Attention digitalization managers and IoT product managers from mechanical, plant and component engineering! In this episode, we talk about difficult-to-access cabling, cable breaks and the need for a reliable power supply. With whom? With Thomas Ulrich, Head of R&D and Business Development at MP-Sensor GmbH, a leading company in production automation and manufacturer of sensor technology, and Anastasia Falkenstern, in internal sales at IMS Connector Systems GmbH, specializing in the manufacture of electrical and electronic devices.
Episode 114 at a glance (and click):
- [14:02] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
- [23:14] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
Podcast episode summary
In this episode, we look at the latest advances and challenges in the field of IoT connectors and sensor technology. We discuss the importance of SmartMod technology and its influence in modern industry.
MS Connector Systems GmbH and MP-Sensor combine their expertise and products to create innovative solutions in the field of IoT connectors and sensor technology. IMS Connector Systems is providing a pioneering solution for IoT connectors with “SmartMod”, while MP-Sensor is contributing its expertise in sensor technology, particularly in the measurement of various parameters and vacuum technology.
In the podcast, the two companies discuss how they are jointly tackling challenges such as cable damage and the wireless transmission of measurement signals. The SmartMod products offer innovative functions such as touch operation and wireless communication.
The role of MP-Sensor: MP-Sensor, known for its high-quality sensors for measuring various parameters, is a key player when it comes to the integration of smart technologies in sensor technology. With a vision to integrate the latest technologies into sensor functionality, MP-Sensor is driving digitalization and IoT in the field of production automation.
The two use cases in detail:
Detection of cable damage in machines and systems:Early detection of cable damage prevents downtime
Wireless transmission of measurement signals for sensors:Wireless signal transmission simplifies the integration and maintenance of sensors.
Points for discussion:What challenges do sensor manufacturers like MP-Sensor and their customers face today? How can partnerships such as the one between MP-Sensor and IMS Connector Systems offer advantages in these use cases?
The episode also emphasizes the importance of predictive maintenance and the role of Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) in data processing and transmission to the cloud. The guests will discuss how these technologies help to save time and costs and improve efficiency and reliability in various industries.
Today I’m talking to Thomas Ulrich, Head of R&D and Business Development at MP Sensor GmbH. The industry is production automation and they are manufacturers of sensor technology. I also speak to Anastasia Falkenstern, Internal Sales at IMS Connector Systems GmbH. The industry is the manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment. Today we are showing you a real innovation in the field of IoT connectors. Today we take a look at which IoT use cases you can implement with it and what it saves you in terms of time and money.
Hello Anastasia and hello Thomas. I am very happy that you are with us today. Anastasia, how are you? Where are you right now?
Hello Madeleine, thank you very much for the invitation. I am very much looking forward to this exchange. I’m fine, thanks for asking. I am currently at our headquarters in Löffingen. Löffingen is probably less well known. We are located in the beautiful Black Forest near the Swiss border.
I just typed it into Google, if you zoom out a bit, the nearest city is Freiburg. Nice to have you with us today, I’m very glad. Thomas, where are you, where can I reach you right now?
Thank you for the invitation to your IoT Use Case Podcast. I’m really pleased to be here with you today, and you’re hearing me today working from home in Filderstadt. This is practically right next to Stuttgart Airport. The planes practically take off over my head. But working from home is well soundproofed, so you shouldn’t hear a thing.
Greetings to the Stuttgart area, nice to have someone from this region with us again. Let’s get straight into the topic. Anastasia, let’s start with an introduction to IMS Connector Systems and what exactly you offer. That’s what it’s all about today and, above all, your product, which is something special. IMS Connector Systems is a family business. You have a whole product catalog of different products and today it’s all about IoT. You offer a special connector. This allows a wide range of data to be monitored from the connector or the cable. The product is called SmartMod. This is a connector with a green circuit board with some measuring electronics and a Bluetooth interface inside, which outputs this data, so to speak. Is that correct? And if so, what data exactly do you get from this SmartMod connector?
What you said was correct. We develop and produce RF connectors, cable assemblies and the corresponding accessories. We have developed the SmartMod for the industry in particular. The SmartMod is a 4-pole M12 connector that can continuously measure voltage, current, power and temperature. And how does it work? We took the standard industrial connector and added a smart module to it in the form of an encapsulated PCB module. Among other things, measuring electronics, a temperature sensor and a Bluetooth interface have been integrated. Using this Bluetooth interface, the corresponding measured values can be sent to a smartphone, tablet and PLC. This means that where sensor functions were previously installed in machine modules or components, they are now integrated directly into the plug connector.
