In the context of Industry 4.0, sensors and control systems are becoming the ears and the heartbeat of processes across all industries. Advancements of digital protocol in process automation are also allowing a smoother implementation of these basic measuring instruments in the field.
Seamless integration of basic functionality devices is necessary in a digital environment. Quite often, these entry-level instruments are not considered because of their lack of compatibility with the rest of the instrumentation moving towards digital protocols. For a long time, instrumentation manufacturers refrained from implementing digital communication into their basic sensors, for cost optimization.
Developed by a consortium of industrial manufacturing companies, IO-Link is a digital protocol that offers huge improvements in the implementation of basic sensors in the field. Time and cost of project implementation can be reduced significantly thanks to this open protocol. It is a point-to-point technology that enables diagnostics and tracking capabilities from sensors and actuators.
Each IO-Link device is connected to an IO-Link master, which acts as a getaway to a fieldbus such as Ethernet/IP. Since IO-Link is not a fieldbus dependent system, it can be added to existing control systems at minimum cost. Other advantages of the IO-Link technology include the automatic transfer of parameters after a device replacement, as well as low wiring effort compared to conventional wiring.
In confined spaces where direct wired communication can be critical, some instruments even feature wireless communication capabilities such as Bluetooth. This allows for commissioning devices, as well as reading process values and accessing diagnostic information remotely.
Manufacturers like Endress+Hauser have implemented Bluetooth capabilities into flow and level sensors, accessible via a smartphone app.
Plug-and-play flow meters for utilities
Flow meters represent a large share of instrument costs in the field across all industries. Due to their high accuracy and advanced functionalities, process automation professionals tend to install them on process critical lines only, mainly because of their high price. Utility flows (monitoring of cooling lines or process water, for instance) often don’t get measured, even though they can deliver significant information to field operation personnel.
Smart plug-and-play flow meters, that measure and monitor flow and temperature of conductive liquids, can be cost-efficient. In addition to their high-accuracy flow sensors, Endress+Hauser have developed a compact flow meter with intuitive operation, thanks to a wide display, offering Bluetooth and IO-Link compatibility. The Picomag combines a sensor and transmitter in the same housing, with a 40 mm TFT colour display showing flow, totalizer and temperature readings, as well as warning and alarm messages. Outputs include 4-20mA, pulse, switch and 2-10V.
A Bluetooth wireless interface allows direct access to process and diagnostics data, and enables the user to configure the measuring device on the fly. The device can be operated and configured on Android and iOS devices via the free SmartBlue App. It is possible to carry out wireless configuration or data retrieval over a distance of 10 metres, even at installation sites which are difficult to access.
Errors occurring during operations are displayed via diagnostic symbols, in accordance with NAMUR recommendation NE 107 (same standardized message as per the high-end flow instruments available on the market). The screen rotates automatically, depending on the installation position (horizontal, vertical), guaranteeing optimal readability at any time. Configuration parameters can be called up and monitored by simply knocking on the device.
Due to its compact design, Picomag can be installed into any pipe up to 50 mm in diameter, even in confined spaces. For this purpose, there are various process connection adapters available, such as NPT-thread, R-thread, internal thread, tri-clamp or Victaulic.
Picomag is designed for applications where the focus is on high repeatability (±0.2% o.f.s.) and thus reliable measured values (i.e., for correctly measuring water flows (maximum 750 l/min) or for minimizing energy costs in utility applications. It is suitable for process temperatures between –10°C to +70°C, as well as for process pressures up to 16 bar.
The instruments themselves are one thing, but customers are also expecting a seamless experience when purchasing these fit-for-purpose types of device. Having the ability to order online at any time and get fast delivery for these instruments is important, since basic instruments don’t require a vast amount of consultation before being purchased.
To better serve these new demands from the process automation industry, manufacturers such as Endress+Hauser have adapted their model to offer an online platform, with pre-configurable instruments available in stock for faster delivery.
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