Whether it’s 3-in-1 laundry detergent, a Swiss Army knife or a multi-function kitchen appliance, we all love a product with multiple uses. But in sensor technology, specialists have mostly been in demand – single-function devices with a very specific ability. Each sensor is based on a specific operating principle and detects one condition. In the manufacturing industry today, however, multifunctional sensors are increasingly in demand. Companies want to install fewer sensors in order to minimize the number of interfaces to be integrated and the installation effort. “Fewer sensors require less effort. Based on this premise, we coordinated a team in 2017 with the goal of developing a multifunctional sensor,” explains Product Manager Christian Seyfried. The idea of the Balluff Condition Monitoring Sensor (BCM) was born.
Together with the customer
The innovation team worked for about two years on the development of an initial prototype. This was presented to select customers for the first time at the Hannover Messe 2019. “It very quickly became clear that our idea was meeting with a high level of customer interest,” Seyfried said. In a customer-oriented development process, the feedback was incorporated and the product concept was further sharpened. After another 15 months, the time had come: The condition monitoring sensor was launched in April 2020.
Intelligent condition monitoring
The BCM is a monitoring sensor, its basic principle: Detect changes in environmental variables. The detection of various conditions such as vibration, temperature, humidity and ambient pressure within just one sensor provides valuable additional data for condition monitoring. The sensor processes the measured data itself, so that relevant data is directly available to higher-level systems. The sensor can be configured according to the application via the standardized IO-Link communication interface and all measured and processed variables can be accessed. For example, continuous and simultaneous monitoring of the vibration and temperature levels enables safe and reliable detection of mechanical wear. Changes in ambient pressure can indicate damaged or clogged air filters. “With this concept, we can cover a high range of different use cases,” explains Bernd Lenfert, Product and Application Specialist at Balluff. “The multifunctional concept with several physical measured variables in conjunction with intelligent on-board data pre-processing and IO-Link represents a technological milestone both for us and in the competitive environment.”
Evaluation on board
Data preprocessing directly in the sensor makes it possible for the first time to implement condition monitoring applications that would not have been economical with previous solutions on the market. Certain statistical quantities are calculated from the raw signals of the individual sensor modules, which can be used for downstream analysis. In this way, the data is already meaningfully aggregated at the point of acquisition or in the sensor. The importance of this is particularly evident in the case of the vibration module. The sensor element itself generates 6400 values in one second. “Without aggregating the data, these unimaginably large amounts of data would have to be further processed in downstream systems so that a controller or gateway could use the data,” says Lenfert. “It is precisely these evaluation electronics that we have relocated directly into the sensor, in contrast to numerous solutions available on the market.”
Basis for a smart system
The trend towards multifunctional sensors is also reflected in the Smart Automation and Monitoring System (SAMS) newly developed by Balluff. Additional data about the sensor itself or about the ambient conditions of the sensor can help the customer to optimize the process parameters during operation or to preventively counteract maintenance work. “Many of the features from BCM served as the basis for the SAMS portfolio. This has created a new Balluff standard for intelligent sensors with IO-Link interface,” explains Dennis Braun, Product Cluster Manager for the Process Sensors division.