A quick question for all those who are not from the electronics sector. M12 is simply a cylindrical connector with a diameter of 12 millimeters. This is simply a standardization that is very relevant for you in this environment, isn’t it?
This connector is often used in industry. That’s why we have now started with the M12. However, other industry-standard connectors may be added in the future.
Cool, very nice. Thomas, what’s the deal with the connector for you, and what do you find particularly cool about it?
M12 is an absolute standard interface. Most of our sensors have a built-in M12 interface for the power supply and signal transmission. The most striking feature of the SmartMod is that the wireless module is integrated into a normal-sized M12 connector. It’s not an extra device that I have to add on, but it’s an essential component that, from a mechanical standpoint, doesn’t require any additional effort, both in terms of space and installation. If, as a sensor manufacturer, I didn’t have an external system like SmartMod, then if I wanted to integrate wireless connections into my sensors, I would have to completely revise, retest and recertify all sensor designs. That would be an immense effort. I would never decide to do that because there are not that many applications for them that I could sell them in the tens of thousands. That’s why I wouldn’t touch and revise existing and functioning products. An external system is really perfect for us.
Very nice. Thomas from MP-Sensor has already given us a short introduction. Which customers from which sectors do you work with here? Is MP-Sensor a typical customer of yours? Who uses the SmartMod in the end?
Yes, the sectors in which our customers are located, in the industrial sector, are quite diverse. For example, our customers come from the medical and drive technology sectors. Here we are talking about manufacturers of defibrillators or motors, from mechanical engineering or, of course, measurement and control technology.
These are effectively end customers for you, who then use it in their production. Let’s take another brief look at the use cases. That’s always my favorite question in this podcast. You have a wide variety of use cases that you implement, both for end customers and for manufacturers, together with OEM’s, just like MP-Sensor here. Can you tell us a bit about the use cases you are implementing there?
Today we present two use cases. One use case involves the detection of cable damage in machines and systems. The second use case is about wireless transmission of measurement signals for sensors. Thomas will go into this in more detail. If we look at the first use case, we are talking about cable damage to machines and systems and how this is detected. Condition monitoring using the SmartMod makes it possible to detect damaged cabling in good time before downtime occurs. This means that limit values can be defined using an app. As soon as these limit values are exceeded or not reached, the system triggers an error message and informs the relevant operator. In order to localize the corresponding sources of error, each connector has a unique address with which its exact position can be stored in the control system. As soon as cable damage occurs, it can also be located. Particularly in large systems, in which several SmartMods may be installed, this eliminates the need to search for this source of error for a long time. In addition to condition monitoring, it is also possible to carry out predictive maintenance and detect problems in advance, before downtime even occurs. Here we work together with a software partner, but more on that later.
I would also ask about this in more detail. IMS Connector and MP sensor, how did you even come together? Why is it important that an MP sensor works together with IMS Connector Systems?
Yes, that’s a good question. We actually got to know each other this year at the “all about automation” trade fair in Friedrichshafen. The connecting factor was basically the company Schildknecht AG, which we both know. They are wireless specialists with whom I have had quite a lot to do in my professional life to date. I’ve been talking shop with the product manager, Didier Kerst, for years about a connector that has an integrated Bluetooth module. We really had ideas about how we could implement the project, or just thought about it. Suddenly he came to our booth and said: “Hey, I’ve found a part like this, IMS Connector has developed exactly what we were talking about.” And that led to a closer exchange with IMS.
Schildknecht is featured in Episode 98. You can find out a little more there. By the way, we will also be back at all about automation next year on March 5 and 6, 2024 with our own booth. You are all very welcome to stop by. You’re probably back too, I would imagine. Of course, it would be really cool if we all met again.
I will definitely be there.
Very nice. Then I would say let’s take a look at the MP-Sensor and what you actually do. We have already learned that you are a manufacturer of sensors. You manufacture various sensors, from measuring pressure, vacuum, flow, inclination, but also for vacuum generation. Now, of course, particularly exciting for this podcast: what is your vision, especially for your customers regarding IoT and digitalization? How do you approach this?
To quote from the homepage: to integrate the latest technologies into the sensor functionality and to give the whole thing a perfect housing. That is our core principle, which also shows our two absolute core competencies. That would be the latest sensor technology on the one hand and the best and most compact housing for the customer on the other. In concrete terms, this means that IO-Link, i.e. the smart sensor, has long been standard for us anyway. By the latest technologies in the sensor, we would mean, for example, the touch feature in a pressure sensor, which we have implemented in our current new development. We have completely reinvented the operation of a pressure sensor by developing a customized, small mini touchscreen. We have also completely reinvented the menu navigation. However, this was only possible in combination with our second core competence, the housing. However, this was only possible in combination with our second core competence, the housing. You can see how much know-how is involved. These are precisely the two core competencies. Today it’s all about wireless signal transmission with Bluetooth, which fits perfectly into our corporate vision with the SmartMod.
