Fieldbus & Industrial Networking

Sensors help increase protein production

June 2023 Fieldbus & Industrial Networking

Milk is one of the most important staple foods. It can be processed into many different products such as cheese, yoghurt, ice cream or milk powder. Reliable processing is essential in order to obtain a high-quality end product, with quality and food safety playing a decisive role. Sensors are an important element of these processes, for example when separating, homogenising or pasteurising the milk.

ifm electronic is a German-based company specialising in industrial automation and sensor technology, and offers various products and solutions for the dairy industry. One of its key technologies is IO-Link, which is used to enhance connectivity and communication between sensors, actuators and control systems. By leveraging IO-Link technology, ifm can enhance automation, monitoring and control capabilities in the dairy industry; the integration of IO-Link-enabled sensors and devices will improve efficiency, quality control and overall productivity in dairy processing and manufacturing systems.

In the dairy industry, ifm utilises IO-Link in several ways:

• Sensor integration: IFM’s IO-Link-enabled sensors, such as flow sensors, level sensors, temperature sensors and pressure sensors, can be seamlessly integrated into the dairy processing equipment. These sensors provide accurate and real-time data on various process parameters, allowing for precise monitoring and control of the production line.

• Intelligent diagnostics: IO-Link enables advanced diagnostics and condition monitoring of sensors and devices. ifm’s IO-Link sensors can provide detailed information about their health status, performance and calibration values. This allows for predictive maintenance, as potential issues can be identified early on, minimising downtime and optimising maintenance schedules.

• Parameterisation and configuration: IO-Link allows easy parameterisation and configuration of ifm sensors. Using IO-Link master devices, operators can remotely configure sensor settings, such as measurement ranges, response times, and output modes, without the need for manual adjustments at the sensor itself. This simplifies setup and enables flexible adaptation to different process requirements.

• Data exchange and integration: IO-Link enables seamless communication between ifm sensors and higher level control systems such as programmable logic controllers or scada systems. Real-time sensor data can be transmitted digitally over a single cable, eliminating the need for analogue signal conversion. This data exchange facilitates process optimisation, data analysis, and integration into the overall automation infrastructure.

The sensors from ifm comply with required approvals such as EHEDG or 3A. In addition, they are resistant to CIP/SIP cleaning processes. A wide range of adaptors enables easy and hygienic integration into the process.

Furthermore, ifm’s food application product range comprises innovative position sensors, process sensors, control systems and connection technology. The sensors are made of high-quality food-grade materials. They have a hygienic housing design and are distinguished by high ingress and temperature resistance, and protection against high-pressure cleaning with aggressive agents. Mating connection technology with protection rating IP 68/IP 69K and stainless steel mounting accessories, especially designed for the food industry, complete the product range. All units and systems comply with the required standards and directives.

A case study

One of ifm’s clients is a British manufacturer of dairy products and a pioneer in the production of whey protein. As a nutritional supplement, whey protein helps maximise muscle performance, and is also used as an ingredient in food products. In the food industry, the highest standards of hygiene and quality must be maintained. Even the slightest impurity can lead to the recall of entire production lots or result in expensive downtime, with the associated loss of production. With such a high-value product, it is very important that the client optimises its filtration processes using modern and reliable production processes in order to extract the high-quality protein from the liquid whey.

The challenge

In addition to outstanding hygiene, high process reliability is critical in food production. In dairy processing plants, flow and pressure sensors are crucial components. The sensors must be fail-safe, and at the same time easy to monitor and control. To enable hygienic production, all components must comply with hygienic design guidelines, and typically feature stainless steel housings.

The wiring systems of ifm’s customer were previously highly complex. For example, the sensors were all wired individually. The company wanted to move away from discreet wiring towards a plug-and-play solution which would reduce the installation effort. IO-Link products from ifm fulfilled these requirements and met the customer’s high hygiene standards, which enabled the client to set up a modern system.

The solution

In the old system, flow and pressure sensors from other manufacturers were installed. Using ifm’s IO-Link products, the company was able to implement the desired plug-and-play solution, and the cabling complexity could be significantly reduced. Featuring M12 connectors and protection rating IP 69K, the IO-Link masters could be installed directly at field level. The shorter installation time meant they could save on components and costs. The company opted for AL1103 type IO-Link masters. This ensured reliable transmission of process parameters and diagnostic data to the control system. In addition to SM8100 and SM9100 flow sensors, and PI2795 and PI2798 pressure sensors, TAD181 and TAD081 temperature transmitters were used. Thanks to their self-monitoring function, they provided high process reliability, while their hygienic stainless steel design met the stringent requirements of the food industry.

The result

The outcome of these changes was:

• Quick plug-and-play installation.

• A hygienic stainless steel design.

• Reduced wiring complexity.

• Process reliability thanks to IO-Link technology.

The technology also helped it to save on installation time and costs. By digitising its process with ifm’s IO-Link products, the client was able to achieve high process reliability, avoid costly downtime and contamination, and meet the increasing demands of the market.


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