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Smart sensors are changing the way the data collected from assets is used and communicated in the manufacturing environment by providing enhanced inherent signal processing and data communication capabilities. A smart sensor is an advanced platform which has intelligent, embedded, and on-board diagnostics. Earlier, data used to be transmitted through layers, which was the primary reason for delays in communication and responsiveness. In order to prevent such delays, ordinary sensors are being transformed into smart sensors with true digital insights. In the context of Industry 4.0, smart sensors have been playing an active role in providing enhanced detection of equipment, processes, and cloud-based sharing of key information across the manufacturing facility. Smart sensors have made significant inroads in providing advancements in automation and efficiency. They can assess a machine in any environmental condition and communicate key information about the utilization rates in real time to increase operational efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, and improve customer experience.

The computing capabilities of smart sensors have been reinforced significantly. More and more data is being processed locally, or at the edge. Computing is becoming more decentralized. The industry is witnessing computing power being pushed to the edge. This is driving the growth of edge controllers, which will enable intelligent computing at the edge, without the time lag involved, as on earlier occasions.

Current Trends

  • Need for successful sensor data management: Smart sensors are finding an increasing number of applications in the manufacturing sector. Analytics continue to improve, making it easier to generate insights from smart sensors, enabling timely decision making. In addition, storing complex data sets is becoming more manageable. Algorithms have made it easier to predict and thereby preempt potential problems and prescribe corrective action. However, as the manufacturing environment becomes more integrated and data-intensive, the output signals from such integrated sensors must be precise and unambiguous. One of the key challenges is the management of the data generated through the sensor network. Several operators are facing scenarios wherein 80% of the time is spent on extracting relevant data while only 20% is spent on its analysis. It is thus imperative to be able to efficiently make sense of the data collected. Raw data is often useless. There is a need to establish and develop strategies for managing data under key process parameters. The data received must be usable and data that is not usable should not be stored.
  • Increasing need for open embedded platforms: Operators requirements can vary widely. They develop their own algorithms with the need of new functions. Data processing capabilities have been strengthened by embedding processing directly in the sensor, in an effort to meet real-time data requirements. The data that is processed by the sensor system is then communicated to the enterprise system or provided to actuators for additional processing.
  • Increasing need for ubiquitous sensors: There have been significant developments in wireless or wired networks of sensors connected over the Internet. The networks of IoT-enabled sensors are being provided by communication protocols for seamless machine-to-machine interaction and greater connectivity via low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) wireless communication.

3 Key Takeways for Smart Sensors

  • Superior self-diagnostics: New opportunities are emerging as a result of superior signal processing and self-diagnostics. There is an urgent need to process increasingly greater amounts of data.
  • Wide parameter coverage: Smart sensors are required in the age of Industry 4.0 to effectively sense multiple parameters including vibration, pressure, temperature, and chemical components.
  • Calibration-free sensors: Calibration-free sensors will become critical for IoT applications with enhanced connectivity. There is an increasing demand for and deployment of smart sensors in sectors like chemical and pharmaceuticals for continuous production monitoring.

Increased efficiency is enabled by smart sensors. Customers require enhanced speed as well as cost effective solutions. There has been a paradigm change in the terms in which data is collected and communicated in the manufacturing environment.
Sensors are playing a key role in Industry 4.0. With IoT becoming a reality, there is a need for enhanced asset conditions monitoring and the ability to share information across the entire manufacturing and enterprise system. The industrial market will benefit more in the future from these advancements and from the next generation of smart sensors.

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