Sensors Expo Provides Cost-Saving Options

Manufacturers in search of more cost-effective industrial sensing solutions were presented with a variety of possibilities at the Sensors Expo & Conference, June 8-10, in Detroit.

Wireless mesh networking—one of the industry’s latest hot topics—was prominently represented on the show floor. Millennial Net Inc. (www.millennial.net), based in Cambridge, Mass., for example, rolled out new Sensor Network Management software and an Application Programming Interface designed to ease the installation and maintenance of its wireless mesh networks. Carlsbad, Calif.-based Helicomm Inc. (www.helicomm.com), meanwhile, demonstrated a prototype Wireless Image SensorNet platform that integrates low-cost CMOS image sensors from Agilent Technologies (www.agilent.com), Palo Alto, Calif., with Helicomm’s wireless mesh networking products based on the IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee wireless networking standards.

Industrial applications such as machine monitoring, automation sensing and control have been touted among the most promising markets for emerging wireless mesh networking technology. “One of the first places we focused on was industrial automation, where wiring costs run anywhere from $10 to $100 per linear foot,” said Robert Poor, chief technology officer at Ember Corp. (www.ember.com), a three-year-old Boston-based mesh networking products company that also exhibited at the Sensors show. “We knew we could replace that wire with a system that could meet the technical requirements for communication reliability, so there was a clear value proposition,” Poor noted. Mesh networks are considered well-suited for noisy industrial environments, because they are based on multipoint-to-multipoint topologies that can be “self-healing,” providing alternate communication paths if one part of the network fails.

But while the industrial automation community remains extremely interested in wireless mesh networks, manufacturers have so far been somewhat “conservative” in their adoption of the technology, and other market segments have grown more quickly, Poor said. He estimates that about 30 percent of Ember’s business currently comes from the building and home automation segment, compared to about 15 percent in industrial automation, with the remainder spread among a variety of other industry sectors.

Combi-sensors

While wireless networking may be one way to reduce costs, another approach involves industrial sensor products that combine the ability to measure more than one parameter on the same device. That was the approach taken with the FS300-100 Combi-sensor, one of several products introduced at the Sensors show by Honeywell Sensing and Control (www.honeywell.com/sensing), Freeport, Ill., a unit of Honeywell Control and Automation Solutions.

Developed at the request of European boiler manufacturers, the FS300-100 is designed as a single device that can measure both water pressure and inflow temperatures in boiler applications. As such, the unit will provide a lower cost solution than the use of two individual sensors, said Honeywell executives. And based on growing customer requirements, there are more dual-function sensors on the way, said Brad Kautzer, industrial business leader for Honeywell Sensing and Control. “This is something we’re hearing more and more about from all of our customers, due to their desire to reduce costs,” Kautzer noted. “So we’re actively looking at more combi-sensors.”

Dual-function sensors can be lower cost because they require less material and assembly than two individual sensors. The savings for end users can range typically from 30 percent to 40 percent, Kautzer estimated. Additional savings come in reduced installation and wiring costs, he noted.

Sensing and Control developed the FS300-100 by combining piezoresistive pressure sensor technology—long a Honeywell strength—with thermistor temperature sensing technology drawn from Elmwood and Fenwal—two companies that were part of Invensys Sensor Systems, which Honeywell acquired in 2002. That acquisition, in addition to last year’s acquisition of Sensotec Sensors, added key technologies and products to Honeywell’s already broad portfolio, said company executives. Honeywell Sensing and Control plans to introduce “hundreds” of new products during 2004, said Ron Sansom, president of the unit.

Wes Iversen

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