The Role of Sensors in the Industrial Internet of Things

For CO2Meter team, this was the 10th year at the Sensor + Test Expo in Nuremberg, Germany. As it was late June, the team had missed Spargelzeit (white asparagus season); however, the Herring had just arrived in Holland.

What is the connection between this and the Sensor + Test Expo?

As stated by the writer Henry Bromell, “It’s important to begin a search on a full stomach.”

The Sensor + Test show floor is pretty big but can be managed. Similar to all EU shows, it was clean and tidy with informative booths exhibiting both the top sensor manufacturers in the world as well as a number of European institutions with cooperative sensor research and engineering programs.

The theme for this year was the “Industrial Internet of Things.” The alternate theme was “A Radio for Every Sensor.” The objective, as it has been in the past few years in America, is to make everything communicate with everything else wirelessly. No surprises here.

However, a lot of the presentations on IOT were made from a European point of view. Rather than considering the Internet of things (IOT) as the headline, the focus of the presentations was on how interconnectedness can be cost-effective as well as advantageous.

It is not just enough to be a shiny new technology in order to sell a product in the EU. Their concern is privacy, and every new technology needs to answer the question, “Is it worth collecting the data?”

It should be remembered that privacy is not restricted to personal information in the EU. They understand the risk of hacked systems—to steal good data as well as insert bad data. Recently, when a series of cyber attacks was aimed at American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, they took it seriously.

Cooperation and Competition

In order to strengthen security in the IOT, a large number of competing hardware and protocol solutions were available at Sensor + Test Expo, for example, BT, WIFI, RFID, P2P, of several flavors, some proprietary, some open, and some new. The interesting thing to observe here is the surge in the companies both cooperating on standards and competing against other standards.

Noteworthy among them was KNX, a developing standard sponsored by Siemens/ABB for home automation. This simple, low-power protocol will compete with LRA (Long Range Radio) and enOcean as a standard. The only reason the KNX protocol has a chance of success is the power of the companies supporting it.

In the EU, it is common for sensor manufacturers to team up with government-funded projects or universities to develop new technologies. Undoubtedly, Fraunhofer Institute pioneers a number of sensor projects across a variety of technologies.

Furthermore, it was interesting to observe that sensor manufacturers are now teaming up with semiconductor manufacturers and systems integration experts to execute IOT.

Gas Sensors

Ray Hicks, the President of CO2Meter visited partners of the company and checked a range of innovative technology for expanding their offering of gas, temperature, pressure, humidity sensors, and instruments. Figaro, Alpha Sense, SenseAir, Amphenol, GSS, and SST all presented a range of gas sensors as well as pumps, filters, PCB hardware, and electronic components to execute their applications.

Alpha Sense possesses a new particle sensor in the range of 2.5–10 μm that is extremely accurate, and a new gas “stick” appliance with electrochemical sensors (resembles a relay wand) that is designed to be a low-cost data logger ideal for outdoor use.

Figaro has a development agreement with ST Micro Electronics for electrochemical and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensor signal processing including IAQ and CO. This provides Figaro with a path to a device that has IOT capability.

Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) has reduced the response time using cleaver integration and flow dynamics on the ExplorIR (formerly COZIR) 5% to 100% CO2 sensors. They manage the flow of gas more accurately and rapidly by using miniaturized electronics and decreasing the internal volume of the sensor.

Ashahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), a large Japanese conglomerate in the automotive and consumer products industries, has acquired SenseAir AB. AKM manufactures products such as noise reduction technology and electronic compasses for automobile manufacturers; hence although they are large, they are not well known. However, this works out well for new optical solid-state Sunrise sensor from SenseAir. CO2Meter will be testing these very soon.

Using a new sealed flow-through design, SST Sensing has minimized the implementation effort on their UV O2 sensors. This design should avoid any leakage in sealed gas measurement systems.

Telaire Amphenol Sensors exhibited their optimized 3000 series sensors with expanded temperature and environmental range that can withstand harsh environments such as the trucking and transport industry.

One of the future supplier’s Wuhan Cubic has included CO2Meter’s exclusive GasLab power management to their low concentration hydrocarbon sensors. Cubic provides high-concentration sensors with low cross-sensitivity. If testing goes as expected, expect to see them on the website in the near future.

Interesting New Technologies

SenseAir and Micro-Hybrid have together developed Nova IR, a midwave IR source with adequate energy to measure gases such as nitrous oxide and ammonia in the parts-per-million range.

While it has still not hit the market, WiTec Raman Imaging in Germany showed an interesting UV absorption sensor for measuring low concentration of VOCs. These measurements have usually relied on expensive Photo Ionization Detectors (PID) glass tubes with noble gases at high voltage. By using LED NDIR technology instead of PIDs, this lends itself to making inexpensive VOC detectors with high selectivity at an affordable cost.

Fraunhofer Institute exhibited some interesting research on the enhancement of colorimetric measurement of gases.

Final Thoughts

Besides the EU, US, and Asian companies, several new Asian and Indian manufacturers in all areas of sensors and component elements for development were present at Sensor + Test. The Indian companies are the recognizable “new kids on the block,” although their expertise appeared to be centered on current temperature and pressure sensors.

As Ray Hicks watched the show, he thought about the timeline of sensing technology altogether. It started in the 1800s when initially German and English scientists led the field, followed by the French, the Americans, the Japanese, and later the Koreans and Chinese. Will the Indians be next? Only time will tell.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by CO2Meter.

For more information on this source, please visit CO2Meter.

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