What challenges do your end customers face on a day-to-day basis? What are they losing in time and money today?
A major challenge for our customers is that cabling is often and frequently moving or exposed to demanding environmental conditions.
What exactly does “moving” mean?
This is mostly to be understood within machines or agricultural machinery, where movement takes place. Now let’s imagine an agricultural machine, for example. The cabling is simply exposed to these environmental conditions and this movement.
I would also bring in the topic of drag chains. The main place where cable breakage can become a problem is in the drag chain. The cable is bent by a certain radius with every movement and becomes fatigued over time. I don’t know what the cycles are to test how much such a cable can withstand, but I think it can be up to a million or ten million cycles. However, the cable becomes fatigued if it is moved around a radius all the time. Drag chains are a big issue.
We also have the company igus in our network as an energy chain manufacturer. It’s exciting what you can get out of such an energy chain in terms of wear limits. Cool example.
These conditions, which I have just mentioned, can lead to cable kinks and breaks. Particularly in machines that are difficult to access, this localization of the source of the problem is associated with enormous effort and high costs, which is another challenge for us and our customers.
[14:02] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
Thomas, you are a sensor manufacturer and use the SmartMod technology from IMS Connector Systems. What are your challenges?
Each sensor must always be supplied with power. Either with a cable or with a battery module. If we now think about when wireless signal transmission makes sense at all, then there are mainly a few use cases in the industrial environment, at least in my experience. There are situations in which a cable is simply not usable. So, for example, if the sensor has to be attached to a fast rotating part, then I can’t connect a cable there. In the case of a pressure sensor, this would be a tire for tire pressure monitoring or even tire pressure control, if a sensor has to be attached in some way, then it will also be difficult using a cable. If you need to transmit the signal, for example the tire pressure to the cockpit, then the only option is to do it without wires. The smaller and more symmetrical the module is, the better. In our case perfectly in the M12 connector housing.
This means that the first use case is around the end customer, who has cable kinks, cable breaks or simply demanding environmental conditions and wants to maintain such things proactively so that no downtimes occur. The second thing you said is simply about the wireless supply from the sensors, because this is not possible in many applications. There’s probably more, isn’t there?
If the cable is not possible, then the matter is actually clear. But there are also cases where power is available at almost every point, but no signal lines are wired. This means that although I have a power cable, I still need wireless signal transmission. Since the location is so remote, installing the entire signal technology and infrastructure would be more expensive than transmitting it wirelessly. Retrofit would be the third use case from our point of view. Anywhere in industry where a sensor is to be retrofitted, for example to upgrade the function of an older system, I may find myself in a situation where power is available on site, but the signal cable would be complicated to wire and install.
You have just given me the perfect introduction for my next question. I just wanted to ask about the business case, also for you as a partner. But as you’ve already said, it’s simply about moving areas where no cable is available. The business case is relatively clear, I just need a transmission solution. Do you offer an all-inclusive service with the SmartMod or how should I imagine it?
We want to offer the SmartMod as an accessory on our homepage. You could also say in other words: I want to equip all my sensors with wireless function. But as I mentioned before, I would never implement this if I had to integrate it into every single sensor design. So I only have one accessory and that’s it for me.
Do you have any particular sensors for which it makes a lot of sense to start with? Where you say the use cases are a huge pain for customers? Do you have any specific products that you are starting with?
The good thing is that this is the M12 connector standard and that the pin assignment is always the same. This means that I can actually use it for every sensor that we already have. I would think of the pressure sensor, which can also be used for level monitoring, for example. If I want to monitor the fill level of a silo, it makes a lot of sense to transmit the signals wirelessly. This also applies to applications such as water level monitoring in a river or pressure sensors in a racing car tire. In the latter case, the tire pressure can be adjusted during the race as the tire heats up. These applications will work in any case.
I’m imagining it now, or I think you’ve already said you have the sensor, and maybe there’s a control system where the data has to be recorded. Which different data types are required for these different use cases? Do you have examples? Is it classic data such as voltage, current or temperature, as Anastasia mentioned at the beginning, or is there other data that you need for your customer use cases?
