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4 Types of Sensors in Manufacturing, Explained

We’re in the business of gathering and contextualizing data from machines of all types to help manufacturers get visibility on the floor, yet we consistently run into the same issue over and over again – manufacturers are wary to implement manufacturing analytics because they think it will take too much time, cost too much money, or will require the replacement of their legacy equipment. We’re here to tell you, that is definitely not the case.

There are simple, cost-effective solutions that can be added directly to equipment to gather data – sensors. There are many types of sensors manufacturing uses most often and all serve a specific purpose to the industry.

In this blog, we’ll explain the 4 sensors manufacturing uses most and we’ve found to be most effective for our customers:

  • All in One Sensor Banner Engineering Photo Eye
  • Discrete Node, Push Button All Contained
  • Temperature and Vibration Sensor
  • Current Power Temperature and Vibration Sensor

Transform Your Factory Floor One Sensor at a Time

In the past, people thought they would have to get new equipment to implement smart manufacturing technology, but today, it’s incredibly easy to do with existing machines. In fact, we encourage manufacturers to attach sensors to their legacy equipment because it’s often simpler and easier to implement.

People that live in the manufacturing world know there is a way to easily collect data on older equipment. We’re here to expand on that thinking and explain the simple solution to get the data you want and need – sensors manufacturing needs. There is no need to replace or upgrade machines.

However, there are many types of sensors that this blog serves to explain.

Sensor vs. PLC

But, first, you may be wondering why we didn’t mention PLCs as an option. On the contrary, PLCs are a great way to collect data from equipment, but, they are often more difficult to pull data from. If a manufacturer wants to collect a single data point or a few, sensors are the better option.

So, if you ask us, “Would you recommend sensors or PLCs to gather data from?“, our answer would be a bit complicated because every manufacturer is different. However, sensors are going to be a more simplistic choice. Keep reading to find out why.

Often, PLCs and controllers on the floor won’t give you the information that’s needed, or frankly, useful. In machine tools, it can be very hard to figure out when a part is complete with just the use of a PLC. You’ll see a part is complete but won’t know if and why a downtime happened, for example.

We also have to ask the question, “Does it make sense to go through a considerable amount of effort to talk to a PLC if it can’t provide what is needed?” Manufacturers also have to consider if a PLC will have to be reversed engineered to access the programs installed. Even if the programs are reverse engineered, access is not necessarily guaranteed because the vendor that provided that PLC may not be cooperative. All of these steps take a considerable amount of time and trial and error to accomplish.

Comparatively, you know exactly what you’re getting when you add a sensor to a machine, easily.

These days, we’ve found that most people are starting the manufacturing analytics journey by attaching sensor(s) to existing equipment and creating a plan to expand on in the future once the select data sets provided by sensors are exhausted. Typically, this means either expanding the solution to every machine in the plant or moving to connect to PLCs and controllers, if that option is possible, for a much more detailed insights project.

The benefit to this future plan is that manufacturing analytics has long proven its worth and ROI and can now be expanded on, with more effort.

But, we digress. This is a blog to educate you, the reader, on the different types of sensors and their use so let’s keep going.

Learn how to implement IIoT and collect real-time data with sensors.

Is One Type of Sensor Better Than Another?

In reality, there is not one particular sensor that provides more benefit to a manufacturer than another. There are many different ways to connect to equipment, but each manufacturer will need a different plan of action.

Of course, we know how to connect to any type of machine, but there is no one size fits all solution for industrial automation. 

Take the different types of equipment and combinations of data for instance. The data people need, the goals people have, the equipment they need to gather from, every solution is a bit custom in terms of connectivity and what data Mingo is going to collect.

Sensors Used on the Factory Floor

Of course, sensors are generally cheaper and easier because they take a lot less time to install and run. A wireless sensor or overlay solution attached to an existing machine is incredibly cost-effective because it uses a common set of technology and starts small by collecting a limited set of data points. This strategy allows the manufacturer to get better results faster and get quick wins, taking less time overall to provide insights into the floor and prove ROI.

