Rugged HMI systems for Harsh Environments
Gas pipes should be tight; otherwise, they could become dangerous. Small cavities, known in the professional jargon as faulty cavities in castings, are enough to cause a catastrophe.
iNOEX, from Melle in Lower Saxon, is a company that spots such cavities (even small ones) with complete certainty. The high-tech company supplies advanced wall thickness measuring systems. These work with ultrasound or terahertz technology and are used worldwide.
iNOEX is not only the market leader for wall thickness measuring systems, though; the company is also one of the world leaders in measuring and control technology for plastics extrusion. The company name, iNOEX, stands for innovative extrusion technology. Extrusion is a process in which a viscous, curable material is pushed out of a die. In this process, a body is formed with an opening in the middle, such as hoses or pipes. Arno Neumeister, Marketing Director at iNOEX says: "iNOEX has been advancing the development in the field of plastics extrusion for 30 years."
The following three areas are particularly important for iNOEX. First: The dispensing stations, with which solid and liquid materials for the downstream extrusion process are accurately metered out, summarized in the technical term "gravimetry". Second: Ultrasonic and terahertz wall thickness measuring systems, with which tubes or pipes, such as the gas pipes mentioned above, are checked for wall thickness and deficiencies. Third: Systems for the automatic changing of dimensions during the extrusion process.
iNOEX and its open corporate culture
The company has been at home in its new headquarters in Melle for three years now. The spacious office building and the affiliated production and storage facilities are state-of-the-art. The iNOEX headquarters is impressive, due to not only its modern infrastructure, but also its attractive architecture. This contributes to the open corporate culture. This is especially evident in the generous use of glass: even the offices are separated by glass panes. There are various spacious niches with coffee bar and bar tables. Neumeister explains: "This is where our employees from the various divisions can exchange ideas in an informal setting."
From our tour, it is clear that employees at INOEX like to work here. Friendly faces, open office doors and a constructive work environment. Of the approximately 150 employees in Melle, about half are engineers. In addition, INOEX employs other staff members in its two branches in Lancaster (the USA) and Beijing (China).
The gravimetric systems iNOEX guarantee the economic production of pipes and hoses The gravimetric systems by iNOEX are consolidated in the product family SAVEOMAT. Just like with the company name iNOEX, the product name SAVEOMAT is the program. That stands for Save on Material. Arno Neumeister says: "In the production of affordable plastic pipes and hoses, material costs account for 60 to 80 percent of production costs." Accordingly, the precise metering of the material is crucial in order to manufacture economically, Neumeister adds.
The SAVEOMAT sets new standards in accuracy and consistency. Whereas high material thicknesses often used to be manufactured in order to prevent the risk of waste material, the material thickness is determined to the micrometer today, thanks to the SAVEOMAT. The savings on material are considerable.
The operation can be summarized simply as follows. The SAVEOMAT weighs the amount of granules entering the extruder and, depending on the end product, composes the granules out of up to 30 components, which are weighed individually. Meanwhile, the extrusion process is monitored continuously. If there are too many granules in the extruder despite the weighing process, the SAVEOMAT engages and accelerates the withdrawal speed of the system, whereby a uniform thickness of material is guaranteed.
To control the Saveomat, INOEX uses an ultra-robust touch panel computer by the embedded specialist Syslogic. Via the touch screen, the recipes are entered and started and the line speed is controlled.
Detect material errors reliably with ultrasound or terahertz waves
Another important market for iNOEX is that of wall thickness measuring systems. iNOEX has a share of 70 percent of the ultrasonic measurement systems market. In addition, terahertz wall thickness measurement is gaining in importance, the development of which largely depends on the involvement of iNOEX. Terahertz is a non-ionizing, electromagnetic wave and is between the infrared radiation and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum. Unlike in the case of ultrasonics, water is not required as a coupling medium for terahertz wall thickness measuring systems.
iNOEX is one of the few companies worldwide that is able to measure an object with 100 percent accuracy. This is made possible by the patented ERS principle (electronically rotating scanner). In this scanner, up to 76 sensors are arranged in a circle. The measurement cycles rotate electronically at a rate of up to 6,000 revolutions per minute around the test object and measure it completely; in the process, material errors are reliably detected. ERS is essential for the testing of safety-related products such as gas pipes. To visualize the wall thickness values, iNOEX again relies on a Syslogic panel.
Automatic change of dimensions during the extrusion process
Another outstanding development in extrusion technology is the automatic change of dimensions. Whereas conventional systems are completely remodeled in the course of a change of dimensions (which means a downtime of six to eight hours), iNOEX can customize dimensions during production. All dimension-related components (which include the vacuum tank, calibration sleeve, pipe support and seals) are automatically adjusted according to the entered dimension of the pipe that is to be manufactured. The time and cost savings are enormous and can be decisive when it comes to competition. In this case, as well, the robust touch panel computer system by Syslogic is used for the control and visualization of the dimension change process.
High demands on touch panel computer for control
iNOEX places high demands on itself. The persistent desire to advance and improve the field of plastics extrusion has driven the company for over thirty years. It is also clear that iNOEX places high demands on its suppliers. In the case of the touch panel computer for controlling gravimetric and dimension change systems, these demands include high thermal stability, robust industrial construction and long-term availability.
Arno Neumeister adds: "The previous product was discontinued without much advanced notice." The buyers and engineers of iNOEX looked around intensively in the market. Finally, an HMI system (human machine interface) from the projective capacitive touch panel series by Syslogic won the competition. The decisive factor was that Syslogic has been developing its touch panel computer consistently for a temperature range of -30 to +70 degrees Celsius. That is especially important because iNOEX delivers in countries such as Saudi Arabia (among others), where temperatures can be extreme. Syslogic already achieves the extended temperature range during the development phase as a result of rigorous component selection. This is shown by way of example in the selection of the flash memories, which are approved for up to +90 degrees Celsius. Moreover, Syslogic conducts a quality check on each unit. For this purpose, the devices are tested thoroughly for 48 hours in a burn-in chamber over the entire temperature range. As a result of this test, Syslogic has successfully prevented defects from occurring in the field.
Important points for iNOEX were also that Syslogic offered a fully-enclosed housing with IP54 protection and was able to implement adjustments within a short time. As a result, the housing was completely redesigned. The interfaces on the rear of the device were hidden for iNOEX behind a service flap, and only a USB interface leads to the outside. In addition, the anti-glare display has delivered very good test results compared with other products.
In the extrusion industry, an investment has to pay off over the long term
Like many highly-complex industrial systems, extrusion lines are also usually in use for a very long time. Older systems are often modernized, with a system being able to be used for up to thirty years. Neumeister says: "The long lifespan and availability of all the installed components is elementary." However, particularly in the case of electronic components, such as control computers, it is not easy to find suitable devices, according to Neumeister.
In the evaluation of the touch panel computer, Syslogic’s track record is impressive in this regard. Neumeister says: "Syslogic is strong in the retrofit market and can still replace systems from the eighties." This experience has contributed to Syslogic having been chosen.
The initial feedback concerning the touch panel computers in the field has been very positive. In terms of durability and long-term availability, the touch panel computer would still have to prove itself over the coming years, says Neumeister. He is confident, though, that the device does what is promised.