Increasing demand for smart sensors in automation applications

The market for photoelectric sensors experienced a collapse and a dramatic rebound in the last three years. The market is now back to the development behaviour that we have seen in the past. As the market is strongly dependent on the investment climate, the situation has recently worsened, but ARC still expects a rather positive development for the coming years.

The market for smart sensing in the area of photoelectric sensors refers to all sensors that expand the traditional capabilities of fixed measuring and switching.

Photoelectric sensors have long been in a position in which there was simply no alternative, but now ultrasonic sensors as well as low-end vision sensors are targeting the same applications.

While photoelectric sensors are still price competitive, they also add value for end users with more functions,” says ARC Analyst Florian Güldner, the principal author of ARC’s “Photoelectric Sensors Worldwide Outlook”.

The demand for sensing is increasing with overall demand for sensors rising faster than for industrial automation in general. Still, the investment climate overshadows technological effects and trends from the plant floor. Growth in photoelectric sensors is directly linked to the business cycle.

Automation demand is often supported by the spare parts business, modernisation projects, and longer project lead times. But sensor suppliers cannot count on these dynamics.

In contrast, the relatively high share of sales through distributors emphasises the effects from investment as distributors empty/fill up their stocks at the beginning of a development.

Flexibility and the willingness to diversify are key characteristics of successful sensor suppliers. Many are adopting a more solution-oriented business model targeted at measurement, quality control, or safety applications.

Smart sensors make the lives of machine builders easier as they reduce the number of suppliers and parts, and help to reduce engineering time.

Smart sensing includes photoelectric sensors, that can self-adjust to the environment, can be configured remotely, can house more than one sensing technology (light barrier, diffuse, etc.), can be used for measuring and switching, and that help to detect errors such as a dirty lens or a broken cable.

With all these capabilities, sensors can help to make machines more flexible, shorten changeover times, and minimise planned and unplanned down-time. Whether or not photoelectric sensors are smart is only important if there is the right connection to the rest of the automation architecture.

Here IO–Link offers a good solution. However, the acceptance and awareness of IO-Link is still limited. With technologies like IO-Link, photoelectric sensors are becoming part of the automation hierarchy.