Transducers and the Internet of Things

Since its earliest days, the internet has connected people to other people.

However, an emerging part of the internet doesn’t connect people to other people; it connects people to things. For instance, barcodes and scanners connect packages to the internet so they can be tracked until they reach their destination. In industry, internet-connected equipment allows companies to have more control and insight over their production processes.

As this so-called Internet of Things (IoT) grows, it is going to become more and more dependent on transducers, which sense information that can then be uploaded to the internet.

The Two Kinds of Transducers

At its most basic, a transducer is a device that converts one type of energy into another. There are two kinds of transducers; sensors and actuators.

  • Sensors detect energy forms, such as light or force, and convert that energy into digital information that can be output.
  • Actuators also receive an input and release an output; however, they do it in the opposite way that a sensor functions. An actuator is a transducer that takes in information and outputs some form of physical energy. For example, your smartphone can vibrate in your pocket through the use of actuators.

Sensors are transducers changing a physical impact into an output signal. This may be a thermocouple giving out a measurable change in voltage if heated up or down. Charge occurs if a force is introduced into a piezoelectric force washer.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Tranducers are enabling industry to leverage big data, analytics and machine learning technologies in various processes. Specifically, transducers can detect signs of performance and machine degradation, increasing the efficiency and mitigation of breakdowns.

Using Big Data techniques and transducer technology, companies can spot previously-hidden factors across the entire production cycle. This results in breaking down barriers between engineering, manufacturing and support departments.

The Industrial Internet of Things is still in its infancy, so there are still many opportunities for companies to realize a first-mover advantage. This cresting wave of disruption will likely create all-new groups of leaders and followers.

The Role of Transducers in the IIOT

While analytics and other Big Data technologies might be the ‘brains’ of the IIOT, transducer systems are the nervous system; continuously gathering information and streaming data to processing centres. Industrial internet systems depend on sensors for continuous, accurate information to measure pressure, temperature, volume, orientation and other parameters.

A lot of attention has been given to the roles of automation and machine learning in future industrial technology. However, software advancements will only provide limited capabilities without cutting-edge sensor technology.

Consider the following examples of industrial transducer technology:

  • Temperature - There are several kinds of sensors used to measure temperature. The two primary kinds are Contact type and Non-contact type. These categories are divided into mechanical temperature sensors, Electrical temperature sensors, Thermocouples, Resistance thermometers and Silicon band gap sensors. These sensors are used for the maintaining of temperature-sensitive systems.
  • Force – Strain gauge technology allows measuring force precisely and fast. Therefore strain gauges measure the deformation of objects and change the mechanical impact into a change of electrical resistance
  • Torque – Similar to force strain gauges allow also the measurement of torque. Many torque meter measure rotating speed simultaneous  so that mechanical power can be calculated