The integration age: Making sensors an industry necessity

Managing cost of production while pushing for absolute quality control is the next big step for the industry. Sam Bhasin, managing director, Bestech Australia, explains the role sensors play in this shift.

The manufacturing industry is slowly transitioning beyond automation of the technological age to the complete integration of sensor-controlled factories.

Better known as Industry 4.0, this is the push to increase productivity and product quality while minimising costs, and has increased the requirement for sensors, instrumentation and controls on the factory floor.

Sensors measure the parameters of the output from machines. Therefore, if required, corrective action can be taken through a control feedback loop or through human intervention.

Process optimisation with increased implementation of sensors can help reduce human error, and are used to increase quality control to the point where imperfections are negligible.

As the industry continues to shift towards integration, Manufacturers’ Monthly got in touch with Bestech Australia to find out why sensors and instrumentation are becoming increasingly important for the manufacturing industry.

“Currently, machine operators monitor the production line to ensure smooth operation, and are present to fix delays in case of malfunction,” said Bestech Australia’s managing director Sam Bhasin.

“You cannot control a parameter that you cannot measure. Therefore, every process on the factory floor requires sensors to monitor and control. They are the eyes and ears of any control system.”

As both sensor and robotic technologies advance, the implementation of smart manufacturing robots will allow an entire factory to be overseen by just a few operators.

The size of the workforce can be reduced, making way for robots and reducing required floor space, and, according to Bhasin, sensors are generally more consistent and repeatable than an operator.

“This optimises production costs while keeping the factory floor safe,” he continued. “We work with some of the best and most innovative companies in the world who have a strong emphasis on research and development (R&D) to stay ahead with the latest in measurement.

“These state-of-the-art sensors keep the users competitive and with excellent product quality so they can demand a premium in the world market.”

For example, there are more than 10 different technologies for measuring displacement alone.

Confocal sensors are used for the manufacturing of multi-layer glass while eddy current sensors can “see through” lubricants and work under high pressures and temperatures.

Elsewhere, laser triangulation sensors are able to monitor tiny small components with their small spot size and fast measuring rate.

In addition, 2D- and 3D-laser scanners offer surface profiling for quality inspection purposes such as weld seams, and capacitive sensors feature linear outputs capable of high-resolution measurements of less than one nanometre.

“Measurements need to be recorded for traceability and that requires sensors and associated instrumentation,” Bhasin said. “This ensures that only a quality product goes out from your factory every time.

“There is a wide choice of sensors for each parameter measurement and your application determines which one will be the most appropriate.

“Our engineers can assist you to choose the right sensor for your application.  For example, online laser sensors provide the best in product quality control due to their non-contact measurements.”

Laser point sensors are used to take dimensional measurements of parts moving at very high speeds without interrupting the production line.

This means an integrated feedback system will be able to generate a simple “pass/fail” signal for each product in a fraction of a second.

With the use of sensors and automation, the failure rates have the potential to drop dramatically, Bhasin explains.

The sensors can often pick up faults in products being manufactured with much more consistency than humans.

And, with more automation in the production process plus the help of sensors – as Industry 4.0 is demonstrating – manufacturers are moving closer to absolute quality control.

“Sensors play a key role in determining the level of quality control in manufactured products,” Bhasin said. “Sensor technology is continually advancing, allowing faster and more precise measurements as requirements increase.

“Integration into current and new setups is also made easier with smaller designs and wireless networks. That’s why, to improve quality control, using the right sensors for the specific application is key.”

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