Sensors connected to machines and other production assets (in fact, anything in a factory) can also be connected to new services in the cloud as part of the Internet of Things. The huge computing power available in the cloud allows large amounts of data from the sensors to be analysed easily and quickly. The result is a “Smart Factory” which will be able to optimise production, save energy and even reconfigure itself according to demand. All this functionality relies on connectivity – the sensors, the machines and the controllers all need to communicate – so interconnection technology is more important than ever. Here are 5 key ways that interconnect technology is evolving to meet the specific needs of this application.
Renewed Focus on Robustness and Reliability
With factory equipment increasing its level of interconnection, there is a strong need for industrial grade connectors and cables that allow power to be transferred alongside large amounts of data which must be transmitted in real time. And since the efficiency and configuration of the factory depends on this data, the connectors must be more robust and reliable than ever before. Not an easy task in an environment that can expose the connectors to heat and cold, shock and vibration, elevated humidity and steam, and even corrosive chemicals. Connector manufacturers are continuously working on robust housing types and corrosion free contacts to ensure that the data gets where it needs to go, and machine makers are frequently turning to military-style connectors to ensure they get the best solution.
More and More Mating
One of the benefits of Industry 4.0 is that it enables reconfiguration of factories to optimise production or simply to meet demand. As part of this reconfiguration, equipment is habitually moved from one place to another, meaning there is a direct effect on the number of mating cycles that industrial power and data connectors will have to endure. Using industrial equipment in this new way represents a significant departure from the days of ‘fit and forget’ – connectors are expected to be mated, unmated, locked and unlocked on a daily basis. The new breed of industrial connectors for Industry 4.0 applications therefore needs to withstand as much as 10,000 mating cycles.
Increased Intelligence, Even for ‘Dumb’ Connectors
As part of the general trend for decentralisation in Industry 4.0, equipment is becoming more intelligent, with even formerly passive objects being given the ability to communicate their location and status. This applies to connectors too in some cases; perhaps gaining an electronic module or a simple RFID tag that will allow them to identify themselves to the network. Beyond that, some of the signal connectors that are key to moving data around are getting integrated measurement modules that analyse the data speeds through the connector to ensure it is working properly. That way if there is some kind of mechanical failure, it is easy to know exactly which connector has failed and where it is. It may not be too long before we start to see mainstream industrial connectors with integrated sensor modules which can alert