Just 4 Steps to Your Own Sensor: An OEM Component Supplier Explains How

As machines, equipment, and devices gradually become more intelligent, efficient, and flexible, sensors continue to play a vital and growing role in their evolution. Sensors provide the critical data and feedback, for example, that allow robots to sense how far they have drilled into various materials.

According to Roland Berger, a corporate consulting firm, the worldwide demand for sensors with integrated measurement electronics alone will rise to 30 billion units by 2020… roughly twice as many as in 2015. And as the demand for digitized sensors continues to accelerate, so do the requirements they must meet.

"Today's sensors must always be matched individually to special applications. They must be easy to integrate into machines and systems while providing data precisely and reliably," observes Hermann Merz, the Focus Sales Manager for Weighing Technology and OEM Sensors at HBM. "Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) sensors, developed specifically for a given customer’s applications, make it possible to integrate sensors into existing systems, for example, without having to rebuild the system, or turn existing parts into active sensors.”

Four Steps to a Custom-Made Sensor

From agricultural equipment to medical devices, robotics to consumer goods, HBM sensors must address growing technical complexity. The development of those sensors must also proceed very rapidly.

The specialists at HBM – a worldwide market leader in measurement technology – streamline the development process through lean engineering. "Often our customers' sensors go into volume production after only half a year. We often work with customers on new products with a high potential for innovation, like electric bikes, so many of our projects begin with a non-disclosure agreement," emphasizes Merz.

"With our proven strain gauge (SG) technology, we can manufacture a rugged sensor from almost any component, such as a wheel bearing or support element." 

In fact, HBM needs only four steps to produce a new custom sensor design:

1. Design Phase

During the first weeks, HBM experts work with the customer to clarify the function of the sensor, and which components should be considered for measurements (for example, the axles of an agricultural machine to monitor the lateral position of the vehicle). The possibility of turning existing components into active sensors is also explored. "With a precise analysis of the application and FEA (Finite Element Analysis) completed, we can lay the groundwork for further development work," explains Merz.

2. Test Concept and Proposal

The following weeks see the creation of a test concept and proposal: a control drawing that shows how the requirements will be met, a cost estimate for manufacturing prototypes, and a target price for volume production. After receiving customer approval, HBM produces an initial prototype. "Rapid Prototyping offers our customers a functional test sensor in just a few weeks," says Merz. "Our timelines are accelerated even further because our development team in the USA already has nearly 20 years of experience with special sensor systems."

3. Prototype Testing

When prototypes are complete, the new OEM sensor design is installed in the customer's applications for testing. (HBM provides all test equipment and protocols if needed.) Generally, this involves evaluating and refining details, such as the position of connections or measurement electronics. At the same time, HBM experts use the test results to optimize the strain gauges.

"HBM is one of the few providers of OEM sensor systems that offers development and production of strain gauges, which are the basis for precise measurements,"

Merz points out.

"With our strain gauges tailor-made for the application and finely coordinated with it, we make sensors even more powerful and precise. Of course, we also draw on our experience in developing more than 1000 customer-specific strain gauges."

4. Series/Volume Production

With testing successfully concluded, the developed prototype OEM sensor can move seamlessly into series/volume production. Development and production are closely intermeshed at HBM. Transfers from engineering to production are performed accurately and effectively with global SAP, an experienced international logistics team, and best-in-class quality systems.

Interview with Hermann Merz

 

HBM offers sensors that are tailor-made to meet customer's requirements. Where are these OEM sensors used?

We have customers from many different industries, including medical device manufacturing, agricultural equipment, machine building, and vehicle construction machinery.  Each have very specific individual requirements. Just to give an example, our OEM sensors play a role in modern agricultural machines with respect to applications that make farming more efficient. The application of fertilizer or the spreading of seeds can be optimally adapted to soil conditions in the field. From hospital beds to CT scans, practically every medical device with a plug has a force, strain gage, load or pressure sensor monitoring mechanical influences. HBM sensors provide the information for this.

 

And what is the process for developing sensors?

We can make a high-performance sensor from almost any component, and we need only four steps to do it. We work out what the sensor must do and what components should be considered for it along with our customer. It could be the wheel suspension of a vehicle, for example, if the axle load is being monitored. Our development team works out a concept, creates a prototype, and tests it at the customer's site. If the prototype passes the tests, it goes into series/volume production.

 

How long does it take to put an OEM sensor into volume production?

Of course, this varies from project to project and also depends on the requirements. Often, we can go directly into volume production on a new sensor in just six months. Our focus is on keeping the development process smooth and effective through lean engineering, with development and production teams working collaboratively from the very beginning. After an initial engineering conference, we perform an FEA and complete a concept design. Once prototypes are approved, we can initiate a seamless integration into production. Such quick turnaround time makes us unique in the market.

End-to-end expertise for OEM sensor development

"At HBM, we have gathered 50 years’ experience in measurement technology under one roof.  This enables us to leverage the know-how to develop customer-specific sensors – from strain gauges to measurement electronics – to deliver complete systems with a high level of precision and reliability,” concludes Merz.

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