Robots in production lines work tirelessly and with micrometre precision – unless of course a component fails. If, for example, the linear actuator used to precisely position a car body in front of an assembly robot is damaged, the robotic arm will no longer be able to position the car door as exactly as it normally does. The result is a door that is misaligned. Or, to take another example, the sudden failure of a machine component due to material fatigue could well result in the complete shutdown of a production line.
The research team led by Andreas Schütze at Saarland University has developed an early warning system for industrial assembly, handling and packaging processes. Their system subjects machines to what is effectively a continuous medical check-up. The human equivalent would be equipping a person with an activity tracker, a continuous digital ECG and blood pressure monitor so that their state of health could be analysed at any time.
Intelligent sensors continuously collect a wide array of measurement data from inside plant machinery and compare the signal patterns against those for normal operating conditions. If the system detects a difference in the patterns that indicates a potential fault, it immediately notifies the equipment operator about what remedial measures should be taken. This helps engineers to plan maintenance more effectively and protects them from unpleasant surprises and unexpected production losses.
The research team exhibited their technology at Hannover Messe.