The global IIoT market is estimated to reach $103.38 billion by 2026 as IoT devices are becoming more affordable and more manufacturers are investing in smart factory technology. One of the key components that make up a smart factory are the sensors. The sensors are of paramount importance for collecting critical information and sending data to the cloud for analysis. By analyzing data compiled from the sensors, businesses can create solutions that improve productivity, avoid costly unplanned downtime, and reduce the expense of manufacturing.
In this article learn:
- What are IoT Sensors
- Types of IoT Sensors
- IoT Sensor Connectivity
- How to Improve Productivity with IoT Sensors
What are IoT sensors?
In IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), sensors are used to detect various types of external information and translate it into a signal or data that humans and machines can understand. The data is often stored in a database that is managed within the building or in the cloud for processing and analysis.
IoT sensors use various types of technology, such as optics, thermal and infrared to capture the information needed. A sensor can also be designed to collect one or many different types of information. Some uses include measuring distance, levels, pressure, environment changes, or anomalies in production line batches.
Types of IoT Sensors
Vision Sensors – Images are captured by a camera and processed with help of software to determine presence, orientation, and accuracy of parts. The use of vision sensors can ensure product quality and consistency throughout batches. Vision sensors are commonly used on production lines for the food and beverage industry, the automotive industry, and general manufacturing.
Proximity Sensors – These sensors can help measure the distance between two objects. This is used often in manufacturing where machines need to know distances between products or measurements for assembly robots.
Pressure Sensors – Measuring the pressure of fluids or gases is common in industrial environments. Maintaining the correct pressure may be crucial for product quality or safety of the crew.
Temperature Sensors – The temperature of components may indicate they are failing or overheating. This can give time for maintenance crews to replace worn out parts before they cause an expensive machine failure. Temperature sensors can also help monitor the ambient temperature to ensure food safety or the quality of a product. Immediately being alerted of a cooler going over regulated temperatures can save unplanned cost of food waste.
Humidity Sensors – The amount of moisture may be important for the final quality of the product. Monitoring the moisture can ensure quality standards are always met. Humidity can also degrade some equipment therefore a sensor can help alert team members if humidity is out of range. Maintaining optimal humidity at all times can help prolong the life of sensitive equipment.
Level Sensors – The use of fluids or solids can be used for the operation of machinery or a raw material in a product. Knowing when levels are low can ensure that hoppers are filled before they are completely out ensuring production time is never lost.
Acceleration and Vibration Sensors – Monitoring the movement of equipment can be important for the accuracy or maintenance of machinery. Excessive vibration could indicate warn-out bearings, lose bolts or motors that are about to fail.
Sound Sensors – The pitch of some machinery may indicate whether it is operating efficiently or not. By monitoring the pitch maintenance crew can be alerted if a machine is too high or too low of a pitch and in need of repair or maintenance.
As IIoT technology evolves major industrial sensor manufacturers such as Cognex, Banner Engineering, and SICK Sensor Intelligence are designing “smart” sensors. These sensors are easier to implement compared to analog sensors that typically require PLCs to process and interpret data protocols. A smart sensor can often process data within the sensor itself and send it directly back to the managing platform. This makes the transmission of data more versatile and saves bandwidth by only sending the information that is needed.
IoT Sensor Connectivity
An IIoT deployment can comprise of just a few to thousands of sensors monitoring and controlling a single machine or an entire production line. To transmit data back to the network and cloud software the sensors must be connected in some form. This connection will either be wired or wireless and there are pros and cons of each form of connectivity.
Most manufacturing plants will hardwire their IoT devices using industrial Ethernet cables. Hardwiring can ensure a reliable connection, but there are limits to the distance between sensors, I/O blocks, and PLCs. There is also the risk of cables getting damaged, and the expense of regularly replacing cables that flex on moving parts such as robotic arms.
Wireless IoT sensors are quickly gaining popularity as wireless technology continues to improve and become more reliable. A Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) can have a much further distance between sensors and network equipment as compared to network cables. Wireless connectivity is also much more scalable as the quantity of sensors in a deployment can be significantly higher. For example, a single private LTE network can wirelessly connect more than a thousand devices on a factory floor.
How are Manufacturers Improving Productivity?
When integrating sensors with an IoT management platform the solutions are endless. Here are just a few examples of how IoT sensors are playing a role in helping manufacturers save costs and improve productivity.
Improve Product Quality
With machinery already connected to cloud platforms, storing data such as temperature and pressure is easier to digitally track in production batches. Machine vision through high resolution cameras is another form of tracking product through a production line. Vision sensors along with software can help monitor the product quality. This technology can significantly help reduce poor quality products from reaching the consumer which can jeopardize the brand.
Minimize Unplanned Downtime with Predictive Maintenance
Opposed to scheduled maintenance, programs can analyze data collected from sensors to determine if an unplanned breakdown is likely to occur. Real-time data and cloud-based analytics can help engineers and maintenance crew spot inefficiencies with machinery. This reduces costs by allowing technicians to replace components before they fail, avoiding expensive repairs or injury to crew members.
Warehouse Management and Asset Tracking
Knowing the location of inventory and having an efficient method to move, stock, and pick inventory has always been a go-to route for improving productivity. In a smart warehouse, IIoT solutions use sensors to help track the flow of assets through the factory. Autonomous robots can move products or pick and pack an order, all without any human interaction. By automating these simple tasks employees can focus on other tasks that are more productive and require human insight.
Improve Procurement and Forecasting
For procurement managers, sensors installed on the production line can monitor the assembly of products, helping to control the usage of raw materials and reduce waste. They can also alert users when supply is running low. Consistently monitoring these key items with sensors can significantly reduce waste and improve forecasting.
Product development can be a costly process, but necessary for all manufacturers. By gathering data through sensors on the production floor and through advanced manufacturing analytics, much of the R&D process can be simulated. Manufacturers can make better decisions before going into full production. Sensors on products can also be implemented in the field to gather data in real-life scenarios. Collecting this data in real-time can help engineers make quick changes for a more efficient product.
There is no doubt that sensors are now playing an essential role in daily operations throughout factories. The collection of data has proven to help businesses develop more efficient production lines, increase safety, and keep machines operating. Although the overall planning and implementation of IoT sensors in a manufacturing facility can be substantial, the return on investment can be well worth it.
The first step of incorporating IoT sensors in your facility would be to seek an IoT solution provider. A company like Datablaze can help you understand your needs and implement a cost-effective plan. An ideal company will also provide the ability to manage your sensors and connectivity from one platform. A platform like Voyager IoT Management can help provide this solution.