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smart plastics in use at an Austrian automotive supplier

Avoid unplanned downtime through intelligent energy chain monitoring

In hardly any other industry is reliability as important as the automotive industry. Whole vehicles or even individual components such as the engines, go through production lines with a very high degree of automation. If production stops here, it quickly leads to expensive losses. Therefore, it is important for vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to be able to rely on fail-safe components. An Austrian engine manufacturer therefore relies on "smart plastics" from igus. Sensors measure wear during operation and notify the user early enough to plan a repair or an exchange.

Profile

  • What was needed: Plastic energy chain, abrasion monitoring isense EC. W, and breakage detection isense EC.B
  • Requirements: High output of the plant requires particularly reliable energy supply under continuous load
  • Industry: Automotive industry
  • Success for the customer: Intelligent "smart plastics" solution, i.e. data on the condition of the components can be obtained continuously before a system failure can occur.

Energy chains

Problem

Site: engine plant in Austria. Application: indoor linear robot for the automated handling of engine blocks.  At the engine plant in Austria, the largest and most important engine plant  of a major German car manufacturer, an engine comes off the assembly lines every 14 seconds on average - at peak times more than 6,000 engines are produced each working day.  This extremely high output can only be achieved with a high degree of automation and with extremely reliable components. The goal of the operators is to always avoid failures and system downtimes if possible. These high standards were therefore also set for the energy supply system of the indoor gantry. In fact, this later has to work continuously in 18 to 19 shifts per week with high dynamics. Future energy supplies can quickly reach cycles in the millions.

Solution

In order to minimise weight and noise compared to steel chains used to guide the moving cables on the linear robots, the manufacturer relies on plastic energy chains from igus. But these are not their only advantages: due to the increasingly important topic of 'predictive maintenance' in the industry, igus® has been developing the so-called 'smart plastics', intelligent plastic products, for some years now. "This product family, which we have grouped together under the brand name isense, comprises various sensors and monitoring modules with which, for example, the energy chain systems from igus® can be equipped," explains Michael Blaß, Vice President e-chain systems® at igus®. "Thanks to the digital networking of machines and products, it is possible to continuously record the condition of the components and to notify as soon as a repair or replacement is required. "That way it is possible to avoid unplanned plant downtimes and expensive production losses.


isense EC.W modules With the help of a polymer wire inside the energy chain the isense EC.B sensor unit monitors the condition of the chain. In the event of a chain breakage, the machine is stopped automatically to prevent subsequent damage.
isense EC. W modules isense EC.W modules have also been built in. A sensor built into the crossbar signals advanced wear of the chain. The measurement of wear data means that a chain's remaining service life can be predicted and replacement can be planned at an early stage.

"Thanks to the digital networking of machines and products, it is possible to continuously record the condition of the components and to notify as soon as a repair or replacement is required. "
 
Michael Blaß, Vice President for e-chain systems at igus

Double safety: abrasion and break monitoring

The energy chains also use the abrasion monitoring isense EC. W ("W" for "wear"): a sensor chip installed in the crossbar of the e-chain® continuously measures the condition of the sliding e-chain® during the travel: if the abrasion has progressed so far that the end of the service life of the chain is approaching, the sensor will respond and trigger a signal. However, the abrasion of energy chains made of high-performance plastics has not progressed so far that it has ever come to an emergency notification.
 
The use of the isense EC.B modules ("B" for "break") is a lot more significant here. With the help of a polymer wire (running within the energy chain) and a sensor unit, they monitor the condition of the chain. Here a failure occurred two weeks after visual monitoring of the energy chain systems had resulted in no complaints. This can be prevented by the break monitoring. At the beginning of the beta phase, however, a lot of fine tuning had to be done. This is because the temperature in a workshop has a great influence on the length of the chain and thus on the pre-load of the polymer wire. Here it was necessary to determine limit values in order to distinguish between "normal" expansions and actual incidents.
 
At the Austrian engine plant, igus® isense modules have already been chosen as the innovation of the month. Currently, there are considerations and plans to equip around 50 to 60 energy chain systems from igus with break monitoring. In the case of the three test systems, one is already at the point where the system breaks down in real operation and the responsible machine setters must act. After a visual check, they can decide if it was a false alarm or if there is a real need for action. In this way, expensive consequential damage can be avoided even during the current beta phase and the linear robots can be safely moved.