Embedded sensors for manufacturing – Benefits and use cases

factory automation

Embedded sensors play a crucial role in manufacturing, especially in optimizing the embedded systems’ performance and the manufacturing machinery, leading to greater efficiency and productivity gains.

Embedded sensors provide value throughout the manufacturing value chain by enhancing industry process control, supply chain and logistics, real-time inventory tracking, drive operational efficiencies, automation, and production lines to meet consumer demand and facilitate adherence to regulatory compliance.

An embedded sensor is a type of sensor that is embedded within the environment it is sensing. An embedded sensor network is a network of small embedded computers or sensor nodes integrated into the physical world to communicate with the environment.

They are placed very close to the objects for sensing, which allows them to cooperate with each other, monitor the surrounding environment, and produce the appropriate response. The network works with collaborative signal processing algorithms to capture relevant data from the environment for real-time/post-processing.

An embedded system consists of a microcomputer and various types of sensors. While sensors detect data, a microcomputer processes the data and information; the embedded system’s functionality and performance depend on the sensors.

In general, embedded systems consist of the following functions:

  • A microcomputer unit connects the sensor-driving circuits and stimulates the sensors by transmitting a start signal.
  • Microcomputer unit that receives the data captured by sensors via amplifier circuits.
  • Data is recorded in the microcomputer’s memory space to be processed by the embedded software and then transferred to IT systems via data communication networks.

Benefits of embedded sensors

  • Improving operational efficiency: Sensor-enabled labor monitoring helps reduce idle workforce by optimizing assignments. Sensors used for quality inspection on the assembly line closes 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: 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.

Uses of embedded sensors in manufacturing

1. Industrial process control

The industrial control and monitoring application segment account for the highest market share for sensors at 38.6%. Industrial control applications include monitoring of various variables, including pressure, temperature, flow, etc. 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, 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 towards in-process sensors as a control strategy.

2. 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 in industrial manufacturing sites. Various sensors, including temperature, pressure, MEMS, and torque sensors, are increasingly used in automation.

3. Real-time inventory tracking

Real-time inventory tracking RFID sensors, which enable 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 the 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

4. 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 more productivity. Further, they are also helpful in identifying root errors in manufacturing and drive better product design. For example, assembly lines for wearables during quality inspection 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 and saves a lot of time.

5. Adherence to regulatory compliance

Installed sensors in manufacturing equipment with data can help generate reports to prove the regulatory compliance of industries. Smart sensors with data in energy consumption, temperature, humidity, operation hours, maintenance, 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.

6. Supply chain and logistics

Sensors are at the forefront of the supply chain market as 44% of supply chain organizations have already adopted them. Due to improved asset tracking and remote monitoring abilities, sensors in the logistics market have recorded a 15.9% CAGR. Sensors enable close control, monitoring, and transparency of assets at all levels of the supply chain.

7. Consumer service

Connected products also offer insights into customer preferences and demands for effective product development. Sensors provide manufacturers data that could be adopted by the manufacturers for developing agile methods, and that can be fed seamlessly into product life cycle 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 monitoring equipment such as predictive maintenance could improve problem-solving in previously under-addressed areas.