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Could factory sensors be making their own decisions?

30 June 2017

Factory analogue sensors are at the start of a very long line of communication. Communication from the sensor is predominantly in just one direction and recalibration for production changes requires manual reprogramming – taking considerable time and resource. But it doesn’t need to be this way

State of the art sensors use more advanced communication protocols that enables bi-directional data transfer for the sensor to be able to recalibrate itself and adapt quickly to changing production requirements.

By digitising the output from the sensor, new opportunities are opened up. Add a micro-controller and those opportunities expand to a whole new level.
Moving the processing burden down to into the sensor itself means it performs analogue pre-processing filtering and calibration. The micro controller with its communication interface and some element of local processing offers a linearised value. By evaluating sensor values at the head it can be said it is truly intelligent, decisions can be made more quickly than by sending raw data to a PLC and the processing overhead of the PLC is reduced giving a closer to real time response.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is not so much of a revolution as an evolution, it is really just about making use of the technology that already exists. As smart manufacturing becomes more ubiquitous the flow of information at all levels takes on greater significance.

A sensor that can scrub the data it provides benefits the industry by reducing the overall quantity of data that needs to be communicated. The only way to increase computing power these days is with multiple processing cores, how better to do this than distribute the computing load throughout a system to the points that need it.

Intelligent sensing has benefits when it comes to saving power

Intelligent sensing has benefits when it comes to saving power especially important in battery powered applications. The major part of the sensor’s power drain is when it has its power amplifier turned on and transmitting. Making a decision about the sensed data, considering its importance, compressing the size of the data and ultimately turning on the transmitter for the shortest time possible can extend battery life considerably. An ASIC crafted especially for this task will offer the smallest form factor and lowest power solution.

Bi-Directional communication

A standard production line with a number of proximity sensors will require an operator to adjust each sensor in turn for detection range, metallurgy etc. in order to switch the line from one product to another. Costly and time consuming.  Distributed processing and bidirectional communications allows for parameter setting at the sensor head. Parameters can be sent down to the sensor and say “Here are the parameters you are working with – instead of sending me an alarm”. Indeed in the spirit of industry 4.0 the line would adjust on a per part basis and this is where intelligent sensors enable that reality.

In the information age everything is connected, exchanging information, as more processing is pushed to ‘the edge’ it could be argued that the first or last metre that data travels from a sensor or to an actuator is the most important.  It is this part of the network where the number of connected devices is highest and efficiencies made here can have a big impact on the larger systems that are being built today.

As industry embraces Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT, intelligent sensing will be at the heart of the evolution. New opportunities will be opened up as the processing burden is handled directly by the sensor and intelligent decisions can be made and implemented.

By utilising ASIC and System in Package technology, the goal of a fully automated, intelligent factory becomes a reality. An ASIC combining the sensor, the sensor interface and the communications all in one package can deliver the intelligent sensing solution.

Key Points

  • As industry embraces Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT, intelligent sensing will be at the heart of the evolution
  • Moving the processing burden down to into the sensor itself means it performs analogue pre-processing filtering and calibration
  • A sensor that can scrub the data it provides benefits the industry by reducing the overall quantity of data that needs to be communicated

 
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