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Energy Harvesting Switch

Company research and development teams are always looking at ways to push the technology envelop looking for new automation advances.
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Just got this notice from Festo (www.festo.com). This is the company that has unleashed its R&D team to do the flying bird robot among other things over the years. This look at energy harvesting can not only help reduce energy usage in many areas, but it may help in other industrial technologies, as well.

Whether coffee beans or grapes are involved, harvesting is a well-known agricultural process. However, harvesting is also possible in production systems – but the yield involves energy instead of fruit and vegetables. Energy harvesting is the designation used by the experts for converting energy available in the direct environment into electrical power which can be used on-site.

A simple, wireless light switch illustrates how this energy conversion principle works. Pressure applied to the switch by the human hand supplies the necessary ambient energy in this case. A miniature dynamo assures that the electrical current required for establishing radio contact between the switch and the lamp is obtained from this motion sequence. And thus the light switch functions as an energy converter.

Micro energy converters will have great significance for future production systems. They can take energy available from the environment from various sources – for example vibration, heat and light – convert it into usable electrical power and make it available to power consumers, for instance a wireless sensor. As part of the MIKOA project, Festo is currently researching concepts for mobile, energy self-sufficient components in automation engineering which communicate by means of wireless technology.

“Where we speak of vertical integration and networked production systems in the automation sector, we’ll also be talking about energy harvesting to an ever greater extent in the future. Energy harvesting opens up a new dimension of self-sufficient products, because supplying sensors with environmentally friendly, CO2-free, ambient energy promises to greatly reduce wiring expenses, and at the same time increase mobility. All in all, production will become more flexible as a result”, explains Dr. Otto Szenn, electronics instructor for the mechanical engineering department at the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences.

Energy self-sufficient solutions

Energy harvesting of a different magnitude is also found in the field of automation technology – for instance in the areas of water purification and wastewater treatment. Engineers at Festo are working on energy self-sufficient solutions for rainwater storage basins in proximity to wastewater treatment plants. Valves in rainwater storage basins located in areas without regular supply power are actuated by solar power and wind energy in an energy self-sufficient manner. This means that the operating companies are no longer dependent upon costly connection to public power supply lines. With the help of a GSM modem, the entire system can nevertheless be controlled and monitored from the remote control centre for the wastewater treatment plant.

Gary Mintchell has either worked in or covered manufacturing for his 30+ year career that included stints in product development, manufacturing engineering and IT-related projects. Having helped found Automation World in 2003, Gary retired from his day-to-day editor-in-chief duties in 2013. He continues to cover automation technology developments and related industry trends for Automation World. Contact Gary at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @garymintchell.
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