SmartFLX™—The evolution of a “smart” conveying control

Conveying

SmartFLX™—The evolution of a “smart” conveying control

Conair’s new SmartFLX™ conveying control introduces a new system architecture with a more powerful PLC processor, lightning-fast and crystal-clear data communications. New operating software manages continuous status updates and reports and includes a configurator that maintains a constant, complete record of every setting, every connection, and every piece of equipment in the conveying system.

SmartFLX Home Screen

Let’s consider for a moment how advances like these might benefit you, as a plastics processor.

Lightning fast, noise-free conveying communications and control

Instead of crowding control and data communications onto a single channel, the new SmartFLX architecture separates communications into two channels.

Control and diagnostic signaling for Conair equipment travels on a channel built to the lightning-fast, ultra low-noise Powerlink™ standard. This new standard, developed to support crystal-clear data communications in noisy industrial environments, operating at a speed that is more than 6,000 times faster than older communications protocols (e.g., 0.00045 milliseconds vs 3.0 milliseconds).

Any additional non-Conair equipment, as well as system reporting functions, are carried on the second data communications channel, which operates using the versatile and proven Modbus protocol.

System self-configuration

Every SmartFLX conveying control is custom-configured at the factory to match up with the facility, equipment, features, and capacity requirements established by the processor and Conair.

This custom configuration becomes a permanent part of the SmartFLX system, which maintains a set of current, complete, and revision-controlled files that can be used for everything from generating a bill of materials for initial installation – or system modifications – to electrical schematics and “point to point” I/O maps that guide the installation and wiring of the system and attached devices.

When system growth or modifications are needed, the SmartFLX configurator can query itself to identify available panel and I/O capacity, then show the location of that capacity to the customer using a graphic display. This “self-configuration” capability also enables the SmartFLX control to assess whether the available capacity will be sufficient to meet the specified change or addition, and if requested, provide the customer with updated schematics and I/O maps to support installation. Upon completion of the change, the configurator automatically updates itself to maintain a complete, current record of the system.

Improved data reporting and diagnostics

Leveraging the capabilities of a more-powerful PLC, larger CPU, and advanced control software, the SmartFLX system provides advanced self-diagnostics and system-health monitoring features.  For example, the SmartFLX control “queries” all connections on the conveying system every 200 milliseconds.

SmartFLX uses these queries to assess:

  1. CPU and memory usage,
  2. The health of its Powerlink and Modbus data communications channels, and
  3. The health of each piece of connected equipment, per the I/O map stored in the system configuration file.

Then, as needed, the control enables the user to “zoom in” on individual types of equipment.  For example, if a SmartFLX system is controlling 20 receivers, it is possible to look at the status of all receivers on a single screen, or to select and “zoom in” on the status of each individual receiver in real time.

To keep system users apprised of the condition and status of the conveying system, SmartFLX automatically stores one hour of running status data, making it available in the form of reports that can be viewed immediately through any SmartFLX HMI, or saved to USB drives or internal memory for later retrieval and review. These reports include:

  • Maintenance reports that log the usage of all devices in the past hour.
  • Alarm logs with details of possible equipment issues for the past hour.
  • A continuous key log that stores recent user logins, navigation, and modifications made to the SmartFLX system.
  • Optional receiver usage logging that shows the results — in amount or in time — for each receiver fill cycle.

SmartFLX Critical Alarm screen

Cost-saving remote diagnosis and troubleshooting

In many current conveying systems, the first indication of a problem is a low material alarm. But such an alarm only points to a symptom, and is of little help in pinpointing and resolving the actual cause of the problem.

Could it be a hiccup in data communications caused by noise?

Could it be a broken or disconnected cable or an operator adjustment in receiver fill or purge times?

Or could it be a hardware problem, such as a vacuum leak or stuck valve?

Often, there’s no way to know except to begin a painstaking search in hopes of finding the problem. If an obvious cause can’t be found in a reasonable time, onsite support is typically the only way to get a definitive diagnosis.

For example, if a data communications problem is suspected, diagnosis often requires a skilled service tech to travel to the customer site, connect a computer running third-party software to the processor’s network, and analyze conveying system signals to understand if, and why, conveying signal packets are being lost. The diagnostics required to identify such failures in older conveying systems are impossible to perform by phone.

However, the added “smart” features of the SmartFLX system can help eliminate these calls by offering much more comprehensive information about the nature and location of possible problems.

SmartFLX Contextual Help

This is possible because the SmartFLX system “knows” its own configuration – which device or equipment is controlled by which I/O slot and circuit – so if a device fails to reply properly to a query from the control, the system knows. Then, a diagnostic display immediately reports the status of all I/O panels and identify which wire and which device are affected by the fault. This detailed diagnostic also saves enormous time in tracing and locating a physical fault, such as a worn or broken wire. If a changed setting is the cause, the SmartFLX key log provides a list of recent user logins and changes.

If in-house personnel are unable to identify the issue using the diagnostic display, key log, and other features, they can turn to Conair for three types of remote assistance:

  • Via Telephone call
    Conair support personnel ask the user to pull up specific diagnostic screens and then read off values or send “screen shots” showing the values. From these, Conair personnel determine the fault and recommend changes in system settings.
  • Via virtual network access
    Conair personnel utilize virtual network access to log directly into the SmartFLX control, where, together with the operator, they view diagnostics, identify the fault, and recommend setting changes.
  • Via remote system simulation
    A complete system configuration file can be emailed to Conair, where it can be used to create an exact replica of the current system (faults and all) so that likely runtime issues can be diagnosed. Then, if needed, Conair can also use a separate automation platform to simulate the performance of a current system configuration, or to test the performance of proposed modifications to the system configuration before the user decides to implement them.

Through powerful features like these, the SmartFLX control greatly improves diagnostics and troubleshooting capabilities and substantially reduces the need for costly on-site service calls.

Synergy with Conair SmartServices™

The data collection and reporting capabilities provided by the SmartFLX system are powerful in themselves because of the value they add in showing detailed system status information. As noted, they also help users swiftly identify and resolve conveying system issues or problems while minimizing the need for on-site service calls.

All of these SmartFLX conveying control features take on greater value when they are seamlessly integrated into SmartServices™, Conair’s Industry 4.0 platform.  SmartServices™ gives plastics processors powerful equipment monitoring and visualization functions that span the entire scope of plastics auxiliary equipment functions – conveying, drying, blending and feeding, temperature control, and more – with advanced cloud-based data storage and analytics.  For example, while the SmartFLX system can store and report key data and events for an hour of operations, SmartServices™ can collect, analyze, and display trending data over multiple hours or days.

Learn more about the new SmartFLX