Companies like ABB, Balluff and Sick would be within their rights to film a commercial with exuberant sensor product managers breaking out in a song of cheer.
As Contributing Editor Karen Haywood Queen points out in our special report “Sensors’ meteoric rise,” the latest, smartest generation of sensors costs up to 10 times less than the sensors of five years ago, enables shorter cycle times, screens out interference and can be reconfigured automatically.
It is now cost effective to add sensors to less valuable—and previously silent—equipment. And harvesting the resulting newly available data is changing the face of manufacturing.
Other factors that make a difference: the digitization/shrinking of technology, widespread use of smart phones with Bluetooth, better control systems, and improvements in the I/O link communication protocol that communicates with sensors. In some cases, there’s even an app for that.
So the lean times—in terms of sensor deployment and use, after sensors promised so much—are over. And that means manufacturers are getting more serious about predictive maintenance.
One expert in our sensors piece cites cases in which predictive maintenance based on data from the sensors helps reduce downtime by up to 70%, extends motor lifetime as much as 30% and reduces energy consumption by up to 10%.
Some sensors are also becoming more sophisticated—and therefore less disruptive.
So, on top of much-improved economics, the blues of dealing with sensors are getting chased away: In the past, reflected light from workers’ vests could trick a photoelectric sensor into mistakenly concluding a box was still present on the factory floor.
Today, after painstaking work inside one tech firm, sensors can distinguish between bright lights and reflections in the room. That means maintenance workers can come much closer to the production line without causing issues.
Happy days are here again: Today’s sensors offer so much for so little that they demand liberal distribution in factories.