Wireless Sensors for Industrial IoT Manufacturing

Matteo Orlandelli

Matteo Orlandelli, CoreTigo Country Director Italy

| 3 January, 2024
Learn how IO-Link Wireless empowers sensors for Industrial IoT Manufacturing
Matteo Orlandelli
With IO-Link Wireless, manufacturers can support hundreds of wireless devices within a single machine or work cell area, enabling comprehensive data collection. This level of connectivity is indispensable, and the integration of data-driven insights fuels the transformation of traditional manufacturing into highly efficient, responsive, and agile operations.

Matteo Orlandelli

Country Director Italy

In the age of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), innovation has been the driving force behind transformative changes in manufacturing processes. These changes are the thrust force of the industry into the era of smart factories, where data becomes critical in both operational and competitive aspects, and efficiency is paramount. A key player in this transformation is the use of wireless sensors. Though typically small in size, these versatile devices are making a big impact in the manufacturing industry, offering real-time data monitoring and analysis that can optimize operations, reduce downtime, and improve overall equipment efficiency (OEE). In this blog post, I’ll explore what wireless sensors are, how they work, the different types available for IIoT manufacturing, and how they are revolutionizing industrial processes. I’ll also take a closer look at the cutting-edge IO-Link Wireless technology and devices developed by CoreTigo – enabling wireless sensors for wireless industrial automation solutions.

The Path to Smart Factories

The concept of Industry 4.0 represents the natural, yet revolutionary, ongoing evolution of traditional manufacturing into the era of smart factories. Smart factories are characterized by the integration of various and corresponding digital technologies across the entire production chain. This integration facilitates the real-time exchange of data from the factory floor to cloud-based systems, enabling a level of connectivity and automation that was previously unimaginable. This is enabled mainly thanks to IO-Link technology, which set the cornerstone for bi-directional communication between control units and devices. Later, it evolved into IO-Link Wireless, thus enabling reaching anywhere in the manufacturing facility, no matter how complicated or out of reach.

Circling back to the dawn of Industry 4.0 and IIoT, factory floor-to-cloud connectivity was, and still is, the backbone of this transformation. It allows data to flow seamlessly between the production line and cloud-based systems where data collection, analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can work their magic. In this context, industrial wireless sensors (as part of the industrial wireless devices category) become the enablers of real-time data collection and transmission, serving as the eyes and ears of the smart factory, keeping vigilant for any errors or depressions in productivity.

Bridging the Gap: OT-IT Convergence

A fundamental aspect of Industry 4.0 and smart factories is the convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). This convergence, often referred to as OT-IT convergence, represents the merging of two traditionally separate domains within the manufacturing environment. OT encompasses the technologies and systems used on the factory floor to control and monitor industrial processes. IT, on the other hand, attends to infrastructure and systems that manage data, communication, and computing at higher levels, such as management and cloud applications.

Wireless sensors play a big part in OT-IT convergence by seamlessly bridging the gap between the physical world of the factory floor and the digital realm of IT systems. They enable the transfer of real-time data from machines and equipment into the cloud, where IT systems can analyze and leverage this information for improved decision-making and efficiency. With IO-Link Wireless devices reaching the very bottom of the factory floor, and IO-Link Gateways/IO-Link Masters enabling the connection between these two worlds, this action once perceived as imaginary is now an everyday reality for manufacturers around the globe.

The Rise of IO-Link Wireless

As noted, in this transformative landscape, the emergence of IO-Link Wireless technology has been a game-changer. IO-Link Wireless provides the once-missing link for wireless communication in industrial automation. It offers the advantages of IO-Link, the disruptive industrial standard, combined with the benefits of wireless communication. IO-Link Wireless sensors can be perfectly integrated into existing industrial systems, as CoreTigo’s products offer both brownfield and greenfield integrations via component retrofit or embedding.

These sensors become versatile, capable of reaching new places, accomplishing new tasks and uncovering new hidden data. They work in diverse and often challenging environments, providing cable-grade reliability. IO-Link Wireless technology ensures immunity to noisy and harsh industrial settings, allowing these sensors to coexist seamlessly with other networks and communication protocols.

With IO-Link Wireless, manufacturers can support hundreds of wireless devices within a single machine or work cell area, enabling comprehensive data collection. This level of connectivity is indispensable, and the integration of data-driven insights fuels the transformation of traditional manufacturing into highly efficient, responsive, and agile operations.

