Saving half a million euros in an hour - thanks to LEONiQ

Dresspacks and drag chains provide robots and production systems with power, and provide a reliable link between controllers and sensors. They are exposed to extreme stresses during day-to-day manufacturing, and if damage or wear to these essential components - the 'lifelines' of production, so to speak - could be detected in advance, then unplanned and expensive plant downtime could be avoided. Any maintenance work necessary can also be optimally planned as part of normal operations.

Cutting costs by half a million euros in just one hour: this kind of figure would earn any production manager more than just a pat on the back from their supervisor. In manufacturing production lines, these kinds of costs can be easily incurred if a plant suffers unplanned downtime due to a sudden and unexpected fault. Nor does production downtime merely lead to material and energy losses: depending on the particular case and industry, production may also be left with unused personnel resources. Additional costs can also arise from the specialized emergency teams and service providers needed to resolve the fault. Not forgetting the contractual penalties to be paid or other sanctions within the extended supply chain that are also typically incurred by these kinds of outages in the supplier sector.

Faulty data and energy cables within tubing at robot nodes in drag chains can be one cause of unplanned production downtime: although these cables are essential lifelines that supply power to industrial plant, they are also subject to extremely heavy loads. Improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a major strategic element for manufacturing, and these cables play an important role in measures designed to make production processes more efficient. This is why LEONI is working on intelligent, digital cable solutions that are able to monitor, actively interpret and forward data about their own state. When used in production facilities, these cables have the clear goal of avoiding outages and significantly increasing plant availability.

Securing the energy supply for industrial robots

A possible approach to this goal involves the industrial robot dresspack (the robot’s cable and hose routing system). These dresspacks consist of cables and hoses that are fitted along the robot’s length, and which are protected against mechanical wear by a cable management system. Their most important job is to supply the tools fitted to the robot with data and energy in a range of different formats: this includes, above all, the electrical power required for the robot’s work but can also involve compressed air, for example. Dresspacks also incorporate a wide range of data lines, and can also be used to route coolant lines or lines known as profile feed tubes, which use compressed air to feed the fasteners required in production such as rivets or screws to the point of processing at the robot.

Since the large number of repetitive sequences of movements made by dresspacks and the components that they include exposes them to high levels of mechanical stress, they need to be highly flexible and resistant to torsion. To give the host robot as much freedom of movement as possible, they also need to be routed very closely along the robot to ensure that they do not collide with the robot’s workpieces or parts of other production systems. During extension and retraction movements, the cables must also have enough slack to compensate for translational and rotational motion. As a result, dresspacks need to be designed to match the exact requirements of their host robots – and this typically means several hundred robots within a single production facility.

Early warning wear monitoring

At this point, it’s clear that intelligent cables can make a big difference to achieving significant increases in plant uptime. Both for standardized production lines but especially for production systems featuring customized layouts, it is very important to know the state of each individual component in the energy supply chain. Integrating the key technology LEONiQ offers the huge advantage of being able to avoid unplanned production downtime entirely. In addition, any necessary maintenance work can also be planned well in advance. The availability of high-precision fault analysis also means that this maintenance can be performed as efficiently as possible, while the insights gained can be analyzed and evaluated for the future.

The starting point for this is a cable that is equipped with the key technology LEONiQ, whereby a check signal is sent at predetermined intervals down a conductor that is integrated into the cable. Changes in this signal can be used to monitor parameters such as temperature, media ingress and mechanical stress along the entire cable, and localize any critical points along its length. In this way, production plant operators not only get advance warning of the dresspacks that are approaching their wear limits, but are also informed of the cables that are affected and the specific location(s) on these cables.

Data and energy cables in drag chains

The same principle can also be extremely useful at other places in a fully-automated factory. Such as for drag chains, for example, which are deployed in many places on the shop floor, and used to route the data/energy cables for machine tools, gantry cranes or complex pieces of production machinery. Cables here are also exposed to high levels of mechanical stress: during their lifetime, drag chains not only need to survive several million bending cycles but, at the same time, are required to perform maximal translational acceleration at very high g-forces. Drag chains are also exposed to high process speeds and very long process travel distances. Alongside these mechanical stresses, cables must also be resistant to oils and other aggressive media, and able to withstand extremely high temperatures. Cable routing must also be very compact, to accommodate rapid motion and restrictions on installation space. Requirements for electromagnetic shielding also increase as a result of these space restrictions, with the design – and monitoring – of this shielding being particularly important. This is one area particularly suited to LEONI’s hybrid cable designs, which combine data transfer and power supply into a single cable.

Predictive maintenance with Big Data analysis

For all of these reasons, the intelligent cables - now deployable for the first time in many applications - are also extremely useful in drag chains. This is because it is difficult to predict the stresses to which drag chain cables will be exposed. The various spatial and physical circumstances of the installed drag chain mean that local heating will vary widely from one chain to another. In other places, bending, torsion, airborne chippings or the ingress of media such as oils can also substantially increase the stress on a particular cable or cables. Thanks to the use of the key technology LEONiQ, the cable state can be monitored using active data analysis in conjunction with cloud services. Users are provided with a dashboard to visualize this state data: any anomalous areas are detected by LEONiQ and shown as color-coded areas on the user´s dashboard.

The next stage in development is to refine the individual data analyses and extend them by using Big Data. In the future, this will enable precise forecasts of wear and maintenance requirements, as well as minimizing the risk of unplanned production downtime due to damaged cables. And a production manager somewhere may well be able to look forward to saving half a million euros in just one hour…

LEONiQ combined with drag chain: Video

LEONiQ combined with dresspack: Video