Integrating IoT with fluid power

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By Josh Cosford, Contributing Editor

The Internet of Things has been touted for years, but how will it mesh with hydraulics and pneumatics?

The world is full of uncertainty, and fluid power should be no different. We in the industry question our own relevance and capacity to exist in the future. Can the venerable fluid power industry maintain its pertinency against the tsunami of electric actuation trying to drown us? Can the hydraulic and pneumatic employers of the world maintain a dynamic and talented workforce despite the apathy of millennials towards our perceived “dirty” industry? Can we adapt to the digital age and use the tools of Industry 4.0 to further both our product lines and the way we make them?

It seems that everywhere you turn, people are talking about Industry 4.0. Before I get too deep into IoT, which itself is a component of a bigger picture, I should really provide a quick explanation for those who are aware of neither the 4th Industrial Revolution nor the Internet of Things (IoT). The four industrial revolutions, in chronological order, are: mechanization, electric-powered mass production, automation and now digitization. We traveled from steam-powered machines to assembly lines, and then from robots to wireless factory control.

Bosch-I4.0 IOT

IoT Gateway from Bosch Rexroth allows use of the company’s IoT-capable products with seamless collection of data via cloud computing.

The term “Industrie 4.0” originates from a high-tech strategy by the German government to promote the computerization of manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is the complex, yet seamless, integration of mechatronics and digital processing. It’s more than automation; it’s a connected world where your customer can log in to your website to see their order travel through stages of production and then also track the delivery truck on a map, live via GPS. It’s where your phone app monitors a pump that not only tells you how soon it will fail as it trends leakage rates, but also shows you the supplier’s inventory and allows you to order at the click of a button. Industry 4.0 is the combination of what you and your kids do on your iPad with what your brick and mortar factory does. The line between virtual and reality is becoming finer.

Every one of the big fluid power manufacturers is heavily invested in Industry 4.0 technology, and not just from the IoT perspective, but also in the form of complete integration. Parker has developed their Voice of the Machine to ensure interoperability between all components of each division of Parker product lines. Voice of the Machine is a cohesive strategy to include security, scalability, data access and interoperability between proprietary and third-party nodes. The system does everything from smart system maintenance, on-demand machine function changes and asset and inventory management through smart tagging.

The approach Festo takes is slightly different from Parker in that they offer various platforms and systems to integrate Industry 4.0 with IoT and smart factory technology, but not necessarily under one umbrella term. Festo is approaching Industry 4.0 with a holistic methodology in all products and systems they manufacture, from their centralized ERP software to their cyber-physical systems. Festo is also a world leader in training and implementation of Industry 4.0, and they even offer turn-key factory training and learning systems.

Bosch Rexroth has developed their own system, as well: IoT Gateway. Just as with other technologies, it allows use of the company’s own IoTcapable products in a secure, scalable fashion, with seamless collection of data via cloud computing. Although IoT Gateway runs with Linux, because Rexroth partnered with OPC, the industrial interoperability standards foundation, their platform is compatible with peripherals from any other OPC UA platform user, such as Parker or Festo.
So, Industry 4.0 is the cyber-physical smart factory, where machines can be programmed from the cloud, modular production lines can switch between value streams within minutes and machine downtime is a thing of the past. The key to all this capability is IoT; but what exactly is it?

The Internet of Things is simply the connectedness of individual smart components to intranets, extranets and the World Wide Web, such has been seen in the refrigerator that tells you to order new milk because it knows the expiry of the current carton. Consumer electronics is innovative and often revolutionary, so it makes sense IoT technology started there. However, industrial machinery typically lags in technology compared to consumer goods, so it’s no surprise we’re not yet controlling pump pressure from our smartphones with the Internet of Industrial Things, but the time is nearly upon us.

The industrial fluid power industry is ripe for integration of IoT and Industry 4.0. I’ve said it a million times, but hydraulic maintenance in the form of fluid conditioning is the single most important consideration of any hydraulic system. System monitoring and maintenance with IoT has been on the radar for some time, with companies like Hydac and Bosch Rexroth offering live system performance monitoring packages for years. Although they ran on proprietary networks and protocols, they could monitor and trend hydraulic machine performance, and even send alerts to your email (and therefore your smartphone—if you were lucky enough to have a Blackberry at the time).

Getting real
IoT components are simply any web-enabled smart devices, which themselves are part of a greater network of smart apparatus. I feel at this point, it’s best to use specific examples because the whole IoT and Industry 4.0 concept can seem fairly contrived without some context. The most obvious direction for IoT in industrial fluid power maintenance is with predictive maintenance—components that can not only monitor critical machine parameters but then predict and avoid failure.

The Eaton LifeSense hose conditioning monitoring system is a great example of IoT technology for the fluid power market. Sensors are installed at hose ends of the hydraulic lines which monitor hose and connection compared to baseline data. As the wire braiding in a hydraulic hose changes structure as it wears, it also changes its electrical properties. When the wire becomes fatigued beyond an acceptable standard, the sensors transmit data to the hose diagnostic unit, which itself sends a signal to your smartphone or PC app that the hose should be replaced soon. This allows for planned maintenance, which can occur during scheduled shutdown periods, rather than premature timetables or sudden breakdowns, both of which are costly.
Another example of predictive maintenance through IoT components is monitoring of pump casedrain flow. After the initial break-in period, for example, a piston pump typically provides a steady rate of case drain flow, which is required for lubrication purposes. Hydac makes components capable of monitoring steady-state fluid flow, such as their EVS 3100 flow rate transmitter, which when connected to their Condition Censor Interface (CSI-C-11), allows you to monitor pump lifecycle.

Piston pumps typically experience two instances of rapid wear; when they are broken in, and then again when they’re close to failure. When case drain flow starts to accelerate, it’s a sign that clearances are opening up due to wear or damage. The CSI-C-11 observes the increased case drain flow rate and sends a signal to your maintenance software or app, telling you that it’s time to replace or repair the pump.

If you don’t have a spare pump in stock, intelligent inventory control software can automatically send out RFQ’s to approved vendors for replacement. Upon receipt of the quote, the order can be placed for the pump and lead time entered into maintenance software, effectively booking the machine for downtime upon receipt of the pump. This not only lets maintenance staff plan their time effectively but also allows production teams to work around the scheduled downtime.

Because advanced technology often requires years to be fully adopted, it’s not even currently known how the technology will help at all levels of manufacturing, especially for the fluid-power industry. Right now, the largest industries are best suited to adopt the technology, which will trickle down to the smaller companies in time. I imagine IoT and Industry 4.0 will saturate industries such as steel, power generation, water treatment and automotive, and then other industries can take what was learned to be effective.

What IoT does for the industrial fluid power industry is to ensure our technology stays relevant for decades to come. The uncertainty of our industry can be replaced by the certainties given by IoT and Industry 4.0 technology, ensuring the world inside the factory is always in step with the outside world.

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