IoT: From sensors to actuators

Do you want to connect sensors and actuators with top-level business logic? Without a compass or navigation aid, this can be a hard undertaking. It’s not impossible, but the results would be unstructured and uncertain. Networking and the associated possibilities for retaining a clear overview and concentrating on what’s important are increasingly significant here.

The complexity and the volatility of our environment are increasing – both for industrial facilities and in the public arena.

We’d like to give you a tip: Use our expertise at the different levels of the stack. With you, we’ll formulate a concept that covers the recording of the data collected by the sensor and the control of the actuators. We place a special value on the selection of the best technology for you, in order to create maximum added value.

Reap the benefits of "smart" products.

The world around us is changing rapidly. The possibilities for measurement, communication, and process interaction with the environment are enormous. In particular, the bridge between the digital world and the physical world is increasingly easy to cross. At the same time, the requirements of our customers are increasing:

  • Would you like to have a printer that orders paper and ink all on its own?
  • Why is the garbage can emptied even if it’s only 30% full?
  • Can’t a machine “realize” in advance that it’s about to suffer a breakdown?

You’ll surely agree that these days, technical feasibility is often not the issue. So why delay? In the past, the cost of many “convenience” services was simply too high. But things have changed somewhat over the last few years. Integrating sensors into applications has become more inexpensive. This means that as well as it being easier to monitor a system, the degree of automation is increasing through the use of the associated actuators.

Now, it’s a case of developing ideas, promoting ideas, and sorting ideas. How can you or your customers benefit from “smart” products. Design thinking is a method that we love to use in order to channel creativity. On our page about prototyping, you can find out more about processes and procedures for prototype development.

A detailed overview of sensors

A brief excursion into a subset of sensor technology might help you to find some good ideas. Let’s take a look at different types of sensors and some typical examples:

Industrial sensors used for IoT and Industry 4.0.
Source: Own representation

Mechanical and thermal movements, deformations, and temperature fluctuations change the temperature resistance, which brings about a change in the analog output signal.

  • Touch switch

Reacts to a change in the electrical capacity, e.g. due to the convergence of two plates.

  • Capacitive switch
  • Humidity sensor
  • Inertial sensor technology
  • Proximity switch

Reacts to an inductance change. This sensor is used for ferromagnetic parts.

  • Metal detection
  • Machine limit switch

This sensor signals changes to the magnetic field surrounding it.

  • Position sensor for projectiles using Hall sensor
  • MRT
  • Change of resistance in conductors

The properties of photoelectric components change as a result of exposure to light. Optoelectronic sensors can also be read by analog means.

  • Brightness sensor
  • Optical recording
  • Incremental encoder (e.g. rev counter)
  • Distance measurement

Reacts to a change in the load on a piezo crystal.

  • Pressure sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • Frequency sensor (e.g. microphone for sound recording)

Electrochemical properties of materials and diaphragm pressure differences are used to record changes to chemical properties.

  • Lambda probe
  • pH electrode for measuring pH value
  • Gas analysis
  • CO sensor for carbon monoxide alarm, for example

Temperature recording takes place via the measurement of thermal radiation or a resistance change in an electrical resistor.

  • Laser thermometer
  • Temperature probe

Connection of sensors and micro-controllers

The integration of sensor technology of this kind can take place in different ways:

An analog sensor signal must be digitalized for onward transmission. To enable this, the signal can be translated into a binary signal or, via an analog-to-digital converter, into a proportional value.

The selection of the correct micro-controller plays an important part here in order to prevent reducing the informational content of the sensor values.

A digital signal can be transmitted via a large number of different interfaces. In addition, the capability of using the offered sensor interface must be borne in mind here.

Through the selection of a digital interface, one can scale a system, since multiple sensors can be connected and controlled via the same interface.

Example interfaces are I2C, UART, USART, and CANBUS.

Micro-controllers – processing and integration

In order to integrate sensors into your IoT network, you require a network interface. This is usually an embedded solution that preprocesses the sensor data and sends it on to a database. During preprocessing, simple filters can be placed over the sensor signals so that only the required signals are forwarded, for example. Preprocessing saves on power, which improves the runtime for low-energy battery solutions. The fewer the connections, the longer a circuit can be used. If every single trivial message were transmitted, a low-energy solution would reach the end of its runtime early on.

However, since the IoT enables giving as well as receiving, machines can be further automated. The integration of actuators can be used to control different functions independently of location. Do you want to be able to start a job on your 3D printer from home? Or unlock your desk cupboard for your colleagues? No problem! A small networked circuit can achieve great things.

Whether it’s a motor, switching valve, light, or a complex job for a CNC mill, for example, the integration of IoT puts you in charge even when you’re on the move.

Let’s take a look at our customer’s perspective again – why don’t we use sensors everywhere on a mass scale? In addition to features such as accuracy, precision, resolution, power consumption, installation size, durability, measurement time, and sampling rates, price plays a major role.

Let’s distinguish between two scenarios here:

  • IoT scenarios benefit almost without exception from new developments in the sensor field. Thanks to the bulk manufacturing of IoT sensor technology, the prices are dropping significantly. This means that usage cases that were previously not economically viable can now be realized.
  • Due to higher requirements, lower piece numbers, and the associated costs, Industry 4.0 scenarios are still frequently not profitable.

It's all about the connection

The “remote control” of sensors and actuators and the fact that these sensors and actuators are now able to easily make their measurements available to other components are achievements of new technologies. Many different connection possibilities such as Bluetooth, LoRaWAN, mobile telephony, and radio also enable a mobile, particularly flexible usage. For the range of protocols for data transport, see our data transport page.

Usually, a gateway is used to communicate with the rest of the network. In this context, the gateway constitutes a communication interface between the sensor signal and the next level up (e.g. the cloud). If you already have the relevant machines and required sensors at your company, we can integrate them for you. An embedded solution for your project that links the sensor technology and network in the smallest possible space or in critical conditions is something that excites us and creates new visions of the future.

Acquiring data and putting knowledge into practice

As an independent service provider, our particular wish is to create the maximum benefit for your customers. This is the only way that we can provide you with optimum support. We can provide you with advice on everything you need for your IoT project. Industry 4.0 projects require special knowledge that we can inject together with you. There’s nothing more unbeatable than the combination of IT knowledge and specialist know-how!

Some of the things we offer

  • A selection of sensors from various providers for your project
  • Design and implementation of a secure connection between sensors and the cloud or processor
  • Prototypical implementation of your product with selected sensors for capturing data

Selecting, connecting up, and integrating sensors are all preparatory steps for the actual value creation process. For more information, see also Artificial intelligence & machine learning.

Your direct contact

Novatec_Jonas-Grundler

Jonas Grundler

Head of New Business Development
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Jonas Grundler Head of New Business Development
Novatec_Jonas-Grundler