Editor's Choice

Nick Denbow’s European report: Internet of Things micro sensors are coming

March 2016 Editor's Choice News

“Not another article talking about IoT sensors!” Maybe, like me, this is your normal reaction. Hopefully this article will show that there are clever developments going on, that are relevant industrially and might just trigger some new application ideas. Call them IoT sensors if you like, but the main features are that the sensors are intelligent, micro-sized and lower cost than their big, conventional, process counterparts.

Gauge/differential pressure sensor

A new, clever development from Honeywell is the Amplified Basic Pressure (ABP) sensor: this seems to come from the Honeywell Sensing and Productivity Solutions Division in Minnesota, not the more familiar Process Solutions business. It is a silicon-based piezo-resistive pressure sensor – the typical one used inside a stainless steel plumb-bob for depth measurement in water wells – which uses an atmospheric pressure breather tube inside the cable. The ABP has a barbed push-on connector for the pressure tube, and with on-board electronics is 7 x 8 mm in size, is configured for direct PCB mounting.

The unit is available with digital or analog output on a 5 VDC supply, giving ±1,5% total error band for scale ranges between 60 mbar and 10 bar. There are dual sensor units to provide a differential measurement, and silicone gel coating means that there are no condensation corrosion problems when monitoring liquids. Honeywell see many medical applications, plus quote potential uses industrially in HVAC systems, pneumatics and valve positioners, as well as for machine liquid level monitoring. Full data and performance sheets are available, implying it is in production, and Honeywell suggest a price level of under $10 for quantities as low as 25.

Tyndall biopharma sensor capsule

Like IoT, Process Analytical Technology (PAT) is another modern term frequently bandied about, this time in pharmaceutical circles. Ireland has established pharmaceuticals as one of its major production industries, and the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, with others, has developed a smart sensor capsule for use in bioreactors. This ‘PATsule’ sensor, freely floating about in the process liquids, can provide in situ process monitoring even from within the biofluid: it communicates using wireless. The PATsule uses a multi-disciplinary approach of micro and nano-sensor technology, with miniaturised instrumentation – it has been specifically used by the Tyndall researchers to optimise the production of protein therapies.

This month the ISA from America confirms the Irish status as the place to discuss and review modern pharmaceutical production techniques by bringing the Food and Pharma Division symposium to Cork, the first ever to be held outside North America. Special attention will be paid to the role of automation technology and innovation in the industry, particularly relating to regulatory requirements and manufacturing costs. (The ISA Food and Pharma Symposium dates are 13-14 March.)

IoT sensor investment

Possibly you might have expected that the major investments into IoT sensor developments for industrial applications would be in Germany. There, the topic is known as Industry4.0 and one of the leading investors in the field is Pepperl+Fuchs, a specialist in sensors and interfaces for industrial and machinery applications. One application it quotes is the development of battery powered ultrasonic level measurement systems installed in larger (industrial) waste bins, which report back to a central control room. This enables the municipal operator to schedule waste collections at appropriate times, and route vehicles so they can maximise their load capacity and minimise the distance travelled around the multiple pick-up points. P+F has also developed a SmartBridge technique, which allows intelligent sensors to interface with nearby tablets and mobile phones and display their data.

Much of Industry 4.0 development incorporates micro-machining or MEMS technology. In its annual review “Changes” last summer, Endress+Hauser explained that it has set up a new subsidiary, TrueDyne Sensors (in Switzerland) to exploit miniature measurement technologies, and microsystems. These are seen as opportunities to open up new applications and previously unknown markets – but the objective is still measurement technology.

The first product from TrueDyne is focused on the use of MEMS microsystems technology in miniature Coriolis sensors: it is called the Nanomass Density sensor. Only a few millimetres square, the sensor has a measurement tube that is only slightly thicker than a human hair, and it requires only a few cubic millimetres of liquid or gas to measure the density. Frank Steinhoff, MD of TrueDyne, says that E+H see this product as not only enhancing their existing process measurement portfolio, where it would primarily measure the density of a process gas or gas mixture: “We can penetrate new complementary target markets, such as the automotive industry, pump engineering or building technology. Our aim is to establish an additional business field in this area.”

New IoT sensors are launched regularly, to address new fields of business: and not all the suppliers are familiar names. In about six months, SA Instrumentation and Control will publish a special review feature describing more of these new intelligent sensors.

Nick Denbow spent 30 years as a UK-based process instrumentation marketing manager, and then changed sides – becoming a freelance editor and starting Processingtalk.com. Avoiding retirement, he published the INSIDER automation newsletter for five years, and then acted as their European correspondent. He is now a freelance Automation and Control reporter and newsletter publisher, with a blog on www.nickdenbow.com

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