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Predict wear or failures before they happen: igus® smart plastics for high value industrial operations19/02/2019

Since its launch in 2016, igus has developed its family of smart plastics with improved ‘isense’ sensors and monitoring modules that add intelligence to energy chains and moving cables. In 2019 there is now a full suite of “smart” operations technologies that predict wear and failures in energy chains and cables before they occur, preventing potentially hugely expensive downtime. In high value industrial operations with gantry cranes and robotic systems that move constantly, energy chain systems can be damaged or compromised. Sometimes this is caused by general long-term wear. Alternatively, this can be when a tool or workpiece jams in the chain breaking it with no warning, ripping cables and causing expensive unplanned stoppages while in repair. The smart energy chain technology uses electrical and mechanical sensors to detect wear and failures before they happen. igus® isense modules collect data from energy chains to detect different failure mode indicators. The EC.M sensor detects acceleration, velocity, temperature and the number of cycles, to monitor that the chains are working as normal, and offer important background data for lifetime prediction. The sensor that detects wear, EC.W, measures energy chain wear directly and sends a signal when a defined limit is reached. Integrated directly in the chain link itself, the EC.I sensor measures the percentage wear of the pin/bore connection without contact and in this way enables timely planning of replacement or repair. When energy chain forces are critical, for example on long travel cable chains, the EC.P sensor measures push/pull forces, saving maintenance personnel from having to inspect long travel distances but ensuring that the system is stopped quickly if a foreign body enters the chain path. The EC.B sensor can detect breakage of an individual chain link that could also be caused by a part or debris falling into the system. There are also isense sensors designed to prevent failures of the cables themselves within energy chains. The CF.Q type checks the electrical properties of cables while moving, to predict when they will be in danger of failure due to fatigue. CF.P ensures that tensile loads on cables don’t get high enough to damage the cables. The smart plastics products are customizable, as various concepts for integration of the signals and data into the customer’s own infrastructure are possible. The simplest solution, “isense standalone”, allows the ‘icom’ data concentrator to send a signal via the customer’s PLC to stop the machine or send an alert. With “isense offline” the data from the sensors can be sent to a standalone PC in the customer’s premises for further analysis or ERP integration. The full “isense online” implementation offers a connection to the igus Data Centre, where more advanced and accurate maintenance recommendations are made via machine learning and AI algorithms comparing the customer applications with the huge long-term testing database and experience from the 2,750m2 igus test laboratory. “igus® has engineered aspects of smart sensors in its products for a long time, for example the push/pull detection system has been around for 14 years,” said Richard Habering, Head of Smart Plastics at igus. “This family of smart plastics products pulls together well established and new technology to offer high value industrial operations such as car plants a smart, “Industry 4.0” system of predictive maintenance for cable management,” he added. The system is already in use by several igus® customers in the UK as well as around the world in automotive production and ports. Justin Leonard, igus® the-chains director, is excited about the potential. “With the numerous test findings that are fed into the online service life calculators, we are able to predict precisely how long an e-chain or cable will work reliably in a particular application,” Justin explains. “The suite of isense sensors provides the customer with additional safety through a permanent service life update. This is because it includes the current ambient conditions of the actual application. Maintenance and replacement occurs only when it is really essential. This saves time and maintenance cost.”