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Smart Sensors and IOT: Lining Up the Pros and Cons

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Sensors are essential in capturing basic diagnostics from industrial machines and equipment. However, as the people maintaining these machines near retirement, a new, younger workforce is emerging.

And while this new generation is comfortable with rapidly evolving manufacturing technology and the data that comes with it, they are not necessarily as in tune with the equipment as the seasoned staff.

It will be key to manufacturer success to capture contextual data to provide more predictive diagnostics and leverage data across the manufacturing enterprise.

Smart sensing technology is fulfilling this need, bringing deeper insight into the health of industrial machines to help current — and future — generations of operators optimize plant processes.

While smart sensors offer key insights into a manufacturing operation, it’s not necessary for all sensors to be enabled with this technology. It’s important to know where and when to implement smart sensing capabilities.

Line it Up

Smart sensors can help streamline flexible manufacturing operations that involve frequent line changes with different-sized products.

Rather than requiring manual reconfiguration for each product coming down the line, smart sensors can store multiple profiles in the controller that can then be pushed down to the sensor as needed to support the various products. That means sensor configuration time is significantly reduced from several minutes down to mere milliseconds, helping to optimize your flexible manufacturing.

In most flexible manufacturing applications, there are numerous sensors that require re-teaching. And many times, the configuration methodology for the sensors differs from one sensor family to another.

As a result, there is heightened responsibility on the operator to know/remember the exact process required to update all the sensors. It could take as long as one hour to manually reconfigure the sensors on a single machine, and although the hourly rate required to do this is a large factor, the most impactful element is the loss in production time for that one hour. Depending on the cost of the product being manufactured, lost production could attribute to as much as $200K per day.

Adapting to a Changing Workforce

In addition to preventing production losses, smart sensors can help soften the blow of workforce impacts.

As the workforce ages and the seasoned operators retire, much expertise is lost; in general, for every three workers retiring, only one is hired to replace them. Seasoned operators know their machines well—they know all the machine’s idiosyncrasies and how to compensate for them.

So, as those senior operators retire, much knowledge is lost and the next generation is not necessarily familiar with or equipped to deal with these idiosyncrasies. Therefore, smarter, diagnostic-rich sensors will greatly benefit this workforce transition.

Another not-so-subtle point is that the automatic configuration functionality of an integrated smart sensor system pushes consistent values down to the sensors each time, which reduces configuration errors or production issues that might occur when parameter changes are manually performed by an operator—especially an unseasoned one. These values can be vetted by the OEM to ensure optimal settings are used to run each machine.

Understanding the cost of sensor configurations for line changes as well as the consequences of an evolving workforce is the key to determining whether switching to smart sensors is right for you.

If you’re still unsure if your operation is ready for smart sensors, see our free webinar, read our previous post about smart sensors and look out for the final blog in the series.

Kevin Zomchek
Kevin Zomchek
Business Manager, Rockwell Automation
Kevin Zomchek

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