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How many more interfaces, buttons or stacklights can operators rely on?

March 25, 2019
Information overlord: 14 industry experts give insight into what sorts of additional information stacklights can provide that can be of use to operators and floor managers

With advanced communication technology, what sorts of additional information are stacklights able to provide that can be of use to operators and floor managers?

John Curtin, director, automation solutions, Motion Industries: Advantages in wireless communication have greatly enhanced the potential for stacklights to become far more helpful to operators and production managers. Traditionally, stacklights have been stand-alone indicators for a few specific functions of a single process. Now, stacklights are able to be networked. This allows the production manager to identify and document faults and unproductive time throughout the plant. In addition to pinpointing the location of a fault, reducing response time and downtime, this information can also reveal opportunities to improve processes and plant productivity.

Robb Weidemann, senior business development manager, lighting and indication, Banner Engineering: Stacklights can be used to provide visual indication of tank level, temperature level and warning thresholds, process status, takt time, current production level, alarm state, operator response time and more. With IO-Link or wireless communication, these statuses can be monitored remotely to ensure prompt action to critical changes, and the data can be logged over time to identify trends, locate bottlenecks, resolve process inefficiencies and even enable predictive maintenance capabilities.
Alvaro Sanchez, product manager, Rockwell Automation: Device-level communication protocols such as IO-Link are being integrated into more field devices every day. IO-Link and similar enabling technologies allow field devices to easily integrate into the Connected Enterprise, delivering plant/device data and diagnostics from the device directly into a control system to help minimize downtime and increase productivity.
Trey Gantt, product manager, Eaton: Connected devices can provide immediate indication of a fault and the data to diagnose and even prevent downtime from occurring. Connected technologies can impact productivity by improving efficiencies, saving time and costs.
Tom Rosenberg, vice president of marketing and engineering, Balluff: It’s a new world for real-time, point-of-use information. Stacklights and indicators can provide much more feedback to operators and plant floor managers than ever before. One popular form of information is continuously variable information also referred to as analog information. This information can be used to indicate current level status in tanks, hoppers, feeders, flow racks and so on. Operational status such as flow rates, pressure values and process speed are also popular. Another use for continuously variable information is pacing for operators in manual assembly areas. They can quickly see how much time each individual person has for their process step. If someone is struggling, others can visibly see the situation and step in and help.

The other piece of information that has been popular is simply displaying that the machine is in idle state. This would typically suspend all other forms of indication. We are all familiar with the spinning icon on our computers, and now this is available for machines, as well. Basically, it indicates the machine is not ready. Again, colors can be used as part of a communication plan to indicate the reason for the idle time and call for specific personnel to respond. As soon as the machine is ready, the indicators and stacklights revert back to normal operations, just like your computer.

Michael O'Neill, sales manager, Werma-USA: The wireless transmission of the indication from a stacklight can notify equipment status to people anywhere through the use of SMS texts and/or e-mails sent to cell phones; display data for all to see on a shop floor via flat screens mounted in the production areas; store performance data as machine history; provide summary reports from real-time data; schedule and track production via counting that the stacklight can make; and indicate failure of signal communication links.
Peter B. Gasparini, sales manager, Werma-USA: If we are talking about wireless monitoring and free software/SQL, the solution time-and-date-stamps every critical process or condition or status or timely email or texts, which can be analyzed for lean initiatives and continuous improvements. Werma has clients gathering all types of information with stacklights. And the classic low-hanging-fruit data is uptime; downtime/faults, or reasons for stoppage; QC processes using vision sensors; production cycles/counting; transparency of production facility—what’s the current status of my machinery or manual workstations or pumps or chillers; identify more productive capacity; initiate processes, such as start/stop machinery; document time to respond.

Werma clients are very creative and have come up with very interesting applications for our stacklights with communication—wireless—technology.

Lee Clore, owner/controls designer, Onyx Industries: As microprocessors make their way into these devices, the options open up. They could act as a large vertical bar-graph display as an example. Stacklights are quite useful for awareness indicators—an active laser is in the area or an exposed surface is heated. This is especially true if the indicator light will allow for backlit symbols. 5S lean initiatives make use of indicator lights for production purposes. Long visibility is useful for schedulers and production managers to monitor multiple work cells.

Carter Williams, product manager, Siemens: Communication capability allows stacklights to send diagnostic information through sensors on the machine to the operator regarding the condition of the machines. This data can be used to schedule maintenance or repairs that could possibly prevent more costly damage to equipment if it went unmonitored.

Todd Mason Darnell, Ph.D., marketing manager of services and safety, Omron Automation Americas: The addition of Bluetooth or other wireless technology to the stacklight can significantly improve its effectiveness. The stacklight, by itself, is a simple visual indicator that provides only basic information about the machine status. With the additional of wireless connectivity, the stacklight can push an error notification to plant personnel enabling a “smart first response” to machine. Even if the control system does not support the push of an error code, supplementing the visual alarms with a notification that goes to the phone or other wireless device improves the response time, especially with larger plants or during times of reduced staffing, such as third shift or holiday production.

In addition to wireless technology, we are seeing stacklights that have auditory alerts to supplement the visual indicators. These are moving beyond the traditional blaring alarms to include different tones, MP3 files with music or voice annunciators that identify the machine and the type of error.

Lyon Lee, product marketing manager, IDEC: Stacklights can show a wide range of information such as alarms, throughput, speed, flow rate, temperature, pressure or tank level.
Steve Olson, IIoT technical specialist, Hilscher, member of Control System Integrators Association (CSIA): Audible signals and scrolling message displays have been combined with stacklights.
Danny Weiss, senior product manager, Newark element14: Many of our customers use stacklights with communications to provide personnel with detailed fault information via the communication network, but quick visible or audile information via the stacklight.
Jim Krebs, engineer, AutomationDirect: With the newer communications technology, information such as runtime or downtime of a machine or the motion of an operator in a work cell can now be easily sent to a central database to help develop efficient plans to increase uptime and provide other benefits.

ALSO READ: Remove the Stack Lights

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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