Communicating with smart components

Digitisation, predictive maintenance, improvement of efficiency: these are the various facets of Camozzi’s smart components. They “talk” to the users, alerting them in the event of anomalies and providing data on their state of health. We discussed this topic with Andrea Camisani, Technical Director Mechatronics at Camozzi Automation.

Founded in 1964, the Camozzi group began its history by developing and marketing pneumatic components for industrial automation. In the following years, the group has grown, expanding its product portfolio also through the creation of four more divisions operating in different sectors and which joined the initial nucleus of the company today represented by the Camozzi Automation division.
Always in step with technological research and in keeping with the precepts of smart manufacturing, one of the most important innovations brought forward by the Camozzi group in recent years was the integration of electronics within components. “The product range,” Andrea Camisani explained, “has gradually expanded to include electromechanical cylinders and actuators, right up to grippers and, above all, smart components”. And it is precisely the smart components which represent the most important and innovative core of the Camozzi Automation division, appearing as an evolution of the pneumatic components towards the system side. The starting point is the concept that components and sensors are no longer separate parts, but integrated: a single unit capable of “communicating” with the outside world. “There is an increasing demand,” Andrea Camisani said, “for the integration of functions enabling the reduction of wiring and operating costs, and above all for data processing closer to the component itself”.
To achieve this objective, there has been a long search for the best algorithms which could allow the inclusion of certain information from the analysis of quantities underlying the physics of operation of the mechatronic components themselves; this has also been possible thanks to the knowledge of the domain which Camozzi Automation has regarding its own components. In this sense, the Camozzi group is carrying out various research activities, both within its own centre in Brescia and in the hub in Milan, where it cooperates with the Polytechnic University of Milan for the development, among others, of components, sensors and software in view of Industry 4.0.

One of Camozzi’s main strengths in the development of smart solutions in an Industry 4.0 perspective lies above all in its ability to transform, using sophisticated proprietary algorithms, information collected by the enabling technologies into detailed diagnostic reports.
One of Camozzi’s main strengths in the development of smart solutions in an Industry 4.0 perspective lies above all in its ability to transform, using sophisticated proprietary algorithms, information collected by the enabling technologies into detailed diagnostic reports.

“Our CoilVision technology is the translation of all of this into practice,” Andrea Camisani explained, “that is, the creation of a series of patented methods and algorithms through which the health of the electropilots inside the component is monitored”. Each electropilot drive is analysed to acquire information which, processed by software algorithms, makes it possible to diagnose and predict the health of the component. All of this is done by working on the modelling of the object and the reading of its physical and electrical quantities. “We can say,” Andrea Camisani continued, “that CoilVision is a synthesis tool providing the end user with a definite and scaled parameter, and therefore a number on which to calibrate maintenance operations”. An example? The Series D is a valve island with CoilVision, which makes it possible to monitor and predict the state of wear and efficiency of certain parts of individual solenoid valves. The predictive diagnostics system complements the ‘traditional’ monitoring which can return information on electrical consumption and coil body temperature.

Traffic lights for maintenance

The scale which Camozzi Automation uses to help its customers map the state of health of the components is divided into three “zones” marked by different colours, as if it were a set of traffic lights to understand whether and how to intervene. The ‘green zone’ represents an optimal state of health, whereby the component is considered functional and with a long life expectancy, and for this reason no report is forwarded to the client other than a decreasing percentage of the state of health. After that, when the residual life status is estimated to be around 15%, we enter the “yellow zone”, where a warning is issued stating that the component has entered an end-of-life phase, meaning that the component is starting to perform at the limit of its specifications; at this stage, it is up to the user to decide whether it is time to intervene, for example to make a replacement, depending on how much the component has a critical impact on its production chain, or whether it is possible to continue using it until the next step, depending also on how many times it is operated on average during the day. Upon entering the “red zone”, on the other hand, Camozzi’s indication is imperative: that will be one of the components to be replaced in a programmed maintenance plan, because it is no longer possible to ensure its operation. Predictive maintenance is based, as is well known, on avoiding downtime by anticipating all stalling and critical situations. This is why Camozzi issues a warning before the component reaches the end of its life, so as to avoid annoying prolonged downtime.
“Our smart components,” Andrea Camisani continued, “thanks to the integration of electronic components, are able to monitor the health status of the components themselves, carry out condition assessments and convey this information to IIoT platforms and PLCs. With this type of components, we have equipped not only our customers’ plants and machines, but also our Italian production lines. Having components able to provide information on their performance is a definite advantage”. In addition to this, Camozzi’s smart components are also capable of integrating information on board the machine. “The native integration of the components,” Camisani continued, “with the Camozzi Digital software platforms facilitates connection with the company’s MES and provides further benefits in terms of data interoperability and algorithmic development”.
Camozzi Automation, in conjunction with CoilVision, developed the UVIX (Universal Visual Interface X) graphic platform, a free software which may be installed in a Windows or Linux environment or IIoT gateway, and which returns to the customer a graphic interface on which all the indicators on the health status of the component are easily identifiable, so that clients can have a layout of their installation divided with the appropriate colour markings. Alternatively, if the clients need to receive information on the components through the most popular fieldbus systems, such as Profinet, Profibus and IO-Link, Camozzi Automation makes this functionality possible in its valve island with serial interface, so as to obtain the data directly from PLC.

