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5 Types of Sensors That Can be Used on Manufacturing Equipment

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The deployment of sensors across the manufacturing industry continues to see significant growth — fueled by an increased awareness of what they can do, combined with an ever-more accessible price point.

ATS machinery in a factory

Sensors used in the manufacturing industry monitor the performance of various processes and aspects of machine operation, collecting data to determine normal baseline levels of operation while also detecting even the most minuscule fluctuations in that performance. This data can then enable predictive maintenance — a more effective and efficient way to avoid downtime and keep equipment operational. The final piece of the sensor puzzle is real-time communication and connectivity, utilizing today’s high-speed networking capabilities, such as 4G (and soon, 5G) to help ensure data is being monitored and acted upon in real-time. In this piece, we will look at common types of sensors used in manufacturing and the functions they serve.

Types of Industrial Sensors

There are numerous types of manufacturing sensors and process controls, each designed to monitor and collect data about different processes, vectors and equipment performance metrics. Each of the types of sensors used in industrial automation serves a purpose. Not all sensors will be required for all applications — the implementation should be determined by the equipment in use as well as the objectives of the predictive maintenance strategy. These sensor types include the following:

Tri-axial accelerometer sensors

Tri-axial accelerometer sensors monitor vibration on rotating equipment and take measurements including velocity, acceleration and displacement. This data is useful to track the consistency of peaks and valleys in equipment vibration. If vibration occurs in a predictable way, it can be assumed that the equipment is operating as expected. If there are fluctuations or deviations from a consistent vibration readout, it will almost always mean that the equipment is not operating as intended and that further investigation (and maintenance) is warranted.

Because so many pieces of manufacturing equipment, across all industries, use rotating parts, vibration sensors are among the most common — and useful — types of sensors to enable reliable, effective predictive maintenance. These sensors — and the personnel who interpret and act upon the data they collect — are equipped to identify even the slightest vibration fluctuation, so that maintenance can be scheduled well before a catastrophic equipment failure or shutdown occurs.

Temperature sensors

Temperature is one of the most reliable indicators of the healthy performance of a piece of equipment. In general, a piece of equipment can be expected to operate at a consistent temperature, with cooling elements (such as coolant, airflow or water) in place, if necessary, to facilitate adherence to consistency. Thus, unexpected and uncontrolled temperature fluctuations or spikes are likely to mean that something is not operating at peak performance in a piece of equipment.

Here are just a few of the possible reasons:

  • Equipment wear, causing the equipment to require more power to achieve the same result
  • Loose or damaged components, leading to increased friction or inefficient operation
  • A failure of the cooling system, which can lead to dangerous overheating, equipment damage and production interruptions

Torque sensors

Torque sensors are also used with rotating equipment. When combined with vibration sensors, maintenance personnel can achieve unprecedented insight and actionable data to identify and address potential issues early, maximizing equipment uptime and nearly eliminating unplanned downtime. This is connected to the monitoring of motor function within machines, which is one of the most important applications of machine sensors. Motor condition monitors are vital for gauging the overall health of equipment and spotting the early warning signs of impending breakdowns. With these capabilities added to machinery, it becomes easier to diagnose issues before they have an opportunity to impact productivity.

In the industrial and maintenance landscape, these sensors can be used to track acceleration, tilt, gravity influence and adherence to a coordinate grid — all useful for monitoring the performance of moving equipment such as CNC components or robotic arms. Torque sensors monitor overload capacity, torque reaction and more — communicating data not only for analysis but also for alarms and fail-safes if a certain level is reached. In this way, torque sensors not only enable predictive maintenance, but also reduce or eliminate equipment damage — extending the service life of machinery.

While each type of sensor offers different benefits for different applications, the results of sensors and data monitoring are the same — a more proactive, accurate and effective approach to maintenance — eliminating unplanned downtime, improving production quality, increasing overall productivity, extending equipment life, and streamlining the entire maintenance practice for the organization.

Taken as a whole, these benefits are equipped to lower operating costs and improve the overall bottom line. ATS is ready to help you take advantage of this potential to maximize the impact. Go to our blog to read more topics related to Machine Health Monitoring. To get a demo of our sensor technology, contact us today.

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