Sensors for Smart Assembly Lines
Ray Floyd posted on December 15, 2014 |
Library of sensors for everything from infrared to humidity and capacitance.

Texas Instruments has sponsored the following story

Manufacturing has certainly progressed from the day of Henry Ford’s mass production techniques.

That said, there is still room for rapid innovation when it comes to mass production lines. To drive this modernization, sensors and computer control as to replace physical switches that were prone to sticking contacts or contact bounces. New ‘smart switches’ will control production without human interaction by sampling the environment. In this post we’ll outline Texas Instruments’ (TI’s) family of sensor products.

Capabilities of TI’s Sensor Products
TI’s FDC1004 capacitance-to-digital converter can be used for capacitive sensing. This gives the FDC1004 a variety of applications such as proximity sensing, door status (open, closed, or auto-opening), liquid level sensing, and more. Such a variety of manufacturing applications from just one device/IC illustrates the flexibility of modern sensing technology.

However, there are other environmental factors that concern the production engineer wishing to automate a production line. Some common environmental factors that could control the production line include object temperatures (ex. infrared sensing TMP007), visible light levels (ex. OPT3001), and ambient humidity/temperature (ex. HDC1000). To cover the vast variety of environmental factors that could possibly need sampling, TI offers over 300 analog and digital sensor products such as:
  • Bio-sensing
  • Chemistry/Composition
  • Current/power
  • Air quality
  • Gas sensing
  • Hall Effect
  • Optical
  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Ultrasonic

In many cases, engineers will need the flexibility to connecting the sensor to a programmable device. In this case, TI’s BoosterPacks family can connect sensors to a Tiva C Series TM4C123G LaunchPad.

There are a variety of booster packs that can sense various environmental factors. The Sensor Hub BoosterPack, for instance, contains seven sensors for motion tracking, pressure, humidity, temperature, visible and infrared light. However, if you can’t find a BoosterPack to suit your needs you can also build your own.

Automatic Line Reconfigurations using Sensors
One challenge with the modern assembly lines is transferring from of one model configuration to the next. These changes can frequently require a line shutdown to accommodate the new requirements.

With new sensor technology, however, a signal sent to programmable logic controllers (PLCs), software, and microprocessors can trigger automatic reconfiguration processes. This will reduce system downtime and increase safety by eliminating the need for human interaction.

With the advent of modern manufacturing processes, more requirements are being placed on the importance of removing the human operation from the process. To meet this trend, electronics companies like TI continue to advance sensor and control technology.

In many lines, the actual implementation will be a mixture of microprocessors, PLCs, concentrators, and a host central computer. In either case, the control systems can contain software to easily reconfigure the production line to allow for model changes or line modifications based on sensor results. This control software can also be updated and modified as the product changes.

Connecting Sensors to the Production Line
Another problem addressed by modern sensor technology is in the implementation of wireless network communications.

The ability to communicate via WiFi, Bluetooth, or other RF frequency removes, or reduces, the need for physical wiring. With fewer wires, costs and hazards will decrease. TI offers a variety of options for wireless communication among sensors including their aforementioned Sensor Hub BoosterPack.

TI also provides manufacturing engineers with standard operating interfaces for communication to wired and wireless control systems. These control systems might range from a central computer, local microprocessor, or a PLC.

Additionally, there is growing popularity for the systems to interface with Cloud computing technology. In this case, production information may be gathered, processed, and controlled over the web. The Cloud can then serve as a backup to control the PLC lines if the host computer is down for some period of time.

With the development of advanced technologies such as robots and robot applications, the need for new, more adaptive sensor technology will be required. As production lines continue to increase in terms of flexibility, network connections, remote operations, and computer control; human-machine interaction will be reduced. These trends will all push for new and more adaptive sensor technology. In short, there is a bright forecast for TI’s sensor technology developers.

Texas Instruments has sponsored promotion of their industrial sensors on They have no editorial input to this post - all opinions are mine. Ray Floyd



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