Sensors drive future manufacturing plants

In Issue03extra, WoodTECH by FIEALeave a Comment

One of the beautiful things about fair competition is that it foments positive development. With a few exceptions, almost every major change in history came with a fight by entrenched industry against it. One of those exceptions in recent times is industrial automation, with every manufacturing entity in business embracing the latest developments in order to stay ahead of their competition.

This has resulted in an evolution in industrial machines and processes that have changed how we make things today. Often referred to by its European label, Industry 4.0 is in reality “only” an integration of existing technologies into a new gestalt and operating paradigm. It is impressive to see what connecting smart devices together in an intelligent network can accomplish. Risking a bit more jargon, cloud-enabled software-driven intelligent manufacturing is a significant business force multiplier, often separating the winners from the losers in the marketplace.

Sensor-driven industry

In any manufacturing process, there is no precision without feedback. Once entrusted to a master’s eye along with a decent set of callipers, squares, and straight edges, today’s finished products are examined with a precision possible only with fast and accurate sensors. Beyond primary concerns like tight tolerances and material handling issues, the sheer speed of modern manufacturing processes can challenge even the best sensors.

In a modern manufacturing facility, there are many kinds of sensors backed up by logic systems and software algorithms intended to make them the best at what they do. Integrated MCUs (or the other way around, MCUs with integrated sensors), onboard signal conditioning chips, or complete sensor system-on-chips (SoCs) that can be dropped into almost any design to impart the functionality without the design-in hassle.

There are the sensors inside each subsystem to ensure it is operating properly, like the optical encoders in robotic arms and other motion systems. Such encoders, and other internal monitoring systems are as important to the finished product as any other aspect of the facility, as poorly coordinated machines make tight tolerances impossible.

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