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Smart Sensors Are About to Transform the Industrial Sector

Feb. 10, 2015

The trouble with industry sensors until fairly recently is they didn't provide much information beyond whether something was working or it wasn't. The Industrial Internet of Things is about to change with an explosion of smart sensors.

For industry, having sensors isn't really anything new. There have been sensors on devices for years. The trouble with them until fairly recently is they didn't provide much information beyond whether something was working or it wasn't. That's about to change with an explosion of smart sensors – and with it we will usher in the age of industrial big data – the age of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Brian Palmer, president of GE Measurement and Control who has been part of the industrial sensor space for over 30 years, says these sensors have been constantly evolving, and have been getting smaller, less expensive and more intelligent.

"Everything's smaller and faster. The ability to get data and make decisions and do analysis within firmware is an order of magnitude better [now]," Palmer explained.

This change has allowed companies to instrument industrial machines, and that means all of the parameters that can be calculated or extrapolated can now actually be measured.

What this allows in practical terms is that you can begin to use this data to measure when a piece of equipment will fail before it fails. You could push a piece of equipment to the brink of failure, getting the very most out of it that you can, because you will have a body of data that will help you predict how long parts should last with increasing accuracy.

Instead of taking a piece of equipment offline after a certain number of months or uses, you will be able to pinpoint failures and maximize use of that equipment. It has the potential to take failure out of the realm of guesswork and put it squarely in the realm of data science.

And that's what happens when you combine high tech instrumentation and marry it to Big Data. It gives you tons and tons of information. That Big Data can surely be a double-edged sword, because you have to find ways to process it and understand it, but more information can lead to greater precision, and the more precise you are, the more money you can save.

As GE's Palmer said, the data and instrumentation combination gives managers the ability to balance demand with part failure. When there is high demand, you might be willing to take the faster part failure to speed up production.

Pam Baker, author of the book, Data Divninations: Big Data Strategies, says Big Data and IoT can be a powerful combination.

"As to big data specifically, manufacturers can use IoT data from industrial machinery to gauge everything from their competitive performance to using it in real-time to manage production and develop or tweak their overall competitive strategy and response to the market. It's all about knowing where you stand at this particular moment and the near future too – and being able to rapidly respond accordingly."

Any time we are experiencing a transition of this sort, there tends to be high level of uncertainty. There will surely be a lot of vendor jockeying going on, while companies will be caught in-between putting modern instrumentation on some equipment, while opting for the older sensors for others.

This blog will attempt to make sense of this changing landscape and bring some clarity to this changing world. In the coming months we will be discussing a range of subjects related to Industrial Internet of Things, Big Data and what it means to industry.

We hope you'll come along for the ride and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. 

Ready or not, here we go.

Ron Miller
is a freelance technology journalist, blogger, enterprise reporter at TechCrunch and Contributing Editor at EContent Magazine. He has been writing about technology since 1988 when he began working as a technical writer. Past gigs include FierceContentManagement, CITEworld, Computerworld, TechTarget and many others. He co-founded socmedianews.com (originally socmedia101.com) in 2009 and contributes regularly to its content. You can learn more by visiting his blog, by Ron Miller at http://byronmiller.typepad.com.

Photo Credit: Xenja Santarelli on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.