What is a Wireless Sensor?

At its core, a wireless sensor is a compact device equipped with the ability to monitor and collect data from its surroundings. These sensors can measure a wide range of parameters, such as temperature, humidity, pressure, motion, vibration, and more. What sets wireless sensors apart from their traditional wired counterparts is their ability to communicate this data wirelessly, thus being able to be mounted in hard-to-reach places, moving parts, and more.

While in domestic or office applications wireless sensors can be connected via traditional communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, nothing can be further from the truth when it comes to manufacturing facilities. Low-reliability wireless communication technologies such as Bluetooth and others might serve their purpose when it comes to streaming media, but a best-effort non-deterministic technology has no place in the production line. When every piece of information is critical and non-stop deterministic communication is a must, industrial professionals can only put their faith in a technology pre-designed for their specific needs, constantly delivering and performing at its max – no buts or maybes.

How do Wireless Wi-Fi Sensors Work?

Wireless Wi-Fi sensors rely on the principles of Wi-Fi connectivity to transmit data. As proclaimed, while this may serve us at home or at the office, it will under-perform in the factory scenery. Much like Bluetooth or ZigBee, Wi-Fi demonstrates a PER (Packet Error Rate) of 1e-3, which in layman terms mean they lose 1 packet of data for every 1,000 transmissions. And while it may be overcompensated when watching a movie or having a video call, it would be catastrophic for production.

How do IO-Link Wireless Sensors Work?

Built on a much harsher standard, IO-Link Wireless cannot compromise the loss of data or delay in transmission. As opposed to legacy wireless communication protocols, IO-Link Wireless provides a reliability performance level of 1e-9, which in simple English means, being a million times (literally) more reliable than those protocols.

In addition, and to ensure low latency, IO-Link Wireless incorporates a repetition process. To ensure low latency this process is implemented automatically. To deal with interferences and noise, which cause a great threat to the integrity of the information, it uses the Gaussian Frequency Shift Keying (GFSK) modulation, providing the robustness needed to accomplish its missions.

Types of Wireless Sensors for IIoT Manufacturing

Wireless sensors for IIoT manufacturing come in various forms, each tailored to specific monitoring needs. Though the portfolio of and types of these may be similar across the industrial world, there are several vendors manufacturing these (e.g, Allen Bradly by Rockwell Automation, ifm, Sick, Turck) and it is essential to make sure that the communication systems will be able to support each of these and not be bound down by a specific one. As CoreTigo’s IO-Link Wireless devices are vendor agnostic, they allow connecting to any IO-Link, Digital, or Analog sensors, regardless of the brand.

While the types of wireless sensors vary, here are some key types, commonly used for IIoT and Condition Monitoring purposes:

  1. Temperature Sensors: These sensors monitor temperature variations in equipment, ensuring that machinery operates within optimal temperature ranges to prevent overheating or component failure. In food and beverage production lines these also monitor the temperature at which the products are being produced to ensure proper quality.
  2. Humidity Sensors: In environments where humidity control is critical, these sensors help maintain the desired humidity levels, crucial for product quality and equipment reliability. Over humidity or non-sufficient humidity might harm the production process of these, hence, making it essential to constantly monitor the humidity levels and make sure the right range is kept.
  3. Pressure Sensors: Pressure sensors monitor changes in pressure levels, often used in hydraulic systems, or air-pressure ones, to detect leaks or pressure variations. These sensitive sensors sense the slightest change in pressure and allow the creation of a suitable alert in order to pick up on it and act in due time.
  4. Vibration Sensors: Vibration sensors capture vibrations in machinery, enabling the monitoring of and comparison of these over time. Irregularities can be indicative of misalignments, unbalanced loads, or worn components. Vibration is one of the parameters measured in Röhm and CoreTigo’s iJaw – Smart Clamping Jaw, permitting constant monitoring and picking up on component degradation in order to be able to replace these in time.
  5. Motion Sensors: These sensors detect motion or the absence of motion in specified areas. They are vital for manufacturing environments, as they can indicate malfunctions, as well as serve as a trigger for actuation on the production line.
  6. Proximity Sensors: Proximity sensors identify the presence or absence of an object, as well as the distance of it from the sensor (within a certain range).  They are used in automation and production line processes to enable various actions.

