Sensors Play New Roles In Manufacturing

July 12, 2017
By Weld Royal

As Manufacturing Changes, Calls Rise For Creative Use Of Sensors

In Texas, not far from the spot at SXSW where thousands held up smartphones to capture Garth Brooks’ honky tonk, highly skilled workers were monitoring sophisticated equipment used to make the brains of smartphones just like them, and other electronics. In March, as the music and tech festival spurred new ideas, innovation was also happening at local Semiconductor plants where robots moved silicon wafers from one machine to another while technicians in white lab coats managed equipment and looked for ways to make chips faster, smaller, and smarter.

The Eyes Of Machines

In 2016, the value of North American exports of Semiconductors grew by 3 percent from a year earlier, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, and the manufacturers making the chips in the most computing-intensive tasks helped provide value by constantly looking for ways to change and improve production processes. Sensors function as the eyes of the machines, and are critical to those improvements. That's because there are thousands of Sensors in every Semiconductor plant, and their use and smarts are growing.

Industrial Automation Sensors

Sensors play a mission-critical role in more than just Semiconductors. Sensors function as factory eyes in everything from automotive production, to packaging, to the manufacture of medical devices. There are Sensors that tell workers how fast a piston is going, and the number cycles it has completed. In other cases, a Sensor gauges the rise or fall of pressure so when a robotic arm lowers to pick up an object, the Sensor tells the robot and all the equipment relying on that robot that the object has been retrieved. If that pressure Sensor goes down, that robot stops work, and a stalled robot can halt a major production line, and lead to millions in cost.

Providing Data On Value Creation

Thankfully, there are Sensors that handle predictive maintenance and let employees know when it’s time to repair or replace parts. Sensors churn out data providing engineers a stream of information on how fast a line is running, and perhaps most exciting, data to help innovators identify the next new area of value creation.

One area of value creation generating interest is automation. A 2017 report from global consultancy McKinsey argues that automation has the potential to raise productivity growth “globally by 0.8 to 1.4 % annually.” That number takes on new significance when compared to figures from previous industrial advancements, such as the steam engine in 1850 (0.3% annual productivity growth) and early advances in robotics since 1993 (0.4%).


Automation is helping to spur the growth of tiny North America. Manufacturing companies are targeting a global marketplace. They use advanced production tools, such as 3-D printers, sophisticated Sensors, laser cutters, and other equipment to make a huge range of things--from robots to artisanal beverages. These entrepreneurs work from their basements and barns to innovate products in small batches without big costs.

What new roles can Sensors play in small and large manufacturing? They offer a unique opportunity in their ability to be customized and even retrofit onto existing equipment. Manufacturers are turning to Sensors for not just that next big cost savings, but the next big thing. As the world – and its technology – becomes more connected, Panasonic is positioned as a specialty Sensor maker and an authority in this Internet of Things, or IoT, critical technology. The company, which is ranked among the world’s top patent holders, is committed to using its formidable technical expertise to finding new applications for Sensors working with partners and customers.

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