Utilizing Sensors to Maintain a Safer, Smarter Manufacturing Environment

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As manufacturing environments become more competitive, leaders are leveraging innovative technologies to become more productive and outperform traditional key performance indicators (KPIs) of success. 

If maneuvered correctly, this evolution can result in major rewards, as indicated by current trends that predict some countries could boost annual manufacturing value by up to $530 billion by 2025. As the degree of complexity continues to flourish in industrial settings to achieve these ambitious goals, sensors are becoming an inexpensive, intelligent entry point to realizing significant productivity gains.

Sensor Integration

The prospect of manufacturers integrating sensors into facilities allows for countless possible benefits. Sensors – and more importantly, the data they capture – will enable manufacturers to become more compliant, productive, and profitable with greater accuracy throughout their facilities. Further, getting started with sensing technology can be relatively painless – once goals are defined, and strategies are set to achieve them, the key assets to monitor in a facility can be identified. Sensors then act as building blocks of a smart manufacturing infrastructure, collecting information from key data sources across the plant floor, arming managers with information they’ve never had before, and allowing for faster, smarter decisions.

Utilizing-Sensors-Access-Data

Integrating sensors into a manufacturing environment allows stakeholders to access data to monitor equipment, connect processes, improve the safety of employees, and gain heightened visibility into the operations of the facility. The data gathered by sensors can be saved, compiled, stored, and analyzed.

While data collection isn’t new, traditional mechanisms for doing this have been notoriously time-intensive and prone to human error. Sensors can relieve this burden by improving the efficiency and accuracy of data necessary for historical data reporting and compliance. While each industry has its own metrics to define success, here are just a few examples of the key roles that sensors can play on the plant floor.

Key Operational Benefits of Sensors

Promoting a Safer Facility

Smart sensors not only create boundary conditions without the presence of a human operator but can be placed in nearly any location due to their increasingly smaller footprint. The signals and information that sensors accumulate can preserve the integrity of safety boundaries and maintain restricted areas in harsh industrial environments to ensure the safety of workers. Examples of this range from alerts to operators when a fixed guard-door or cover is open, to stopping machines when an object interrupts the sensing field.

Additionally, sensor data can feed reports on common mechanical failures or repeat offenders of safety violations allowing for swift course correction. On the equipment side, sensors can feed alerts into information systems, auto-generating work orders for motor maintenance when temperature and vibration exceed defined set points, and predicting machine failure before it happens, reducing the need for manual maintenance checks.

Preventing Downtime

In addition to increased safety value, monitoring for abnormal machine conditions and notifying maintenance personnel can help facilities avoid one of its largest expenses – unplanned downtime. In the automotive industry, this can cost anywhere from $22, 000 to $50, 000 per minute. Utilizing sensors to gather machine data can not only maintain equipment health, but also contribute to major cost savings.

Reducing Maintenance Costs

Smart sensors allow manufacturers to transition from scheduled maintenance to a predictive maintenance strategy. Sensor data can help manufacturers compare the costs of ongoing maintenance to the replacement cost of equipment, determining when it makes more sense to repair or replace high-value assets. As the reporting from sensors gets smarter, unnecessary maintenance calls can be eliminated, and the need for excess maintenance inventory can be reduced.

Ensuring Product Quality and Traceability

Revitalizing and automating logistics and asset management allows manufacturers to track the whereabouts of products along the production cycle. For example, sensors have the capability to ensure label alignment, count products, measure fill levels, manage product positioning, and regulate temperature variations. This accuracy and accountability can increase throughput while protecting brand recognition and ensuring consumer safety.

Business Continuity

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are navigating secure remote access capabilities and limiting on-site person-to-person contact - sensors are the backbone of these back-to-work strategies. Whether part of a scanning system to check for elevated body temperatures, ensuring safe social distances, or contributing to contact tracing solutions, sensors can play a key role in ensuring effective compliance with safety requirements to re-open work environments.

Sensors Are the Building Blocks for Smart Manufacturing

While many technologies can increase the productivity and efficiency of today’s manufacturing facilities, sensors are a cost-effective way to see immediate benefits in maximizing efficiency, ensuring safety, and minimizing costs. These devices are essential building blocks in the foundation of data collection, which allow manufacturers to build long term strategies to become more compliant, productive, and profitable with greater accuracy throughout all levels of operation.

Inductive and Photoelectric Sensors