The continuing development of IoT and IIoT is shaping trends in sensor design and implementation. Broader automation trends such as the continued digitalization of data and its use in more efficient control of processes and systems to the use of data for predictive maintenance purposes are big drivers. Sensors have added functions, are easier to program, and offer better connectivity, making them integral components in IIoT and edge and fog computing architectures.
TE Connectivity is one company that has recently developed sensors that embody edge computing. “We have a new accelerometer currently in field trials in a number of applications and is designed specifically for machine condition monitoring in a smart factory environment,” notes Peter Smith, Manager of Sensor Product Knowledge and Training at TE Connectivity. “This accelerometer has a broad frequency response, large dynamic range, and rugged packaging suitable for use on heavy factory equipment. In addition, the accelerometer features on-board FFT signal processing and analytics to evaluate the acoustic and vibration signatures of the machine to which it’s attached,” adds Smith.
The company’s sensors are being used across a range of industries and uses. “IoT, IIoT, and IoMT applications use our sensors as the critical data collecting tool to monitor system operation and health,” notes Smith. Examples include vibration and temperature sensors for condition monitoring of factory machines, and force and pressure sensors in plastic injection molding equipment for part quality optimization.
Another example would be the Bosch Connected Industrial Sensor Solution (CISS). Rodney Rusk, i4.0 Business Leader at Bosch Rexroth, notes that the CISS is a multi-sensor device detecting acceleration and vibration as well as environmental conditions. The robust housing and the small outline make it suitable for industrial retrofit applications such as condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Configuring the device enables the customer to address a broad variety of use cases by interpreting the sensor data by smart algorithms. The sensor can sense eight possible inputs including acceleration, temperature, vibration and humidity.
Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is another issue that arises for sensor manufacturers. Latency, or a time delay from when a sensor detects something until some action is taken, is a serious concern for smart factory applications. Systems that use cloud computing and analytics can take many seconds to react to some undesirable condition sensed at the edge. “Many TE Connectivity sensors are designed with the appropriate output capabilities that can instantaneously provide local signals to the equipment to control its operation and shut it down if a dangerous or destructive condition is detected,” notes Smith. “Today, some aggregation devices and gateways provide features that can control equipment locally to minimize TSN issues.”
Sensor manufacturers are also seeing interest in wireless sensors, particularly for smart factory applications. This interest is driven mainly by the cost saving that wireless sensors offer over hard wiring sensors to machines. More specifically, TE Connectivity’s Peter Smith notes that LPWAN is becoming prevalent for sensor modules as they allow for smaller size and longer battery life. “With factory and stationary systems, we expect to see continued growth in LoRa, Bluetooth Mesh, Zigbee, Thread, and 802.15.4 proprietary protocols,” notes Smith, adding that “it’s too early to demonstrate the value of 5G, but as this rolls out and delivers on the promise of real-time low-latency networks, we could see more shift to 5G.”
Designers expect more support from their suppliers as well, in addition to things like custom designs that can range from simple alterations to highly complex designs. And sensor manufacturers are stepping up to the call. TE Connectivity, for example, supports Digilent, Arduino, Grove, PIC, and XplainedPro development tools. “These development boards are available through our distribution partners and we also offer software drivers in both C code and Linux formats that can be downloaded from our website,” notes Smith, adding that “a customer engineer can get a development board and software and have his applications up and running in 30 minutes.”