Industry 4.0: 'smart' plastics to eliminate machinery downtime

Smart sensors embedded into industrial machinery could eliminate downtime by detecting when cables, chain and linear bearings are reaching the end of their lifespan while they are still in operation.

Igus, which produces machinery for industrial applications, claims that its ‘smart plastics’ will hasten the development of ‘Industry 4.0’ or automated industrial facilities requiring little to no human input.

The company has started embedding sensors into its machinery in order to maximise uptime and reduce costs by predicting when machines will fail through the natural degradation of parts by constantly monitoring their condition and predicting when maintenance and replacement will need to be carried out before they fail.

The ‘intelligent’ cables, energy chains and linear guides constantly monitor themselves, providing performance data and early warnings of critical wear.

“Isense continuously monitors the service life of your e-chain, cable or linear guide via measurements and calculations using the parameters of your system,” said Matthew Aldridge, Igus managing director.

“These measurements are referenced against aggregated test data from the Igus test laboratory to reliably predict smooth functioning in real-world operation. Alerts are sent when measured values exceed thresholds, allowing timely maintenance or replacement.”

One example given was an industrial chain embedded with an RFID chip that is destroyed once it has worn down by 80 per cent.

This is picked up by nearby smart terminals that recognise that the chip has stopped transmitting and that the chain therefore only has a limited lifespan from that point on.

The amount of time taken for the chain to wear to that point is then taken into consideration and an estimated prediction of when it will break can then be made and it can be replaced before that point.

Data can also be optionally shared with the Igus data centre, opening up additional possibilities for customised service life calculations and optimisation of business processes, including maintenance commissioning and spare parts ordering.

E&T has covered the burgeoning Industry 4.0 sector in past with one of the first companies entering the fray, MyMuesli, embracing new technologies to create an automated plant that produces individually mixed boxes of breakfast cereal according to customer specification. 

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