Sensor technologies enhance factory operations

According to Technical Insights, a new simulation engine that remotely controls factory processes in real time using data from sensors is likely to be the next big innovation in assembly line management.

According to Technical Insights, a new-age simulation engine that remotely controls factory processes in real time using data from sensors is likely to be the next big thing in assembly line operation management.

The engine’s visualisation tool is said to help cut out interferences from human errors, inadequate materials, or logistic planning gone awry by virtually representing the manufacturing facility for itemised monitoring.

According to Technical Insights, the sensors read the changes on the factory floor and convert it into data for a configuration event analyser that converts it into 3-D animation events.

For the system to be fully effective, discrepancies in the visualisers’ predictions and the data relayed by the engine will have to be resolved. Interaction techniques are vital because the modifications made on the simulated model will be carried out on the actual factory floor.

‘Scientists are working on new techniques that will display confirmed, predicted, and corrected states in a single cyber model,’ said Technical Insights Analyst Anand Subramanian.

In Europe, a new class of sensors called contactless capacitive angular-position sensors with accuracy of up to 0.03 degrees variation over a full-circle range has given industrial precision applications a boost. These sensors can detect angular positions for any application and measure linear positions by combining linear movement and angular sensing.

With capacitive sensors using superior dielectric rotors, researchers are said to be considering them as an alternative to the more prevalent optical encoders in select applications. The easy design of the electronic interface also permits uncomplicated production, as it can be assembled using off-the-shelf components.

While difficult angles are being taken care of, scientists in France are developing systems for accurate measurement of flat surfaces’ dimensions. The success of optical techniques such as holographic interferometry and shearography is limited to small objects. For larger ones, a relatively inexpensive 3D, non-contact system with uniformly high resolution is being created.

The sensor system operates on a customised, motorised gantry, where every axis is controlled using a separate cable. The optics comprises a laser diode with anamorphic beam-conditioning optics and a charge-coupled device chip to capture the beams.

However, this protracted setup enables only isolated measurements. A fringe projection-based all-optical configuration that can profile objects of any size is in development.

High-resolution fibre optic sensors are also being used as displacement sensors for sub-micron measurement, especially as touch probes inside grooves. Since traditional shank-based systems involve pretravel that can increase unreliability, scientists in Japan are considering using fibre optic sensors for its greater thermal stability, resolution, and ‘directionality’.

‘The system, consisting of three displacement sensors and a tip ball that is the only source of mass, provides faster measurements because of its higher frequency,’ added Subramanian.

Apart from use in co-ordinate measuring machines for dimensional metrology, 3D control, and manufacturing processes, the system finds application in profile and orientation measurement and depth mapping.

These advances in sensor technology are, according to Technical Insights, expected to supplement developments in micro-fabrication techniques and factory processes, creating more accurate and reliable operations and devices.

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