Should You Switch to Smart Sensors?

The latest smart sensors communicate detailed data and diagnostics, allowing machines to operate more effectively and operators to work more efficiently.

By Kevin Zomchek, business manager, Rockwell Automation

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. Although this new generation is comfortable with rapidly evolving manufacturing technology and the data that comes with it, these employees aren’t necessarily as in tune with the equipment as seasoned staff.

Capturing contextual data to provide more predictive diagnostics and leveraging data across the manufacturing enterprise will be key to meeting these workforce and technology challenges.

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, not all sensors need to be equipped 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 then can be pushed down to the sensor as needed to support the various products. That means sensor configuration time is reduced significantly from several minutes down to mere milliseconds, helping to optimize flexible manufacturing.

In most flexible manufacturing applications, numerous sensors require reteaching. Many times, the configuration methodology for the sensors differs from one sensor family to another.

As a result, the operator has heightened responsibility to know and remember the exact process required to update all the sensors. It could take as long as one hour to reconfigure the sensors manually 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 add up to as much as $200,000 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 — 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 benefit this workforce transition greatly.

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.

Check out this webinar from Rockwell Automation to learn more about IO-Link Technology.



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