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Sensors and their role within the IoT

Any Internet of Things (IoT) application requires devices that are able to sense and measure real-time data, as well as hardware instruments to process and transfer the data. Sensors can measure a range of physical parameters such as pressure, flow, temperature, displacement, position, speed, humidity, vibration, motion, acceleration, tilt angle, force, load, torque, level and strain. There is also the need for a communication gateway to connect to the internet for data collection, sharing and storage. While the IoT brings a lot of new ideas to the table in terms of capabilities, when it first started, the costs of sensors made it prohibitive for some companies. That has changed.

Although the concept of IoT came as early as the 1990s, the cost of implementing such technology in a device exceed its original sales prices, which makes the IoT not economically feasible until recently. Sensors are integral components for enabling IoT applications. The decrease in sensors’ prices was a major driving force in implementing IoT applications. By the year 2020, it is forecasted that the average cost of sensors will come down to about one-fourth of their original price in the 2000s. This means it will be possible to collect more data to assist with decision making at lower costs.

Sensors have the capability to measure real-time data and convert that data into the machine-understandable codes. Sensors can also be configured with an active and unique device IP address, which can be easily identifiable in the network. These criteria tick all the boxes for the successful IoT implementation, according to Bestech marketing engineer Wirhan Prationo.

Sensors also can be defined as devices that receive data based on the changes in the environment and convert that data into electrical signal output. Based on these output signals, sensors can be classified as digital or analogue. In manufacturing applications, sensors can be integrated with the existing machinery to perform automation tasks. This automation system can be continuously improved to minimise its waste and power requirement, which subsequently reduce costs.

“Full factory automation also offers potential to double, or even triple, daily production compared to plants with only a few automation systems,” said Prationo. “The machinery can also last for a longer period of time and require comparatively little maintenance to the conventional system. Factories with end-to-end automation systems in their production line also enjoy better productivity and improved product quality. It can also improve safety and wellbeing in the workplace when automated robots replace humans to do dangerous tasks.”

Other than automation, IoT practitioners may benefit from the data transparency and devices connectivity in their factory. As data can be accessed easily by employees, it reduces the time in relaying information from one department to another. This will increase outputs and productivity, which ultimately increases revenue.

For maintenance requirements, sensors can provide accurate information of the plant’s health. When connected to an IoT network, the data will be visible to the maintenance engineers to take immediate action to repair the problem before machinery breakdowns, or catastrophic failures occur. This could prevent financial losses while the safety of the on-site workers will be improved. And what about the cloud? Are sensors and the information easily transferable to this increasingly popular storage medium.

“Ideally, sensor data should be backed up regularly to the cloud to avoid loss of data and information,” said Prationo. “Users can decide to set a regular monthly backup schedule or backup the data whenever new information is received. It may be difficult to practically achieve this due to difficulties in estimating the size of the backup storage. The enormous influx of data continually increases data storage requirements. Ultimately, the company needs to choose a storage infrastructure that can be scaled indefinitely based on the collected data.”

Bestech offers a range of miniature sensors that can be easily installed in a limited and restricted area. Some of its sensors also offer wireless capabilities for remote monitoring in a difficult-to-access and hazardous areas. There are also plenty of connector options to suit the existing machinery. These sensors are also capable to provide a range of signal outputs to interface with the industrial hardware.

For example, pressure sensors with the measurement accuracy within 0.1 per cent or 0.5 per cent are sufficient and provide good results to the process industry.

“Bestech has a pressure sensor that is capable to measure within 0.01 per cent of accuracy with the highest precision,” said Prationo. “Although not common, this pressure sensor is popular for a niche industrial measurement application where the slightest error is not tolerated.

“Another IoT-ready sensor we distribute is the low-power Wifi accelerometer, WiLow AX-3D, from BeanAir. This product line integrates natively with the MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) data frame and is specifically designed for IoT-ready applications. It offers measurement accuracy of 0.1 per cent with 0.01 per cent tolerance for temperature and cross-axis sensitivity. Measuring accurate data is imperative for successful IoT implementation.

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