Sustainability is one of the most important topics in industrial manufacturing, but it is not just the materials used which must be sustainable. Sustainable processes improve efficiencies and save resources and costs by avoiding or shortening machine downtimes. HARTING explains the role smart connectors play in this important area.
Connectors play a vital role in the design of sustainable processes by offering flexibility, security, and durability. They allow users to quickly connect or disconnect a machine or an attachment and offer peace of mind that all the connections are secure and error-free. This is particularly important with modern modular systems where reconfiguration is frequent. HARTING is a leading global supplier of industrial technology, and its latest Smart Connectivity solutions are designed to improve safety, identify faults, and ensure modular systems are working efficiently.
One of the most important additional functions powered by Smart Connectivity is the signalling of the mating state. The mating state can indicate a range of different parameters, including if the connector is electrically connected and whether it is mechanically locked. It can also indicate if the connector is electrically overloaded and monitor whether environmental parameters such as temperature and humidity are within the permitted range.
The plug-in status is indicated using a light. In its simplest case, a red or green display shows whether a fault is present. Modern full-colour LEDs can denote other states, such as the presence of voltage. In addition, a digital interface transmits the information in much greater detail to a control centre.
The SmEC (Smart Electrical Connector) from HARTING transmits the data via MQTT or OPC-UA PubSub. The data is available in a JSON format and can be received and processed by any controller. The Asset Administration Shell also provides the live data of the connector as a digital twin.
In addition to signalling the mating status, the SmEC prevents unintentional disconnection of the connector using an integrated locking mechanism. The connector can only be disconnected after it has been de-energised and the active lock has been released. The SmEC also has integrated voltage and current measurement, which monitors the connected machine and provides energy consumption data.
To safeguard this information, a data diode in the SmEC ensures the data signals flow in only one direction. This allows data to be sent from a protected network to an unprotected network, such as a dashboard. With a data rate of up to 1Gbit/s, IoT protocols such as OPC-UA, MQTT, or Modbus-TCP can be transmitted. The data diode consists of a laser diode on the transmitter side and a photo diode on the receiver side, preventing data from flowing back.
Connectors are currently identified using electrical contacts as coding pins, with the machine control system determining which attachment is plugged in. However, this method has its limits, especially with large, flexible systems.
The latest solution identifies the connector with the help of a bus system and microcontroller or, alternatively, via NFC (Near Field Communication). This gives each connector a unique ID, which is assigned to the corresponding attachment or tool. HARTING’s Smart ix enables this solution to be used with very small connectors. The Smart ix is a small 10-pole connector with an integrated microcontroller which establishes a link to the connected component. As a result, even simple components such as lamps, door contacts or analogue sensors can be identified.
Another smart solution is the Han Protect, which helps simplify onsite maintenance and reduce downtimes. This connector has an integrated fuse, meaning there is no need to open the control cabinet. Instead, simply disconnect the connector to change the fuse.