Minnesota Mining

Minnesota's Twin Cities area is home to a number of important sensor vendors —companies whose activities impact sensor technology overall. In August I had the opportunity to visit, and mine a handful of them for development news.

Honeywell Labs Camden is headquarters to Honeywell Automation and Control's wireless sensor networking research—which builds on the company's expertise with demanding industrial environments.

Wireless networks in plants today typically support homogeneous devices (such as handheld units or process sensors—but not both) and compete in the same bandwidth with different security configurations and so on. Honeywell's investigations show that plant personnel are looking for a secure, reliable, scalable, power-managed, multifunctional strategic setup. So the company is working on a plan for release in 2007 to support various industrial protocols and up to 30,000 devices, such as tablet PCs and sensors, and coexist with other wireless devices, such as PDAs and cell phones.

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Across town, Banner Engineering Corp. is planning new technology it hopes will make a major impact in an exciting way. I'm sworn to secrecy on details, but we'll tell you more as soon as we can. Meantime, let me tell you about Uprox+ by Turck Inc., which demonstrates a trend, and a fairly big leap, in proximity sensing.

Turck points out that metal detection hadn't seen a technology improvement in many years--until just recently. The newest proximity sensors from Turck (as well as from ifm effector and Balluff, for instance) replace conventional wound coils with multicoil technology. This results in an extraordinary improvement in sensing distances —up to 250% greater range. Perhaps better, Uprox+ detects all metals at the same rated distance, meaning that you can switch targets on the production line without having to adjust. That improvement is extended by niceties such as dramatically smaller size and integrated predamping, which allows the sensors to be recessed in metal.

At the American headquarters of SICK AG I leaned about SICK's support of IO Link, a fieldbus-neutral point-to-point connection for dialog between sensor and controller. At this year's Hanover Fair in Germany, SICK and several other sensor manufacturers announced the IO Link working group under the umbrella of PROFIBUS International (PI). Their goal was to develop the specification for a fieldbus-independent communication interface for intelligent sensors and actuators in production automation.

The physical coupling of one or more sensors to a fieldbus takes place with the help of an IO Link connection module. IO Link has been designed as an open interface and can be integrated in all current automation communication systems. The first IO Link products are expected this fall.

SICK recently launched a new line of color vision sensors that includes the "first true optical character recognition sensor," (a claim that translates to suitability for date and lot code inspection) that can also count characters.

As does Banner, SICK has another announcement planned . . . please stay tuned!


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