The largest cause of disruptive and expensive unplanned downtime in manufacturing plants is motor breakdowns. Each production line has dozens, even hundreds of motors, and each one is vulnerable to unexpected problems. In large plants with multiple lines, the motor count can go into the thousands. Tiffany Huang, research analyst at Lux Research, makes the case for the value of next-generation sensors.

“Valuable ROI means cost reductions. The sensor can be deployed for predictive maintenance or safety for those working along with robots,” said Huang. “Also, sensors can give you a complete view of your facility, and that can mean cost reduction.”

Sensors for Maintenance and Safety Both

Part of the reason sensors are becoming a bigger part of the manufacturing mix is because they’ve come down in price significantly.  They’re getting cheaper and smaller, and they’re going mainstream. For maintenance, you want sensors that tell if something is about to fail. That means sensors that detect vibration, temperature, ultrasound, or increases in noise levels.

Beyond predictive maintenance, sensors are also working to support quality control and to determine when an asset has reached the end of its useful life. You can have in-line quality control, imaging techniques, optical detection, or chemical detection. Also, you can measure machines to see if they’ve been used to their maximum.

Preventing worker injury is another value of new sensors. Next-gen sensors can detect dangerous situations. For safety, you can place sensors on machines or on workers.  Sensors can also be used to let workers know if they’re in a hazardous environment.

Deploying an Effective Sensor System

A large part of a sensor solution is the ability to collect data, store it effectively, and then analyze it to produce effective action.  If you have a couple of sensors, you can use Ethernet connectivity.  If you have more than a few, you can use wireless connectivity like Bluetooth or WiFi. Longer range sensors may require cellular smartphone technology. And, there are also new, low-power wide-area connections.

Many companies offer packaged services, which include sensors and a connectivity system. The packages typically include the ability to store the data and perform analytics. The analytics horsepower is important so you can get insights from the data. And, the interface is important.  It needs to be intuitive because you don’t want to have to train someone for a year.

>> Read more by Rob Spiegel, Design News, April 10, 2017

Next-Gen Sensors Are Delivering Savings to Manufacturers