Unplugging Cables and Connectors

Is the wireless revolution on its way? Alternative solutions are slowly replacing traditional wired systems.

Non-contact power: say goodbye to cables

With sensors increasingly common on moving parts, conventional wiring is sometimes unable to ensure proper connection and reliable data transfer. For example, the ultra-quick movement of a robot’s gripper often leads to tangled wires, creating wear problems.

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Balluff developed non-contact connectors for just such applications. Inductive coupling can link two connectors placed less than 15 mm apart, allowing sensors to transmit a variety of signals—power, inputs, outputs, etc.

One application for this technology is in pallet handling equipment. Indeed, pallets incorporate sensors that detect parts on the pallets before they move. These sensors are usually wired and are often connected and disconnected as the pallets move, creating risks of wear and of loss of communication. With Balluff’s contact-free connection solution, the sensors are automatically powered by the inductive coupling system. Two non-contact connectors are attached to the equipment and align as the pallets move. Thanks to induction, they supply power to the sensors and transmit their signals to the controller.

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The rise of magnetic induction technology

Eliminating charging cables is a major trend, made possible by the increased use of electromagnetic induction.

Wireless charging, also known as inductive charging, uses a magnetic field to transfer energy between two devices. This physical phenomenon generates an electromotive force in an electrical conductor exposed to a magnetic field, producing an electric current to provide power.

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Some smartphones (from Samsung, Apple and others) already use this technology.

Even furniture companies such as IKEA have started to design units with built-in charging spots. The Swedish company has integrated inductive charging pads into its lamps and side tables. Charging a phone is as simple as placing it on the plus sign.

Another industrial giant is also exploring this technology.

The German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp has started to design what they call MULTI, a cableless elevator based on magnetic levitation. The system will consist of cabins drawing power from the shaft via magnetic induction. The target speed is 5 m/s. The elevator will be tested in a tower scheduled for completion in 2016.

However, companies like Intel want to go far beyond this. The semiconductor manufacturer said the first wireless computer is due out soon. Named Skylake, this advanced project aims to definitively eliminate cables by combining several wireless technologies.

The most-innovative is Rezence, a wireless power standard based on magnetic resonance developed by the Alliance for Wireless Power. This consortium, which includes Intel, is working on building a global wireless charging ecosystem.

The project will also incorporate other technologies. Developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Wi-Gig standard will enable data transfer at 7 Gbits/s using Wi-Fi, even without an internet connection or a Wi-Fi network. Wi-Di, Intel’s proprietary wireless display technology, will enable audio and video data transfer between different screen devices through a wireless display receiver.

Cables disappear…but mainly from our sight

So, are we on the verge of a cableless future? Though new solutions are making inroads, experts do not think that wireless technology can completely replace conventional cabling.

The Samsung charging pads, for example, must be wired to an electrical outlet. IKEA’s charging spots are also wired, but the cables are hidden. Even if they cannot disappear completely, cables can at least disappear from our sight.

For instance, some robot manufacturers are designing machines with internal cables. Motoman Inc. is developing robots with most cables routed internally. This reduces wear, extending cable life and limiting downtime.


About the Author

Journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for DirectIndustry e-magazine. She has years of experience in business issues for various media including France 24, Associated Press, Radio France…

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