With sensors, it’s actually quite simple. There are two different output signals. Regardless of whether it’s a pressure sensor or a temperature sensor or whatever measured variable I’m recording, the same thing always comes out of the back of the sensor. On the one hand, this is a switching output that is used to output a high and low signal. For example, at some set threshold that I can adjust, it should either switch on or switch off. That would be the digital signal. The second type of output signal would be the analog signal. For example 0-10 V or 4-20 mA, i.e. voltage or current. This is not a simple on/off signal, but the level of the voltage or current reflects some measured value. For example, 0-10 bar for a pressure sensor would then be output in 0-10 V. That’s the analog signal.
We already mentioned Bluetooth as a means of transmission earlier. How do you handle this? What is it all about? What types of data do you transfer via Bluetooth?
This is exactly the signal I want to transmitIf I use a pressure sensor and it outputs a value of 5 bar, I want these 5 volts generated by the sensor – this corresponds to 5000 millivolts, for example. Bluetooth would then transmit this value of 5000, and the next instance, be it an app on a tablet or a controller in the cloud, would recognize that the pressure is exactly 5.00 bar, based on the Bluetooth transmission of the analog signal.
How do you handle this? You mentioned tunnels or silos, does this work in the same way or are there other ways of reading this data?
It works in exactly the same way. The only question is always, do I want to know the pressure value or do I want to switch something? For example, I could set a silo so that I don’t care how high or low the fill level is, but if it falls below half a meter, then I want an alarm signal. This would be a typical application where I don’t have an analog signal, but a switching signal. It simply activates an alarm if the fill level falls below a certain value.
You have now chosen IMS as your partner. What are the technological requirements for the solution that either you or your customers always place on such products? What was important to you here for the success of such projects?
The main requirement was that the SmartMod should be able to monitor three lines. The main area of application for the SmartMod was originally cable break detection. For this reason, the measurement technology was initially only designed to monitor the power supply. IMS then modified the SmartMod so that the two signal lines of a sensor that transmit the output signals can also be monitored. Integrated into the M12 connector is a very big achievement: accommodating all the measurement technology and Bluetooth technology in the normal-sized M12 connector. I think that’s really, really impressive.
Take a look at this sensor if you are listening now. You can even see these three signal lines clearly. It’s even partially transparent. I took a look at a picture of it, which is quite easy to recognize.
Exactly, the housing has a transparent encapsulation.
Yes, exactly, important, then you can make the data already visible on the individual strands.
That’s right. The most important thing from the point of view of usability would be that the transmitted measurement signal is provided with the necessary accuracy. Our pressure sensors have an accuracy of 0.5% of full scale, as stated in the data sheet. This means that my measurement signal must be more accurate by a certain factor so that these 0.5% are not worsened by the signal transmission technology. So I have to guarantee that I can keep to what the data sheet says and that my measurement technology and Bluetooth transmission technology do not impair the accuracy. Another important point is that they fit together and are compatible.
[23:14] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
Anastasia, can you tell me a bit about what this bundle looks like, which I buy from you as a customer? What exactly do I get?
In our packages, we talk about single-sided and double-sided SmartMods. I would like to explain that in advance. The background to this is the area of application, as the single-sided cable assembly only has a SmartMod at one end of the cable. Only the signals are monitored and transmitted here. Meanwhile, the two-sided cable assembly has a SmartMod at both ends and is used to monitor the cable. In general, the cable assemblies can be between 1 and 20 meters long, and we naturally cater to customer-specific requirements. To make it as easy as possible for our customers to implement the SmartMod, we have four different packages. The SmartMod cable assembly can be ordered from us as a single unit, i.e. without any other accessories. Of course, we also offer this with a Bluetooth gateway on the one hand, and the two-sided SmartMod cable assembly with a so-called PLC controller on the other. However, the MQTT Broker is also included as an interface in a purely cloud-based package.
That’s cool because many work with MQTT as a standard. How does data processing work, especially with regard to this wireless solution in the cloud? Some customers already have their own cloud, others may still need infrastructure. How does that work exactly?
If direct wireless communication is not possible, there is then the option of using a Bluetooth gateway from Schildknecht, which can be easily integrated into the existing control system. The gateways translate the signals into common fieldbus formats such as Profinet or Profibus. Data processing in the cloud takes place via the gateway. The data is sent directly to a cloud via mobile communications, where it can then be accessed via a browser.
You have already mentioned the various use cases and, above all, the associated analysis. There is a certain level of precision that must be adhered to. Anastasia, you mentioned certain error messages earlier. How do you analyze the data at the end of these individual use cases?
