Editor’s Note: Thanks to Tim Senkbeil, a product manager with Belden’s Lumberg Automation brand, for his contribution to this article.
In the last several years, many industrial-based businesses – such as food and beverage, oil and gas, power utilities, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and others – have focused on improving their financial standing by investing in sensor-laden automated systems that maximize productivity and streamline production.
By embedding connectivity into their industrial equipment, managers are able to monitor system performance and ensure their facility is consistently performing at a high level.
As these connected systems become more critical to businesses' success, the need to prevent equipment failure and unplanned downtime becomes even more important than usual. If a cord set fails in an industrial setting, the losses can quickly put a major dent in overall profitability.
Repair and labor costs, as well as the costs of lost productivity and discarded materials, can add up to 15-20 times the cost of the component itself. In certain industries, a single hour of unplanned downtime can cost $20,000 - $30,000.
With thousands of dollars, as well as the physical well-being of employees and equipment at stake, businesses in industrial settings need to ensure that the cord sets used to enable connected and automated systems can withstand the extreme, hazardous conditions they're exposed to.
Figure 1: Machine Builder Setting
Challenges of Maintaining Connected System Reliability in Industrial Settings
In many industrial settings, the cord sets and cables used to connect sensors and machinery are subjected to a wide variety of harsh conditions that can weaken or destroy them. This can include:
- Physical stress caused by vibrations, contact with people, machinery, bacteria, food and microorganisms, or even high-pressure water cleaners.
- Chemical stress from caustic materials used to clean and sanitize many facilities.
- Extremely high or low temperatures that can wear down cables and connectors, causing them to crack, or compromise protective coverings.
These conditions present a number of significant challenges and risks for many businesses. For one, the wear and tear on connectors and cables can lead to dramatic increase in maintenance costs. Many businesses find themselves needing to replace their components as often as every three months.
These systems are also often hardwired – an expensive process that requires the work of a specialized electrician, and can take several hours to complete.
An even bigger challenge than increased repair costs is the significant risk of unplanned downtime.Even with regular care and maintenance, traditional hardwired systems in industrial settings still carry a high risk of failing unexpectedly. If a specialized electrician isn’t available, these situations can last several hours, if not days – and often at the worst possible time, like at the height of production. The productivity and material losses caused by this downtime can lead to even higher costs than planned downtime.
I think most significantly, cord set failure can be a huge safety risk. As cables wear down, the risk of a fire increases – and many cables don’t have the fire-retardant properties they need to minimize damage, which means a fire could cause devastating damage before being extinguished.
Figure 2: Food and Beverage Production Line
Protecting Your Connected Systems
To prevent the risk of connector and cable failure in industrial environments, many businesses are turning to wash-down cord sets – which can be an effective alternative to typical hardwired cord sets.
These cord sets are uniquely designed for various extreme settings. They were originally created for industries that require regular, high-intensity cleanings – commonly referred to as 'wash-downs' or 'splash zones.'
So how are wash-down cord sets an upgrade over traditional hardwired system you might ask?
For one, wash-down cord sets enable streamlined cord set installation and replacement.Technicians can quickly and easily attach cables to receptacles on a sensor at one end of a system, and the control cabinet at the other, which enables them to replace or install damaged or outdated cord sets in as little as 15 or 20 minutes – all without requiring the assistance of a specialized electrician.
Wash-down cord sets are also designed and built to withstand all the harsh conditions you find in industrial environments, from extreme temperatures, shock, vibrations and pressure – to a wide range of caustic cleaning agents. This dramatically lowers the risk of unplanned downtime, and lowers the maintenance costs of having to continually replace outdated or damaged cables.
Figure 3: Washdown Connectors Installed
At the same time, the fast and easy process of removing and installing wash-down cord sets allows businesses to efficiently perform preventative maintenance and replacements.
Not all wash-down connectors are created equal. Here are the key characteristics of the cord sets that deliver the best performance and value:
- ECOLAB certification – which ensures that that the connectors can withstand a wide range of caustic chemicals used during cleaning and other industrial processes.
- UL approval – which demonstrates that the cord sets are suited for temperatures ranging from -40?C to more than 105?C – and can protect against the outbreak and spreading of fires.
- Pre-installation factory testing – which dramatically reduces troubleshooting during installation, expedites the time the systems are up and running, and helps ensures that the product will consistently perform as expected.
In today's world, unplanned downtime can be catastrophic for many businesses – and ensuring the reliability of cord sets and cables in automated systems needs to be a top priority for plant managers. And when it comes to performance and ease of use, wash-down cord sets are a significant improvement over traditional hardwired systems.
Figure 4: Traditional Hardwired System
How are you ensuring the reliability of cord sets and cabling components used for connected automated systems? We’d love to hear how.