The applications of embedded sensors in the manufacturing value chain

The applications of embedded sensors in the manufacturing value chain

By Sofiane Boukhalfa

Embedded sensors have helped optimize the performance of manufacturing machinery, leading to greater efficiency and productivity gains. With the digitization of factories, along with analytics, AI, and the Internet of things (IoT), sensors could boost the annual US manufacturing industry by up to USD $530 billion by 2025. Industry is adopting 4.0 concepts with the application of IoT and an increased adoption of embedded sensors.

Benefits of embedded sensors for manufacturing:

There are many benefits to using embedded sensors for manufacturing, including eliminating the time needed for the manual inspection of production systems and reducing unscheduled system downtime and costly emergency service visits. Embedded sensors can also reduce costs by retrofitting wireless sensors to existing industrial equipment to eliminate the replacement cost of cables, which are prone to connector failures and can cost up to $230 per meter to install and maintain.

In this article, we provide an overview of the main benefits of adopting embedded sensors in the manufacturing value chain. Following this overview, we highlight applications of embedded sensors that show how they can enhance the manufacturing process at every stage.

Improving operational efficiency: Sensor-enabled labor monitoring helps reduce idle workforce time by optimizing assignments. Sensors used for quality inspection on assembly lines close the physical-digital loop for manufacturing issues in minutes.

Improving asset management: Critical equipment is connected and monitored through sensors to proactively address potential interruptions.

Real-time inventory tracking: Radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors used for low-cost, touch-free item identification and tracking can potentially reduce the risk of inventory shrinkage or loss. Smart sensors for omnichannel retailing, such as products and packaging embedded with smart sensors, make automatic reorders and refills possible.

Product design: Connected products offer insights into customer behaviors and preferences, allowing for more responsive product development.

Industrial process control:

The industrial control and monitoring application segment accounts for the highest market share of sensors, at 38.6%. Industrial control applications include the monitoring of various variables, including pressure, temperature, and flow. More than 20 different sensors are used in the IoT industries due to their enhanced monitoring and remote sensing capabilities. Smart sensors, or “sensors 4.0,” enable machines to communicate with each other and to collect and analyze data through the cloud and IO link interface, leading to continuous monitoring, enhanced connectivity, and optimized system performance. Market growth is expected to further increase, with industries shifting toward in-process sensors as a control strategy. 

For example, Sandvik Coromant, a leading service supplier for metal cutting, transitioned to embedded sensors inside the company’s tools for close monitoring of process attributes such as tool deflection, cutting forces, tool load, and temperature. The sensors provided vital insight into the manufacturing process, helping to reduce scrap rates and enhance productivity.

Automation and production lines:

Factory automation enables customized product solutions as well as the self-optimization of the production lines. Many conveyor manufacturers have incorporated sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) to enhance new features and capabilities. Leading players, such as Mitsubishi, are investing to boost automation systems. Sensors also detect alterations in position, length, height, exterior, and dislocation at industrial manufacturing sites. Various sensors, including temperature, pressure, MEMS, and torque sensors, are being increasingly used in automation. 

Real-time inventory tracking:

Real-time inventory-tracking RFID sensors, which enable the touch-free identification and tracking of items, have improved traditional inventory management. These sensors allow for increased traceability, reducing the risk of inventory loss. Moreover, reliable information generated by sensors strengthens planning capabilities and reduces out-of-stock or overstock situations. The automated approach of using sensors leads to more flexible distribution models and protection from inventory theft. Products and packaging embedded with smart sensors allow for automatic reorders and refills.

Enhancing operational efficiencies:

Several operational efficiencies, such as labor, logistics, and quality control costs, are improved with sensor deployment. Sensors have improved inventory counting, material sorting, and automation, leading to greater productivity. Further, they are also helpful in identifying root errors in manufacturing while driving better product design. For example, assembly lines for wearables can send pictures to design engineers in real time through smart-sensor technology. This allows engineers to identify any manufacturing issues at the time of assembly before they become a point of failure, thus saving a lot of time. 

Adherence to regulatory compliance:

Installed sensors in manufacturing equipment with data can help in generating reports to prove the regulatory compliance of industries. Smart sensors with data in the areas of energy consumption, temperature, humidity, operation hours, maintenance, and production line outputs are easier to pull and collate. Moreover, sensors are also instrumental in improving production processes by providing output on product quality and real-time notification of such issues.

Supply chain and logistics monitoring:

Sensors are at the forefront of the supply chain and logistics market, due to improved asset tracking and remote monitoring abilities. Sensors enable the close control, monitoring, and transparency of assets at all levels of the supply chain. 

Harley-Davidson has applied smart sensors for improved asset management and predictive maintenance of industrial machinery to actively address potential interruptions. Nokia has applied a conscious supply network concept at factories to allow increased digitization across its supply chains and more transparency in the logistics value chain. These sensors leverage RFID and a neural network to provide enhanced asset tracking solutions and conscious supply chain for inventory management with reduced time to market.

Consumer service:

Connected products also offer insights into customer preferences and demands for effective product development. Sensors provide manufacturers with data that could be adopted by the manufacturers for developing agile methods and that can be fed seamlessly into product lifecycle management systems to stimulate innovation. Product developers with sensors are also saved from over-engineering with an optimized R&D expenditure. Finally, having a complete understanding of where true bottlenecks exist, due to the use of monitoring equipment such as predictive maintenance applications, could improve problem solving in previously under-addressed areas.

The future outlook for embedded sensors:

As embedded systems are now entering into the realm of IoT, technology is being developed to facilitate the connection between the components of the embedded system and the web. IoT’s emerging range of software-controlled sensors and other devices allow machines to communicate with each other. Currently, the IoT sensor market is booming and is projected to increase further with stringent government regulations and policies. With continued development in this sector being driven by needs from consumers and businesses alike, embedded sensors will continue to gain new capabilities that will make them relevant in numerous applications.

This article is based on our report titled “Embedded Sensors for Manufacturing.”  Access the full report here.

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