The Intelligent Factory

The question is not “if” manufacturers will embrace wireless sensor networks, but when. Nostradamus does not need to predict the future for this technology. The number of sensors in the market has exploded and will continue to grow. More data is felt today than ever before with smart devices in the home, in the car, and around the factory.

To visualize the future of wireless sensor networks, we need look no further than a new car. If you have been buying a new car over the last five years, you are well aware that every component in the car is monitored by sensors. Tire pressure, oil, airbags, brake pads and location are just a few of the hundreds of components monitored in your car that provide intelligence. That’s why we don’t see as many cars breaking down on the side of the road as we used to. Warnings were given well in advance that there was something to watch out for. New cars today have hundreds of sensors. Cars are safer, they use less fuel, and the new car feeling lasts a little longer.

Manufacturing will follow the same paradigm. As with cars, every aspect of factory operations will be monitored. Real-time data about factory operation will work like a new car. Be warned that equipment begins to show ware before it breaks down unexpectedly preventing unplanned downtime and extraneous energy use. The result of this warning is safer and up-to-date plants that will not be left by the roadside.

Smart sensors make smart factories. Using condition and process monitoring in factories is nothing new, but data availability has never been easier. Wireless systems provide data that is not only real-time, but may not be possible before. Remote locations or hazardous environments will no longer create data black holes; moving assets can be tracked and coordinated easily, so fleets can be managed. Using wireless sensors, a window into a world of information is opened that did not exist before. Cable-free enables robust, fast, and flexible data systems to enhance nearly every process imaginable in environments where precision is critical.

The bottom line is that wireless sensors will be everywhere in the factory. The data they provide is too valuable. Sensor sizes have shrunk, processors deliver more power, and costs continue to fall. The benefits of sensor technology far outweigh the costs. We use a new car as an example of a key indicator of where sensor automation is headed. Most of us have seen and felt its value. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the same mechanical and environmental conditions that are monitored in a factory. Wireless sensor networks are the next thing that drives “The Intelligent Factory”.