The idea of servitization is nothing new. Many manufacturers have always offered extended warranties, future inspections and extensive service contracts. Sensors enable manufacturers to collect data in real-time to continuously monitor the state of their product, and provide maintenance and upgrades as needed.
With this in mind, it’s necessary to think about the case for the servitization of the sensors themselves.
Servitization has been implemented across industries via RaaS (Robots as a Service) and SaaS (Software as a Service). Now, Sensors as a Service (S2aaS) will allow manufacturers to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee for the implementation of sensors in their facility. This fee would then cover the costs associated with the maintenance, support and regular upgrades of these sensors.
Of course, this is not without its challenges, and below is an outline of a few of the most common.
Integration With Existing Sensors
Perhaps the most obvious problem is the integration of new sensors with existing, older technology. The equipment used by manufacturers is likely made by a variety of companies over a number of years, and much of this equipment likely does not make use of sensors. Some, new devices, however may make use of proprietary sensors that are often difficult to replace.
With these challenges in mind, a competent S2aaS provider must be able to collect data from existing sensors into a complete report on their capabilities. Or, they must be able to justify replacing the existing sensor technology. Not all sensors are made equally, and varying capabilities make some more valuable than others. For example, a sensor that’s simply able to detect whether or not an object is present is not as valuable as one that can provide various bytes of cyclical data. These are important considerations that need to be made by S2aaS providers when determining the best course of action for a manufacturer.
Implementing Smart Sensors
Smart sensors use an intelligent mix of motion, proximity, weight and image sensing to detect the environment around them, and when implemented properly, can save energy and bolster productivity. A conveyor belt offers the perfect example. A conveyor with standard sensors will use the technology to only operate while objects are placed upon it. Alternatively, a conveyor equipped with smart sensors will use the aforementioned combination of properties to detect how many objects are placed upon it and operate at maximum efficiency. Smart sensors can also be used to monitor the health of the equipment to which it’s attached. Sticking to the conveyor belt example, sensors able to use accelerometer sensing can detect vibrations within the belt, indicating whether or not there is a mechanical problem or potential for failure.
While the implementation of smart sensors seems like a cost-saving, long-term investment for manufacturers, a competent S2aaS provider must be able to justify the cost of switching sensors by proving the switch will yield improved performance. A good rule of thumb is to look for sensors equipped with IO-Link technology, which has the capability of communicating with much more data than standard sensors. This technology is a protocol that provides a common communication for a sensor’s parameters and features. Sensors equipped with IO-Link can then be linked to other equipment using this technology allowing manufacturers to collect a more detailed wealth of data.
Assessing Sensor Needs
As with any potential investment, before upgrading their sensors, manufacturers must ensure they will receive a good ROI. They must consider whether or not they need to collect more detailed data from their production, and any additional business benefits a subscription-based model for sensors will provide. Manufacturers should also weigh the cost-benefit analysis of a subscription-based model versus a purchase-based model. A one-time purchase may suffice for some manufacturing facilities, however, a food (or beverage) manufacturing plant—for example—would benefit from a subscription-based model.
Equipment used in food or beverage manufacturing often endures regular cleaning and washdowns, and is exposed to varying temperatures. Given these extreme circumstances, the sensors used on this equipment face more strain, which limits their ability to collect and report reliable data. In this instance, opting for a S2aaS model ensures these sensors will be monitored, repaired and replaced when necessary, without the additional costs associated with purchasing a new sensor.
Much like any servitization models, S2aaS can provide many benefits to its manufacturing customers. It often proves a valuable long-term investment by bolstering plant productivity, ensuring production efficiency and giving manufacturers peace of mind knowing their sensors will be monitored, repaired and replaced when necessary. It’s important, however, to consider the value S2aaS will provide and if this model is a worthwhile investment for any given manufacturing facility. As such, it’s good practice for manufacturers to conduct independent research before investing in this servitization.
As the servitization of sensors and S2aaS increasingly permeate the technology and automation fields, our various technical training programs will help fast-track your studies or supplement your existing knowledge if you currently work or hope to work in these burgeoning fields.