The industrial world is heading into its ‘fourth revolution’ with the paradigm shifting towards machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, and sensing technology is increasingly key to facilitating automated, lower cost production.
The traditional automation pyramid, say experts, is breaking down. Data is no longer just passing from the field level up through other levels to the control level, to be gradually aggregated. Instead, data is available on all levels and can pass directly to a public or private cloud, so participants within a network can now exchange data with each other using Internet technologies.
Gerry Bryant, managing director of Countapulse Controls, says that significantly, this networking will not be simply between machines in a plant or factory, but will also be between these machines and all sorts of sensing and monitoring devices and systems. The company is a leading supplier of sensing solutions.
“The impetus behind this trend comes mainly from the increased automation of processing steps in industrial facilities, which is allowing production to become more and more complex. As manufacturing enterprises become increasingly automated, they need tighter control over processes and equipment to ensure high quality, low cost output and minimum waste,” he explains.
In mankind’s first industrial revolution, mechanisation was the prime mover – applying steam engines to functions previously conducted in small workshops, and leading to the evolution of large-scale factories. The movement to mass production techniques and machinery in the early 20th century ushered in the second industrial revolution – an era consumed by the commitment to productivity.
He says that increased use of micro-electronics and computers coupled with CNC control systems marked the advent of automation in industry – our third revolution – and this automation allowed high quality due to the finer tolerances achievable in the production process.
“Our fourth industrial revolution is now driven by the incorporation of digital technology in all equipment and machinery as well as in ancillary devices in all production environments,” says Bryant. A pioneer on this road into the future is global sensor company Leuze, which was recently instrumental in the design of the commercially attractive interface: IO-Link.
This interface allows simple sensors to exchange process and configuration data with the control system, and is another step towards achieving the full benefits of the fourth revolution – when process, configuration and diagnostic data is available not just in the control system but all the way up to the cloud.
Sensors are likely to be vital in improving productivity in all manufacturing sectors and will grow as a key component in all smart manufacturing facilities. Sensing technology is increasingly key to facilitating automated, lower cost production.
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