The six ways smart plastics strengthen UK productivity

17th July 2017
Posted By : Anna Flockett
The six ways smart plastics strengthen UK productivity

The advent of smart plastics could play a crucial role in helping UK manufacturers move towards the connectivity of Industry 4.0, according to igus, the motion plastics specialist. igus has embedded intelligence and networking capabilities into its cable, energy chain and linear bearing products for the first time, ushering in a new era of smart plastics whereby data on the performance and condition of these essential components can be gathered, analysed and potentially shared digitally.

This innovation could radically alter the way in which condition monitoring and predictive maintenance are conducted in manufacturing environments where unplanned down-time carries significant costs.

While many manufacturers understand the concept of Industry 4.0, the implementation of the technology is not so simple, especially within well-established infrastructure, but the introduction of smart plastics may represent a helpful step towards greater adoption of Industry 4.0 concepts.

“We’ve undertaken extensive application testing in our laboratory to reliably predict smooth functioning in a real-world operation” said Matthew Aldridge, Managing Director, igus. “There is significant potential to drive down costs in manufacturing through our Industry 4.0 smart plastic technologies. The following list will help establish what is important to you and what necessary changes need to be made to your manufacturing operations to achieve significant gains,” he explained.

  1. Lower energy costs: The manufacturing and automation industry is seeing rising energy costs and an increasing need to meet social responsibility policies, so it is key to drill down into the factors that impact the energy efficiency of existing assets and machinery and eliminate these unnecessary costs. Savings start with monitoring and recording energy consumption, identifying the activities that waste energy and putting a strategy in place to reduce them. With igus smart plastics (isense ECP) the operating status of the e-chains, especially in guide troughs where long travel is involved, is monitored; sensors measure the required driving force of the chain. In this way, the machine is prevented from continuing to operate when mechanical faults occur, meaning that unnecessary use of power is avoided.
  1. Reduce down-time: Being able to predict when maintenance is required on a machine almost eliminates the risk of unplanned down-time. In the automotive industry, unplanned down-time can cost upwards of £10,000 in potential loss of profit per minute. In the agricultural sector, unplanned down-time affecting a combine harvester during harvest time can be extremely costly in terms of lost productivity. With igus smart plastics the degree of wear of the intelligent energy chain is continuously monitored by means of an integrated sensor chip. If the amount of abrasion is such that the chain is likely to be damaged, the chip sounds the alarm. Repair or replacement can be planned in good time and down-time is minimised.
  1. Minimise maintenance costs: In production environments, there are many disruptions, including machine breakdown, so it is very important to understand the effects of breakdown on system throughput. igus sensing systems indicate when there is a broken link, which could be due to obstruction by foreign bodies or vandalism. A plastic wire is mounted in the energy chain in special separators and linked to a sensor unit. This makes automated continuous condition monitoring possible. An optional connection with the igus data centre opens the possibilities of automatic ordering of external maintenance crews or replacement parts.
  1. Improve integration: According to research, manufacturing is the second most cyber attacked industry after healthcare, so developing a fully integrated strategic approach to cyber risk is fundamental to manufacturing. The igus isense control unit integrates seamlessly with the IT infrastructure via icom, the igus communication module. Data from the sensor unit can either be read out by the isense evaluation unit or it can be connected directly to the customers’ system on site. In this way companies can develop a system that combines technology, processes, safeguards, management and systems into a single integrated security risk framework. 
  1. Data-driven decisions:Data collected from smart plastic components adds another layer of intelligence upon which manufacturing managers can make decisions.  By collecting valuable data based on actual orders and behaviour, it is possible to adjust production schedules, marketing materials and sales strategy to account for this in real time. In this way, smart plastics can provide customised service life calculation and optimisation of business processes, including maintenance commissioning, spare parts ordering, and just-in-time delivery. The most competitive manufacturers continuously improve their production and business processes to improve safety, quality and productivity in their facilities. Currently this is largely a manual process. igus smart plastics continuously collect data on acceleration and temperature, via the sensor EC. M(otion) on the one hand and the abrasion sensor EC. W(ear) on the other, which is sent to the ‘open source solution’ (icom). This data allows increased efficiency and provides customers with tailored reports to all levels of management.
  1. Parts on demand:The service life of a product is important for almost all sectors but the specifications for each vary. igus isense DL.W(ear) detects the wear limit of specific drylin linear units when the linear guide has reached a level normally associated with the end of the guide‘s service life. This signals when there is a need for replacement in good time helping keep the overall system running smoothly as long as possible. Delays in detecting anomalies or malfunctions in production plants can have damaging consequences in terms of unplanned down-time. Assembled on different crossbars, igus isense EC. L-modules in combination with the icom communication module can assess the current condition of an e-chain. Among other things, icom collects and evaluates the data from the EC. L modules so that replacement or repair requirements are predicted and production plants can function consistently and efficiently.


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