The next portion of this blog will serve as a guide to the different types of sensors, with examples of how each is used.

Banner Engineering Photoelectric (Photo-Eye) Sensor

Photoelectric (Photo-Eye) Sensor

This particular sensor is great for a number of scenarios because it’s an all-in-one sensor; we use it for many of our customers. If a part comes down a chute, a part is created inside the machine, a press goes up and down, or a product moves down a conveyer belt, this sensor track those movements with sensing modes. In all three cases, the photo-eye is counting each movement, whatever that movement may be.

Think about a bottling or packaging line – a bottle is moving down a line, getting a label attached or packages of cereal are being placed in a box to be shipped out to a customer. Or, take for instance a grinder that finishes a bearing housing and shoots it down a chute, the sensor would count each product as it goes down the chute.

Discrete Node, Push Button All Contained

Discrete Node, Push Button All Contained

This is a very simple sensor. This sensor is also all-in-one, battery-powered, quick to deploy, easy to install, requires only or two outputs needed from a machine, and really great for counting things.

This particular sensor is commonly used in injection molding machines to tell when the product is finished or in presses when it moves up or down.

The best, and most simplistic part of these sensors that makes them very useful on the floor, are the buttons. There’s always a red and green button, and sometimes a yellow. The green is if a good part was produced, the red if a bad product was made or an operator is going to lunch. If there aren’t any bad parts made, it’s really easy in the assembly line to hit the green button repeatedly, each time a product is made.

The idea is to make the data collection process more simplistic without requiring operators to use computers or tablets. All that is needed is the push of a button, without the added complexity of a paper report that doesn’t provide automatic data collection and contextualization.

The photo-eye and node are similar, but whether you use one or the other will depend on the particular data you want to collect.

Temperature and Vibration Sensor

Vibration and Temperature Sensor

Again, this sensor is all-in-one and battery-operated. It’s particularly good for monitoring the health of a motor in a machine. The temperature and vibration can help manufacturers determine the normal running patterns of a machine and figure out its baseline. Once that data is available, it will be easy to see if there’s a problem because the trends are unlike those of the baseline.

Current Vibration and Temperature Sensor

Current Power Temperature and Vibration Sensor

This sensor is very similar to that of the one above and all-in-one, but with current added, you’ll be able to determine how much power is needed to power the motor, and using that data, determine when there is a trend indicating a problem.

Wireless I/O Data Radios

Wireless IO Data Radio

This device gives manufacturers the ability to connect to any type of sensor that already exists on a machine. Also called a ‘Swiss Army Knife Node’, the sensor can pick up data from the machine’s built-in sensors and relay it to software like Mingo.

This sensor is universal; there are many examples of its uses. Get part counts, track machine cycle times, count the number of times a press went up and down, check if a product is underweight, overweight, or on track, count the rejects and good products based on the weight data. If there’s a fault because someone opens the cage to the robotic cell, you’ll be able to detect the opening. The same applies to any stops.

Real-Time Data: Application of Sensors in Manufacturing

All of the industrial machine sensors above are self-contained and don’t need anything besides a gateway to work. Sensors provide endless solutions for manufacturers.

If you’re just beginning your manufacturing analytics journey, the first step in determining the type of sensor to be used is by determining the data you want to be collected, and based on that goal, select the sensor that will accomplish that goal. Then, connect the sensor to the machine, and you’ll be well on your way to getting visibility into the floor. It’s as simple as that.

The ones listed in this guide are the ones we use most often for customers and there are many more out there, but we have found those listed to be the most effective for our solution. If you have questions about sensors, data collection, or how to use a solution like ours, we’d be happy to chat and answer those.

In the meantime, know that automated data collection is an option for every single manufacturer – there’s a solution that will work for your needs.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.