Sensors: The Next Generation

Sept. 12, 2013
A new generation of sensors is currently taking the world by storm.

A special feature of the new products is their intelligence, meaning that simple sensor functionality is being enhanced with additional internal data processing.

The last few months saw the release of some interesting electro-optical sensors in Germany, like ifm’s opto sensors with ToF technology (, Pepperl+Fuchs’s Multi Pixel Technology (MPT) ( or Baumer’s NexGen series ( Other sensor manufacturers also are starting to embark on new ways off the beaten path. For example, at last year’s SPS IPC Drives exhibition, Sick presented new fields of application for production sensors, via the integration of IO-Link.

One thing many of those new products have in common is the decentralization of intelligent functionalities into the sensor, be it a communicative form of integration via something like IO-Link, or through internal data processing. This marks a clear departure from the concept of “smaller, cheaper, more precise,” which has been goal of sensor makers for the past few years.

The advantage of intelligent sensors compared to vision sensors (which in the end are themselves ‘only’ highly intelligent optical sensors) is the absence of the machine vision component. This helps make the operability of the new products considerably less complicated, and reduces the engineering expense for both users and manufacturers, saving both parties money and time.

Given this, the new class of intelligent sensors should be reaching higher lot sizes much faster than vision sensors did. This new class of sensors doesn’t have a name yet, and there is also still a small problem: many users still look at the price first, searching for ways to reduce expenditure on short notice.

Such savings are even part of the figures sales people are expected to reach today, even though it’s a lot more sensible to evaluate products for their use and not for their price. The total cost of ownership is what should be key: not the initial cost, but the sum that can be saved with the product in the medium term.

This calls for a change in thinking—even though discussions on things like energy efficiency have already shown that this tends to take a while. In the end, what users need to warrant any rethinking are products with tangible additional value.

Peter Ebert, is the Editor for Sensors, Industrial Vision and Measurement for SPS-Magazin,

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