replaced by software or even cloud-based solutions. Just as the Internet of Things is now defined by platforms like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Spotify, Twitter and WhatsApp, the platform trend is now also asserting itself in the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT.

Voice control, integration in email programs, apps and other examples of the independence of innovative solutions

With this new openness, innovative and user-friendly solutions such as voice control and voice assistants, or integration in email programs, are now coming to the fore. With the open IIoT platform, voice control assistants such as Alexa and Cortana can provide information about the status of production machines. In addition, info windows can be integrated in Outlook and other email programs, showing the production status or giving direct access to reports. Furthermore, alarm notifications can be given based on stored limit values or in the event of errors and breakdowns. Similarly, there is the option of receiving push notifications in real time about important events such as faulty parts or machine failure, using the factory app.

Use of intelligent hardware – Edge computing

One fundamental characteristic of modern testing and measuring equipment as well as Industry 4.0 is that intelligence is already integrated in direct measuring components such as sensors and measuring electronics. These components can therefore start preprocessing data.

Although the terms Industry 4.0 and IIoT are mostly directly associated with cloud solutions, we should not neglect the hardware. In modern solutions, simple handling is key. This means that on contemporary devices, in-depth programming knowledge is no longer required for setting up tasks; rather, some simple adjustments just need to be made. This change is comparable to that of cell phones – they were initially a practical tool offering limited special features and user-friendliness, which have evolved into versatile all-rounders with easy and intuitive operation. In the same way, the programming of tasks has been transformed into simple parameterization. One example is the internal edge computing calculation channels of the smart ClipX, DSE-HIE, PAD and WTX measuring amplifiers from HBK. These offer a wide selection of ready-implemented technical weighing functions that merely have to be parameterized by the user. This reduces the time required and minimizes possible sources of error in implementation.

Processing data at the right points for specific applications

As a rule, data should be processed where it makes the most sense to do so. Historic data, data that is merely used to analyze a system over time, and data that consumes storage space as well as computing power, should be processed using a cloud solution.

Regardless of the many advantages, the cloud is not the right tool for all applications. Time-critical data dependent on low system latency should still be processed in a decentralized manner so it can be used to initiate a quick response, such as the stopping of a machine. Solutions of this kind are referred to as ‘edge computing’, and stand in marked contrast to cloud computing. These include checkweighing applications, which record the correct weight in highly dynamic processes during product transport, and time-optimized filling that can optimize and adapt itself to changing processes.

Ensuring interoperability through suitable protocols

In order to create efficient systems that are more easily expanded in the future, it is important to use a suitable protocol. A manufacturer’s own protocols or unique individual protocols may seem more efficient in the beginning, but aren’t worth it over the long run. The OPC Foundation developed OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture), a platform-independent standard for data exchange that facilitates the exchange of data for industrial communication, regardless of manufacturer, device programming language, and operating system. This protocol also facilitates exchange in machine-readable semantic form.

Moreover, working groups in the OPC Foundation are defining special profiles for applications from the manufacturing and process industry. For example, a profile has been developed for technical weighing applications that incorporates their special requirements and working methods, as well as the legal regulations. In this way, the software acts as a modular system that can be optimally installed in the overall application and saves a huge amount of time.

Open interfaces allow for an overall solution – API and drivers

Another trend in IoT is set by the Open API initiative in the USA, which aims to promote the free exchange of data between applications of different manufacturers, using open user programming interfaces (API – Application Programming Interfaces).

Industrial measuring amplifiers from HBK offer an object directory implemented in the device. Based on a key or command list, all the objects of the device can be read or changed, for example, via a TCP/IP socket connection or fieldbus communication. This provides a solid basis for the parameterisation and full remote control of the device without using the integrated web server.

Device API for integration with C/C++ and C#

In order to facilitate integration with smaller or customized software applications as well, the object directory was used to develop an API in the form of a .dll file for the ClipX, DSE and WTX measuring amplifiers, among others, which uses a solid function framework to easily integrate the amplifier in a new environment, such as C, C++, and X# applications, for example. This is available on the HBK website both as a .dll file for Windows or an .so file as a specially compiled version for Linux. The devices can therefore be effortlessly accessed and controlled as desired, even in custom programs. This allows all device parameters to be read and changed.

Application example: Load cells in web-based quality control

How can heterogeneous machinery be connected to new IIoT platforms in as uncomplicated a way as possible? This is a key issue for plant managers, and consequently platform providers must be able to offer simple solutions. It should take no more than three days to connect pilot machines, for example, including networking with planning (ERP) level via adapters. In order to then convert big data from the machines into usable smart data in real time, fast and efficient data processing using edge or cloud computing is essential. The aim is to generate digital mirror images on all necessary computers on the shop floor, with which production managers and workers can analyze operating states virtually and optimize them in real life.

HBM itself is increasingly automating work steps in its own production processes. One example of the intelligent adaptation of manual work is quality control, such as ensuring the correct temperature in curing furnaces for ring torsion load cells (RTN), for example

Before automation, the temperature curve was printed out using an analogue line recorder which then had to be adjusted to the target value by an employee using a template. To automate this step and, thus, also avoid human errors in the adjustment, the furnaces were equipped with five Pt100 temperature sensors, each connected to a ClipX. All the ClipX amplifiers are interconnected via the internal ClipX bus, which guarantees signal synchronicity.

For evaluation purposes, the data is sent to the Bosch Nexeed Production Performance Manager (PPM), using the REST protocol and is automatically compared with a target curve. In case of deviations exceeding a set delta, an alarm signal is triggered, and a potential error can be corrected instantly.

Conclusion – Generate added value from data

With integrated open interfaces like these, companies are (again) becoming independent builders of their own completely individual IT architecture. Entire components can be streamlined and software can be used to network, control, analyze, and process data. Comprehensive compatibility and interoperability of the hardware and software used is indispensable for this. Production and calibration processes are becoming increasingly secure with the implementation of the Industry 4.0 technology and can be securely networked via an Intranet and Internet throughout the entire factory and the entire world.

HBK offers an all-embracing spectrum of options for connecting in-house hardware to a diverse range of well-known software applications. These are sensors, load cells and measurement electronics with open interfaces for individual integration in a variety of cloud applications. Measuring amplifiers from HBK are compatible with a wide selection of protocols and can therefore be implemented easily both in existing networks and new applications and networks.

More information: Open Automation: Benefit from new opportunites

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