Wireless Sensors Are Improving Manufacturing Processes

The adoption of IO-Link Wireless connected sensors in IIoT manufacturing has proven to be essential in the industrial landscape as a whole, and production lines specifically. Offering the reliability, scalability, and robustness required for such tasks, these have resulted in numerous advantages:

  1. Real-time Monitoring: IO-Link Wireless connected sensors provide real-time data, in the most reliable, fast, and agile manner. In many cases, these determine whether or not a critical error or malfunction will be attended to at a critical timeslot or not. It also enables quick response to changes or anomalies in the manufacturing environment.
  2. Predictive Maintenance: By continuously and cross-factory monitoring equipment conditions, IO-Link Wireless sensors facilitate predictive maintenance, minimizing unplanned downtime and extending the lifespan of machinery. They also permit attending only to actual issues which occur due to wear and tear, or malfunctions, rather than conducting unnecessary maintenance on an entire machine or production line.
  3. Enhanced Efficiency: Data collected by sensors offers the ability to optimize manufacturing processes, increase throughput, and reduce waste. When combined with the abilities of IO-Link Wireless, these become even more powerful, as they are now able to conduct monitoring in never-before-possible places, thanks to their flexible abilities.
  4. Cost Savings: With finer monitoring and predictive maintenance, manufacturers are able to reduce operating costs associated with repairs, downtime, and energy consumption. These translate into lower overall costs, allowing higher profits, or reallocation of the funds saved into expansion of the operation.
  5. Improved Safety: IO-Link Wireless connected sensors may be allocated for the monitoring of environmental conditions, ensuring safe working conditions, and reducing the risk of accidents. These complement the IO-Link Wireless connected actuators, which enable the placing of these instead of human operators in hazardous places – thus increasing safety even more.

CoreTigo Wireless Sensors

Many ask us where they can purchase CoreTigo’s IO-Link Wireless sensors for their machinery. The answer is – nowhere and everywhere. As CoreTigo does not manufacture the wireless sensors themselves but enables the IO-Link Wireless connectivity for existing ones, each may use their own choice.

CoreTigo’s products, such as TigoBridge, and TigoHub connect to IO-Link, Digital, or Analog devices (the latter via the TigoConverter), thus allowing to retrofit legacy industrial sensors by virtually any vendor into IO-Link Wireless ones. These then connect to one of CoreTigo’s IO-Link Wireless Masters to communicate onwards to the PLC, Software, Cloud applications etc.

Since CoreTigo’s mission was to enable machines and production lines to do more by breaking the limits of machine connectivity, it was required to make sure that no other boundaries would exist, thus enabling smooth and easy transmission into using IO-Link Wireless and enjoying its benefits.

The Future of Wireless Sensors

Wireless sensors in general, and specifically IO-Link Wireless sensors have emerged as a driving force in the era of IIoT manufacturing, delivering valuable real-time data, leading to significant insights and in turn, allowing to optimize processes and reduce downtimes. These small in size, yet big-in-impact devices are redefining the way manufacturers monitor their operations, ensure the reliability of their operation, and all together increase their overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). As we continue to witness advancements in this field, the integration of IO-Link Wireless sensors in industrial settings will only become more integral on a manufacturer’s way to success.

In a world where data is king, the ability to harness it through wireless sensors allows manufacturers to stay competitive, remain agile, and adapt to the ever-changing demands of modern industry.

The ever-evolving landscape of IIoT manufacturing determines that wireless sensors are now an indispensable tool. Their ability to provide real-time data, support predictive maintenance, and enhance efficiency has redefined how manufacturing facilities operate. With the likes of CoreTigo leading the charge, the future of industrial wireless sensors holds great promise.

Matteo Orlandelli has over 25 years of experience in the industrial automation and communication technologies sectors. With a deep technical background and experience as a Technical
Director in Pfannenberg, Italy, he had the opportunity to develop innovation patents on control systems for machine tools. He migrated over the years to sales, focusing on the development and management of sales networks for high-tech companies, with the ability to help customers in developing and adopt the most innovative technologies suitable for various applications.
As Commercial Director of Exor International for 8 years and with managerial experience at global companies such as Rittal, he has built a solid exchange network with the main vendors and customers of the global industrial automation market, and becoming a trusted advisor.