Smart, connected sensors are the backbone of Industry 4.0 — one of the major driving forces in the manufacturing industry today. By helping businesses become more data driven in their processes and decision-making, smart sensors have ushered in what is often termed to be a new Industrial Revolution, changing the face of production, automation, and innovation in manufacturing to the benefit of manufacturers and customers alike.
Smart sensors in manufacturing are used to transmit real-time data about equipment processes, conditions, and performance to a central repository and control center. This is accomplished through built-in sensors (for newer equipment) or aftermarket add-on sensors (for legacy equipment). In either case, the introduction of these sensors creates an IoT-driven facility, yielding vast advantages in production efficiency, maintenance, supply chain, and more.
Throughout this piece, we will explore how IoT industrial sensors operate, what they do and how they are benefitting industrial businesses.
Nearly every piece of new industrial equipment purchased over the past five years is likely to have some type of an onboard smart sensor ready for use. In manufacturing, however, equipment turnover is typically low, and much of the machinery found in these facilities is years, if not decades old. Aftermarket sensors can easily be retrofitted to these machines, and the cost of these sensors continues to drop, making it ever-easier for facilities to adopt an IoT-driven data collection and decision-making approach.
As with any new technology, however, there is inevitable resistance and friction in gaining buy-in from management and personnel. As equipment continues to turn over, and more and more sensors end up in-house, we can expect to see adoption continue to increase, especially as more facilities understand the benefits of connected sensors.
Aside from sensors, IoT in manufacturing is driven by a network connection (almost always Wi-Fi versus hardwired), a central data repository and a control interface (which can be accomplished from a desktop computer as easily as via a smartphone app).
Industrial sensors have a multitude of potential uses throughout the manufacturing facility. Some of the most common include:
Equipment condition monitoring: One of the most common uses of industrial sensors, condition monitoring involves collecting and transmitting data about a particular aspect of a machine’s operation, for example, temperature, vibration, or ultrasonic monitoring. Fluctuations in these readings can be indicative of the need for diagnostics or maintenance.
Ambient environment monitoring: Other sensors can monitor conditions in the facility, such as temperature, fume or contaminant levels, radiation, and more. These types of sensors can help improve the health and safety of workers.
Inventory monitoring: Sensors can also be used in the storeroom or parts crib to monitor and identify inventory levels, spare part locations and more. The data from these types of sensors can assist in procurement, maintenance, and supply chain management.
Connected IoT sensors offer numerous tangible benefits for manufacturers, all powered by the ability of these sensors to transmit data in real time to be analyzed and acted upon. Potential benefits include:
More efficient processes: With real-time condition-based monitoring, equipment operators can detect even small fluctuations or aberrations in equipment performance, which allows them to more proactively and accurately program and operate equipment for peak efficiency and quality.
More proactive maintenance: Fluctuations in areas such as temperature and vibration are also useful to identify the beginnings of potential maintenance issues, which can then be proactively addressed at lower-impact times while avoiding unplanned shutdowns.
Increased worker safety: Ambient monitoring can reduce or eliminate instances of unsafe working conditions for personnel, making a major impact on safety incidents and improving worker morale and performance.
Enhanced inventory and supply chain management: Inventory monitors and part usage data can streamline inventory processes, and can be used to optimize ordering and supply chain management to gain pricing benefits and help safeguard against future shortfalls.
As more and more facilities adopt IoT industrial sensors, their competitive benefits will become clearer. With this understanding of the types of sensors available, their applications and the potential benefits, you are ready to take the first step in introducing connected equipment to your facility.
Andrew Kominek is Marketing Manager for the Micro Analysis Group at KEYENCE Corporation, a leading provider of fluorescence microscopes and advanced 3D surface analysis systems. He has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, product management, and consulting.