In the 200th anniversary year of the death of that colossus of the Industrial Revolution, James Watt, it is worth remembering that the great man started out not as a mechanical engineer or scientist but as an instrument maker.
Products and processes designed to measure temperature, flow, distance and pressure have always been vital: by ensuring greater efficiency through enhancing predictability of performance, they can elevate technology from the status of amusing invention to economic game-changer.
In each industrial era, instrumentation has advanced and helped further advance its operating environment. Michael Thomas, director of Peak42 – part of 4.0 experts the Edwin James Group – sees continuity between the 3.0 and 4.0 eras but a key difference too: “Industry 4.0 is taking what was started in the third industrial revolution – the adoption of computers and automation – to the next level, with smart systems fuelled by data and machine learning.
“[Yet] Improvements during the third industrial revolution were much quicker to materialise and understand too, such as increased efficiency and overall production improvements, while we are still learning about 4.0 and the improvements it can bring to the sector.”
David Baskett, technical strategy manager at industrial IT software specialist SolutionsPT, pinpoints the advance provided by the rise in the number of IoT and Industry 4.0 enabled instruments that accelerate communications with software systems and improve operational efficiency.
“Instrumentation is now able to learn about itself, enabling it to auto-regulate and improving maintenance even further. In other words, by knowing when it was last calibrated, it also knows when it next needs recalibrating and, when that time comes, it can let operators know so they can take the appropriate action,” he explains.
“In a manufacturing plant, for example, intelligent instrumentation can identify that a leak from a pressure valve is likely to take place – and when. It can then adjust the system pressure to prevent the leak from occurring, ensuring productivity isn’t hindered and allowing production to continue. This is a huge technological step forward for manufacturers.”
Intelligent instrumentation can identify that a leak from a pressure valve is likely to take place – and when. It can then adjust the system, allowing production to continue. This is a huge technological step forward for manufacturers
David Baskett, technical strategy manager, SolutionsPT
Microlease product manager director – Europe, Reinier Treur, notes the advantages of highly connected systems, controlled, adjusted and improved in real time, using digital data enhanced by Cloud computing and artificial intelligence. It promises greater flexibly and creates opportunities for new types of products.
“With the ever-growing complexity and connectedness of industrial systems it’s more important than ever to monitor and control them effectively, ensuring optimal operation. Rapid prototyping and short development cycles makes quick and thorough testing and product verification essential to ensure trust, especially in performance critical environments.
“In these complex and highly networked industrial environments an effective test and measurement strategy is essential, using the most suitable equipment in the most effective way. New technology offers greater opportunities to collect, store and analyse test and measurement data to ensure operations are running properly and identify where improvements can be made.”
As test data can be stored and analysed over time, schedules can be standardised and automated, to enforce a predictive regime. Measurement data can also be standardised, so that it may easily be compared over time and across different facilities.
Connectivity combined with new regulatory demands has increased the scope of instrumentation, not only in terms of what it is able functionally to do but also in terms of how companies perceive its potential.
Until recently perhaps, health and safety aspects have not been prominent in this regard. Small wonder when the safety agenda has been primarily reactive; adhering to legislation or trying to keep up with changing rules.
LNS Research notes in The Connected Worker that, thanks to governmental, stakeholder and consumer pressures, regulatory compliance remains the leading strategic objective for its survey sample’s safety initiatives but closely challenged by risk reduction (51%) and operational performance improvement (41%).
The 5G campus networks open up a second signal path that is independent of the plant’s control system and thus make it possible to tap this potential
Matthias Altendorf, CEO, Endress+Hauser
“In recent years the focus of the EHS (environment, health and safety) business function shifted significantly from compliance to proactively managing operational risks to prevent incidents that negatively impact people, production or the environment,” note the authors.
Digital innovation in the form of wearables that can measure the physical indicators of risk in the workplace is starting to have an impact, albeit less quickly than the use of relevant Cloud software and advanced analytics in the EHS sector.
Meanwhile, sensing and instrumentation leader Baumer’s range of optical mini sensors are pushing the limits of precise detection. Billed as little bigger than a honey bee with a housing size of 8mm, the 0200 miniature sensors detect ultra-black, shiny, transparent or small objects as small as 0.25mm width.
A SmartReflect integral light barrier without reflector enables detection with a range up to 180mm while a light algorithm provides immunity to ambient light, regardless of LED lighting or interfering reflections.
Investment remains an obstacle for many, acknowledges Baskett, who worries about a widening digital divide. Yet, alongside the advances in Cloud computing, IOT-enabled devices and cyber-security solutions, he sees another development making waves.
Namely, a growth in new technologies that can be immediately applied to new systems or retrospectively to legacy systems, allowing companies “to leverage their assets, instruments, devices and software while also incrementally adding value to the process”.
And, he adds: “The availability of new ‘bolt on’ sensory devices that can be attached to existing instruments and equipment to capture more data is another opportunity businesses should be aware of.
“Traditionally, data points have focused on operational usage and control but now, thanks to Industry 4.0, companies can add sensors that also improve maintenance by ensuring the uptime of instruments, equipment and devices.”
Supply and demand
Harnessing so much more measurable information challenges the industrial eco-system in terms of scaling up, differing proprietary solutions and varying connectivity between businesses.
The emphasis on ‘low latency’ in 5G – the delivery of high volumes of information with minimal delay – is a vital benefit for the development of sensors and instrumentation, boosting the number of devices supported per square kilometre by 4G some 250 times.
Endress+Hauser has equipped its field devices with mobile communication modules and connected existing installations to 5G networks via HART gateways, allowing large numbers of instruments to transmit process and device data in parallel and in real time, says CEO Matthias Altendorf [pictured].
“In addition to the actual measured values, our instruments record a wealth of information from the process and about the sensor. The 5G campus networks open up a second signal path that is independent of the plant’s control system and thus make it possible to tap this potential.”
Worcestershire 5G Consortium reported in June 2019 that a 5G network operating in an Industry 4.0 context could realise productivity boosts of up to 2% – equal in real terms to around £3.76 billion.