The data analysis always runs via the corresponding app. We work together with ai-omatic solutions in the area of predictive maintenance. This is because special software solutions usually have to be used to process and analyze this large amount of information. With the help of an algorithm and the information recorded in real time, it is then possible to carry out predictive maintenance. Keyword Machine Learning. The system records normal operation and recognizes when a fault is about to occur through minimal deviations. In summary, the aim is to predict future maintenance requirements and prevent up to 70 percent of all unplanned downtime.
That sounds wonderful and best wishes to the founder, Lena Weirauch, if she is listening in. Exciting product, nice partner you have chosen for the topic of AI analysis.
A brief word on the subject of predictive maintenance. The main aim here is to use as much data as possible to draw conclusions about the condition of any parts or systems. This requires more and more data to be collected, which naturally pleases us as a sensor manufacturer. We can sell sensors. But someone has to do something active with the sensor data at some point. The only question is who and what. If you are a manufacturer of modules for predictive maintenance, such as IMS recently, then you have to ensure that either the installed hardware or the associated software performs a data interpretation, evaluates it and makes the current result available to the user. The trend will increasingly be for data interpretation and data evaluation to move out of a higher-level system and into the individual devices. This turns a sensor or cable into a smart sensor or smart cable.
It makes sense that certain data is likely to be pre-processed, on the edge or on the sensor, that you as a manufacturer deliver increasingly intelligent sensor technology and then selected data is passed on for the individual use cases. Thank you for the addition. Finally, can you tell us what is going on with this signal transmission and also with the connector in the future? What else can we look forward to from you?
I have already mentioned one point. More and more data is being collected and the interpretation and evaluation of the data will constantly improve and migrate to the individual devices. I think we’re still at the very beginning, if you look at how AI models and AI applications are now sprouting up, for example, then I would simply say that it won’t be too long before AI-supported data interpretation will be available on industrial devices. So sensors, smart cables, actuators and so on. There are already many such tools in the cloud and have been for a long time, but I just think that the intelligence will migrate more to the devices. On the subject of wireless, we have talked a lot about the SmartMod and wireless signal transmission. The next step would then be to make the power supply wireless and also battery-free.
Inductive or what options are there?
Exactly, that’s the question. You have already recognized that absolutely correctly. Induction comes to mind. When you’re at trade fairs, there are fun systems where autonomous robots or vehicles drive across the floor and supply themselves with power via induction. If you now look at the next 10-20 years, then I would also think about energy harvesting. Above all, on the one hand, that the power consumption of the devices goes down, otherwise I probably won’t be able to create such a system and, on the other hand, that the modules for energy harvesting can reliably draw enough energy from the environment to safely supply the device. This is definitely not the case at the moment, or at least only very rarely, and it would be nice to imagine that a device could supply itself with energy from its surroundings, for example through vibration, light, movement and so on.
Yes, that would be great. I can’t wait to see what else is coming. Maybe we’ll do another update for the podcast in a year’s time. Who knows what the situation will be like then.
In a nutshell, and perhaps a little exaggerated, the industrial device of the future no longer needs a power supply, transmits data wirelessly, of course, and has integrated AI-based data processing, on the basis of which the behavior of the device is then determined.
Yes, great statement. Anastasia, do you have any additions from your side?
We will definitely continue to develop the SmartMod. We see many opportunities in the future, for example to move on to the M8 or other industry-standard connectors in order to solve these interfaces or problems for our customers. We now also have a booth at the SPS in Nuremberg. We have our product release there, so please come and visit us. You will find us there in Hall 6 at Booth 251P. And we also have a presentation on this topic at the SPS on November 14. We would be delighted to see you there.
If you listen to the episode now after the SPS, no worries. Anastasia and Thomas are of course also available for you if you have any questions. I’ll link your LinkedIn contacts in the show notes. We also mentioned all about automation Friedrichshafen 2024. Come by or contact Anastasia and Thomas via LinkedIn.
All that remains for me to say is thank you very much. Thank you very much for the project presentation. It was great. First of all, Anastasia, I think your product is pretty cool that you can now really collect this data directly from the cable, from the connector. I think this is a real innovation on the market right now. And then, of course, the various use cases where real money is involved. After all, I want to avoid downtimes if I have cable breaks or possible cable kinks that can lead to faults and failures. I want to avoid that. Thomas, we have explained the advantages of wireless communication today. Many thanks to all of you, and with that, the final word goes to you once again. Thank you for joining us today and have a great rest of the week.
Thank you for having us. It was great fun and see you next time.
Thanks from my side too, it was really great, a lot of fun and see you next time.
Have a nice rest of the week. Take care, ciao!