An engine manufacturer in Austria is using linear robots equipped with energy chain systems from igus that feature smart plastics technology to build more than 6,000 engines per week at the company’s production factory.
igus introduced its “isense” line of smart plastics at Hannover Messse in 2016. Sensors and monitoring modules embedded in the technology allow manufacturers to record the condition of components and report them as soon as a replacement is necessary, which minimizes the risk of unplanned downtime and expensive production losses.
The energy chain systems used on the linear robots that handle the engine blocks operate continuously for 18-19 shifts per week, building more than 6,000 engines for the automobile company, which is based in Germany. On average, one engine runs off the assembly line every 14 seconds. The energy chain systems that work with the linear robots quickly reach millions of cycles.
Reduced weight, noise and predictive maintenance
Rather than steel chains normally used to guide the moving cables on the linear robots, the manufacturer relies on the plastic energy chains from igus to minimize weight and noise. The “predictive maintenance” of the igus components adds to the advantages of the energy chain.
“This product family, which we have grouped together under the brand name ‘isense,’ comprises various sensors and monitoring modules which can be equipped on the energy chain systems from igus,’’ said Michael Blass, an authorized officer of igus e-chain systems. “Thanks to the digital networking of machines and products, it is possible to continuously record the condition of components and report them as soon as a repair or replacement is required. This makes it possible to avoid unplanned plant downtimes and thus, expensive production losses.”
When igus presented the technology in 2016, the Austrian engine manufacturer took note of the “smart maintenance” capabilities. Teams from the engine builder and igus design engineers conducted their first tests in August 2016.
Abrasion and break monitoring
In beta testing, engineers monitored for abrasion and break in the energy chains.
The isense EC.W (“W” for “wear”) abrasion monitoring system, a sensor chip installed in the crossbar of the e-chain, continuously measures the condition of the sliding energy chain during travel. If the abrasion progressed so far that the end of the of the service life was approaching, the sensor would respond with a signal. The abrasion never progressed far enough to trigger an emergency notification.
Monitoring of the isense EC.B modules (“B” for “break”) examined the condition of the chain with the help of a polymer wire running within the energy chain. Prior to isense capability, visual inspections did not detect wear in the energy chain systems, but the chain failed two weeks later. Break monitoring takes the guesswork out of chain replacement.
At the beginning of the beta phase, engineers studied the workshop temperature and its influence on the chain. Engineers were required to determine limit values to distinguish between “normal” expansions and actual incidents.
The igus’ isense modules have been chosen as the “innovation of the month” at the Austrian plant. The engine manufacturer plans to equip 50-60 igus energy chain systems with break monitoring in its facility.
Three test systems are already operational, and one has reached the critical point where it must remain in real operation and the responsible machine setters must act. After a visual inspection, they can decide between a false alarm or if action is required. By doing so, the manufacturer can avoid expensive consequential damage during the beta phase and the linear robots can be safely moved.