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Role of Cables and Connectors in Industrial Automation in 2022

Cables form the backbone of industrial automation sector. Automation of the manufacturing process has been one of the direct beneficiaries of the developments in Industry 4.0.

Gary-BatemanThere is a lot of buzz surrounding Industry 4.0 and adoption of digital transformation, which is now an inevitable part of every organizational journey. Across the globe, digital transformation is revolutionising industries, and an essential pillar of this process is the automation of systems. Industry 4.0 has led to data from production facilities being supplied directly to the material, planning and production control systems on a real-time basis. Seamless automation between machines and plants will build a self-controlling and self-optimizing system with maximum efficiency. Today, automation is widely used in manufacturing, be it packaging, food & beverage processing, automotive, or other production lines. Irrespective of the industry, sensitive and sophisticated electronics require durable and reliable cable systems that can handle the high mechanical stress and repetitive movements of automation. Contrary to popular belief, an avenue of possibilities is opening for cables and connectors as the world continues to turn automated and wireless.

Cables form the backbone of industrial automation sector. Automation of the manufacturing process has been one of the direct beneficiaries of the developments in Industry 4.0. In the last two decades, we have witnessed developments in automation technology that is changing the face of manufacturing industry today. This evolution has generated a demand for hybrid and custom cable solutions that are compact, light, use minimal space and promise high speed. Trends and requirements born out of the wave of Industry 4.0 revolution also influence the connectivity level of a machine or system for integrating the production and documentation process. The development and production processes have become more flexible, efficient and customer centric. As customers demand customized systems and higher flexibility, industrial automation components should reflect in these demands. Additionally, industry trends such as connectivity and individualisation have highly impacted connection technology, needing them to be more robust, standardised and considerably smaller. There is a requirement for increasing number of connections to be made in the same installation space, which is not possible without miniaturisation and power compression.

Factors essential for cables in advanced automation applications in 2022

Taking into consideration the essential role they have to play in enabling advanced automation applications, let us analyse the requisites demanded from cables in this industry.

  1. Torsion resistant, flexible and reverse bending – Instead of the standard-use control cables, customized torsion resistant cables have to be used in machines. These have to be specially designed to withstand the torsion and repetitive motion of their particular application as well as provide the smallest bending radius possible within the machine. This also makes flexibility one of the top requirements from cables used in automation applications. Usage of such customized accessories designed as per specific requirements and features of the machinery will allow for minimum maintenance, long life, and reduced cable failure during operations.
  2. Slim in construction and lightweight- Cables are required to be slim in design and light in weight to not limit movements and ensure that they only occupy a small cross-section in the machinery.
  3. Chemical resistant– Cables used in machinery should be able to withstand the harshest chemicals, chemical reactions, corrosion and alkaline formation as they are constantly exposed to such environments.
  4. EMC/Loss-less transmissionWhile the cables deployed in advanced automation applications need to be highly flexible and light-weight, they also have to tackle the challenge of reducing electromagnetic interference (EMI). Therefore, data network and signal cables need to have additional copper/aluminum screening. The resultant complex hybrid cables that combine all these aspects will have a durability of more than two million bending cycles, offer less transmission, robot-compliant flexibility and torsion strength.
  5. Application specific and long lasting- Following the pandemic, remote working has taken precedence, and along with it, automated functions in machinery. While this form of working is highly preferred, it comes with a set of challenges. To ensure maximum efficiency in terms of output, components used in such machinery need to be easy to assemble, long lasting with minimum maintenance and failure rates. This trend has given rise to manufacturing of customized, application specific cables and connectors, tailor made to the requirements of the customer. System component suppliers have to supply high-quality standard products while also offering the option of individual customized products. The use of standard ware in complex areas may result in unwanted compromises, which will then lead to problems while using the machines and production systems, culminating in system failure.
  6. High volume data transmission- With digitization, the main implication is the huge load of data that will need to be transmitted to production through cable and connection systems. The ever-existing challenge for cable systems is to permanently and reliable guarantee high data rates in various situations, including harsh industrial environments. With automation comes the need for transmission of data from production facilities to the material, planning and production control systems on a real-time basis, leading to a demand for cables that have high volume loss-less data transmission.

Conclusion:

Irrespective of the sector, the overall productivity of the automated machines and systems essentially depends on the efficiency of the cables and connectors used. The solutions must combine flexibility, robustness, the transmission of high data rates and convenient installation of network connectors in the field without special tools. It is not possible to develop a wireless infrastructure without cables. Even with the widespread use of 5G, cables will continue to function as an essential part of the infrastructure as data will continue to flow through conventional channels in combination with fibre-optic cables.

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Nitisha Dubey

I am a Journalist with a post graduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication. I love reading non-fiction books, exploring different destinations and varieties of cuisines. Biographies and historical movies are few favourites.

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