Camozzi’s smart components integrate the “traditional” information on board the machine with data relative to their state of health and operation.
Camozzi’s smart components integrate the “traditional” information on board the machine with data relative to their state of health and operation.

Building data

The interoperability of the data collected is one of the challenges brought about by the Industrial Internet of Things, given the high number of existing standards. “For years,” Andrea Camisani explained, “there have been attempts by various companies to create consortia and univocal standards, but technology is evolving so rapidly that fragmentation is inevitable: the urge to always create something new leads to constant changes and improvements in standards. It is therefore essential for Camozzi to be interoperable with the most widely used technologies and able to support them. We are open to all market evolutions, we can’t just be stuck on one platform or another”.
In addition to the non-existence of a single standard, there are also dichotomies between the IoT and IIoT worlds, mainly related to the fact that in the industrial field, real-time controls cannot be replaced by devices with a latency pertaining to the Internet world. “This dichotomy is gradually diminishing,” Andrea Camisani explained, “thanks to new technologies such as 5G and to the fact that there are more and more hybrid architectures, which use parts of classic industrial automation mixed with IoT functionality. In my opinion, one of the challenges of the future will be to mix industrial automation and IoT in the best possible way, taking the best of both worlds; I do not think it is possible to have a single technology completely replacing the approach produced by developments over the years”.
The result of this mixture is what is often referred to as a cyber physical system, that is, a system in which the traditional mechanical actuation part is one with the software layer, a more evolved model of the machine with a greater amount of data enabling a more precise supervision of machining activities. All this goes in the direction of greater plant efficiency, also in terms of energy saving.
Camozzi, therefore, is no stranger to energy efficiency, indeed it is an objective of the group. “In the process of building the datum and its value chain, in maintaining the database or raw data for a long time, we have to take into account the impact that all these operations have,” Camisani explained.
One of the peculiarities of Camozzi components is precisely that of providing synthetic indices, that is, values which at a glance provide an account of certain situations and do not require a demanding post-processing. “The more we are able to refine the raw datum at a low level, that is, very close to the point of generation of the datum itself,” Camisani continued, “the less we will need to process in the transmission chain, and consequently there will be less information to save. In this respect, we are discussing an approach which is more about ‘domain knowledge’, that is, knowledge of the system in which the software will be applied, rather than merely statistical: the sooner this knowledge can be applied, the sooner it will translate into benefits for the components. Obviously, there are post-processing techniques useful when certain phenomena are deterministic but not immediately obvious: in this case a whole series of paradigms come into play, including artificial intelligence”.
The Camozzi group is developing artificial intelligence along two lines. On one hand, there is the approach of the Automation division, an embedded and machine learning core type of approach, which exploits decision trees at component level, and therefore relieves the data processing chain of a whole series of computational and energy burdens. “Camozzi has fifty years of domain knowledge on its components,” Camisani stated, “so it is not always necessary to carry out a statistical analysis when there are physical models available and when there is such an important know-how on the component itself”. On the other hand, the Digital division uses AI with cloud techniques and tools. By means of a dashboard, it is possible to historicise data and retrieve them if necessary; availability on the cloud allows access even from mobile devices, and above all at any time, so as to monitor performance, carry out predictive analyses and optimise production. “This option,” Andrea Camisani emphasised, “opens the door to remote maintenance and control. Camozzi Digital’s complete package is called DRM, which stands for Digital Remote Maintenance”. Using Microsoft Azure tools, the IoT hub platform is open and flexible, supporting open source SDKs and numerous protocols.

Within Camozzi Automation, the Electronics business unit has been established, dealing with the mechatronic evolution of its products and the electronic integration in the components, bringing the digitization of machines to individual components.
Within Camozzi Automation, the Electronics business unit has been established, dealing with the mechatronic evolution of its products and the electronic integration in the components, bringing the digitization of machines to individual components.

Mechatronic and digital evolution

Although in some cases they have different approaches, Camozzi Digital is often called upon to collaborate with the Automation division: they are, in fact, part of a ‘double offering’ for customers. “Some of them,” Camisani explained, “have their own IIoT divisions, along with their own IT services and infrastructures, and they only ask Camozzi for the component part. But others prefer to rely on external services, even if they don’t have Camozzi components, so the expertise of the Digital division comes into play”. Camozzi Digital was established within the group’s textile division, as in that domain it had already been understood several years earlier that the added value of machines was no longer in the traditional offer, but in digitization. This process later also entered Camozzi Automation, which took up the challenge of bringing digitization to a lower level of automation, that is, to the component. “One thing is to collect data from a machine,” Camisani explained, “ another thing is to collect them from a component: we are talking about a different scale factor; computational resources have been brought to generate the data inside the components, integrating electronics”. To do this, the Electronics business unit was created within Camozzi Automation, dealing with this mechatronic evolution of its products and the integration of electronics into components, bringing the digitization of machines to individual components.“There will be more and more integration between the two divisions,” Camisani continued, “because in the future not only will components be sold, but above all services, and some components will have As-a-Service application models. Not only that, but the synergy between hardware and software will be increasingly strong, with widespread hybrid applications. The collaboration between Automation and Digital will become gradually closer and more important for the technological development of Camozzi”.