Smart sensors are a vital component of edge systems, providing a range of abilities that improve productivity in the factory. Here are some of the ways these sensors are helping drive IIoT today.
Smaller Form Factor
Production systems now require smaller and more autonomous edge devices (i.e., smart) that can run for extended periods of continuous use at the perimeter of the network, where diagnostic and monitoring resources are scarce. Solely from a hardware perspective, compact smart sensors increase ease of system integration and device usage—both beneficial to edge system deployment.
On top of being compact and ruggedly constructed, edge devices need to be network aware. Smart sensors address this need by having an IP address and support network communication protocols that enable direct communication with other factory equipment such as robots and PLCs, or for the transfer of measurement data to factory databases.
In a network-enabled smart sensor that digitizes and measures a target object, smaller packets of high-level data are communicated to the cloud at select intervals—rather than transferring raw scan data continuously for processing elsewhere. This capability alleviates pressure on network connectivity and minimizes latency and bottlenecking, all by providing distributed processing on the edge of the factory network.
Configuration and maintenance of many production systems leveraging smart sensor technologies can lead to network management challenges. This challenge is why edge computing requires all devices in the network be handled in a uniform manner—ideally as a fully automated process controlled with built-in software.
In a smart paradigm, the edge device (in this case a sensor) cannot only acquire data but process data and communicate control decisions to factory equipment—directly from the edge, without having to send data back to a centralized location or local computer racks. The software allows smart sensors to carry out computing and storage onboard so that select applications can be executed locally at very high speeds.
Distributed and Scalable Network Architecture
Edge computing relies on the seamless cooperation of distributed peers. There is no centralized controller anymore; instead, a collection of devices acting independently yet communicating cooperatively.
Smart sensor networks built on a distributed architecture (Fig. 1) facilitate scalability and empower process engineers to develop specific measurement and control solutions for each manufacturing cell. Applications are implemented by using “snippets” of code that can securely run edge devices, requiring minimum interaction with coordinating elements. This prevents unnecessary or undesired uploads to servers in headquartered data centers.
Security and Privacy
In today’s factory, proprietary information can easily be leaked through any connected device, platform, or even the network itself. Consequently, manufacturers are becoming more and more concerned about the exposure risk to their proprietary data.
In addition to the technical challenges introduced by a large number of devices running in a factory, there is now another demand for smart sensors to support security such as user profiles (eg., technician vs. administrator), encrypted firmware and settings, and secure protocols to exchange data with cloud storage.
Edge computing improves time-to-action and reduces latencies down to milliseconds while minimizing network bandwidth. In combination with cloud computing and powered by smart sensor technology, these edge systems can have a profound impact on industrial system performance and ultimately increase productivity and profit for manufacturers.
Download our new Factory Automation Brochure to see Gocator 3D smart sensors at work in the factory environment.