For manufacturers, Industry 4.0 means higher output, as all information is available in near real-time, allowing completely new approaches to the control of production systems. For this to work, the production systems must be able to generate reliable and contextual information from a wealth of data and make it available to people, machines and IT services. Wolftechnik Filtersysteme GmbH & Co. KG is heavily involved in the development of networked technology and future-proof solutions for industrial manufacturing. With the support of Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Stuttgart, the filter system specialist has now designed a smart filter. At its core is a smart controller that collects and processes all relevant parameter data for the filter system’s pressure vessels. In November 2018, a prototype of the controller passed all tests with flying colours and was subsequently integrated into a Wolftechnik filter system.
Advantages of the smart filter
Smart filter controllers monitor a number of operating parameters such as pressure, temperature and flow rate or volumetric flow. A log file is kept of all data recorded and transmitted. Filter-specific information regarding spare parts and replacement filters is stored in the operator’s IT system, where digital maintenance and inspection schedules are generated. In addition, operators have the option of storing user instructions for maintenance, servicing and filter changes, so that personnel can call up texts and images to guide them through the procedures. This set-up not only facilitates correct installation; it also makes sure that maintenance and servicing tasks, including filter changes, can be performed quickly and safely.
Thanks to the near real-time availability of information, the solution allows a completely new approach with regard to filter system organisation and control. With smart filters, it is possible to exchange operating data with external service technicians, e.g. specialists from Wolftechnik. Based on the data collected, they can analyse and diagnose faults quickly and rectify problems without delay. Apart from innovative serv-ices such as automated spare parts ordering and notifications, the system also enables preventive maintenance and optimised production.
Supporting the production process
An example from the paint industry illustrates the advantages of intelligent, networked filter systems. Before varnishes are filled into containers for end consumers, they are passed through a filter to ensure that the containers are not contaminated with substances originating from the production process. For this purpose, a WTGDS-type cartridge filter housing or a filter housing for the QP-Quick-Pack filter system is installed. These housings have the added benefit that particles collected by the filter remain in a protective bag, doing away with time-consuming cleaning. Under certain circumstances, both cartridge filters and QP-Quick-Pack filters could become clogged before the varnish to be filled into a container has passed through them. Less and less product leaves the filter until even-tually the filling process comes to a halt. At this point, a frantic search normally starts for spare cartridges. Provided that these are actually available on site in the required quantity, the next step is a hurried filter change, so that the filling process can resume as soon as possible.
Wolftechnik’s smart filter featuring a smart controller unit continuously monitors the pressures at the input and output of the filter system (differential pressure). This intelligent technology helps reduce downtime in the production process. As the filter load is constantly monitored and preliminary warnings are generated the moment there is a change in pressure, the operator can prepare for a filter change as appropriate without interrupting the flow of varnish. The smart filter also permits optimised stock management because orders for spare parts and consumables are generated directly by the system based on actual needs.
Development of the smart filter
Wolftechnik cooperated on the development of the smart filter with Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Stuttgart. This centre is an initiative of various institutions in the region that have bundled their competences in a number of fields. One of the partners is the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, whose experts designed the IT concept and the smart controller for recording and transmitting sensor data while Wolftechnik provided the filter technology know-how.
Designing a platform that can be configured with control variables to cater for any filter system and process was one of the key objectives of the development project. Additional sensors combined with micro controllers and a suitable cloud infrastructure had to be put in place in order to realise it.
At the heart of the intelligent filter system is the smart filter controller. This micro controller unit (MCU) controls communication with the sensors and the gateway of the end user environment. The gateway consists of a PC that is part of the local IT network. The filter controller transmits sensor values such as pressure and temperature to the gateway and also processes commands, for instance to adjust the sensor sampling rate. Through the gateway, the system is connected to the Internet, so that the aggregated sensor readings can be sent to a database in the cloud. Users can monitor the state of the filter and its operation on a visualisation screen or dashboard. A specially designed application known as Filter Assessment Service monitors the filter parameters and makes smart decisions based on the sensor data.
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