Editorial Feature

The Types of Sensors Used in Industrial Automation

Article Updated on 25 November 2020

Industry 4.0 - buffaloboy / Shutterstock

buffaloboy / Shutterstock

As industry, and society in general, moves towards the next industrial revolution - Industry 4.0 - we are moving towards an age of industrial automation. This automation will manifest itself in many different processes within industry, to not only monitor processes better and improve efficiencies, but also to predict when an issue may occur.

Industrial automation is only possible due to advances in big data analysis methods, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and the Internet of Things (IoT), as these advanced data manipulation methods enable large data sets to be analyzed and predicted to a much greater degree than ever before. The ability to analyze data and detect trends and anomalies against historical data is why industrial processes can now be automated with high accuracy and precision.

Before these advanced algorithms can do their thing, data must be collected. Sensors provide a way to capture and measure the local environment in the form of data points. There are various different sensors used in the automation of industrial processes, ensuring that the various points along the manufacturing line are running smoothly and will continue to do so in the future (and predicting potential downtime if not).

The sensors mentioned here exist as part of the average manufacturing line. If the production plant in question produces more complex materials, such as a chemical plant, then more sensors will be required, such as those which measure complex fluid flows, the presence of certain chemicals and their risks, and material/chemical exposure to the occupational environment. Of course, many more sensors are used around the whole plant, as they can be used to detail and analyze almost every aspect of an industrial plant.

Temperature and Humidity Sensors

Temperature and humidity sensors are often coupled together as high temperature in the presence of water can cause water molecules to vaporize, increasing humidity. Temperature sensors are used in manufacturing lines to measure the temperature of machinery and equipment as a safeguard against overheating and breaking downs, as well as to check the temperature of products along the line (if required).

For the most part, they are used to ensure that no breakdowns occur along the line, especially in manufacturing processes that utilize heat to create products. Similarly, the water present in high humidity environments can damage the electronics in the manufacturing line, so it must be monitored as well.

Depending on the specific medium and environment being sensed, there are a number of different temperature sensors, with the most common being thermocouples, thermistors, resistant temperature detectors (RTDs), infrared sensors and thermometers. The data algorithms in automated processes can detect if there is any overheating occurring and take appropriate action to stop the overheating without human intervention (although warnings can be sent to the personnel).

Pressure Sensors

Pressure sensors are used in manufacturing environments where high pressures are required to create a product. The generation of high pressures can be dangerous, so the levels must be measured to ensure the manufacturing process remains safe. The data from these sensors can be analyzed via the data software to detect when the pressure is reaching dangerous levels. The process can then be stopped or modified accordingly, and personnel can be notified about the automated response.

Turned parts and vacuum sensors are the most commonly used sensors. As well as detecting high pressures, they can also be used to detect if the pressure drops below the atmospheric pressure level at any location within the plant and measure other parameters that are important in the manufacturing of products, such as fluid and gas flows, speed and water levels.

All of these data points can be used to ensure that these parameters in the manufacturing process (if they are applicable) are optimal, and in these certain cases the automated systems can tweak the parameters to ensure that the efficiency and output are as high as possible (this is often in conjunction with other sensors that detect the various manufacturing operational parameters).

Torque Sensors

Torque sensors are used in different pieces of machinery along a manufacturing line to offer extra protection when the machinery is taking a load, and can be used in many cases to raise the overload capacity of a piece of machinery as the levels at which equipment fails can be better determined. They do this by measuring the speed of rotation (and highest potential speed of rotation), mass and mass moment of inertia, which are used to determine the torque.

Automated processes can take all this data to provide the most optimal loads for each piece of machinery, as well as determine when maintenance is required or downtime is imminent. The two most common torque sensors are rotating torque sensors and torque transducers.


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Liam Critchley

Written by

Liam Critchley

Liam Critchley is a writer and journalist who specializes in Chemistry and Nanotechnology, with a MChem in Chemistry and Nanotechnology and M.Sc. Research in Chemical Engineering.


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