The Internet of Things (IoT) is moving well up the adoption curve, with many industrial firms in multiple sectors implementing and using IoT in a lot of ways. Bain Consulting expects IoT to be prosperous well into the 2020’s. They predict a $200 billion dollar market, with industrial users accounting for just under a third of that amount.
As IoT technology and platforms grow, so does sensor technology. As the market accelerates on the merit of monitoring and measuring distant assets and parameters, it is driven by the newfound value of predictive analytics and shaped by the innovation of monitoring many different data points from a single platform. Consequently, the technology of the hardware and sensors that convert analog information to digital data is evolving as well, as if to signal a modern-day industrial renaissance.
According to Deloitte, the global market for smart sensors is growing at about 19% per year. Sensors alone should account for $60B by 2022. Deloitte says devices are being designed to be miniature while not compromising performance, and to stay energy efficient as well as cost competitive.
"Smart sensor computing capabilities have strengthened substantially, thereby enabling data processing and analysis at or near the source (edge computing) and reducing the amount of data that moves between the device and platform," says Deloitte's consultants in their perspective article, "Smart Sensors and Supply Chain Innovation." They add that the introduction of micro-electro-mechanical systems technology enables "compact, higher functioning smart sensors by effectively incorporating microelectronic functions in minimal space."
Micro-sensor implants and biodegradable sensors are also emerging. They join a catalog of unique sensor technology that may be customized for a specific application and scaled to need. As Deloitte posits, a new generation of sensor technology is focused on "connectivity solutions that are more scalable and tailored than traditional wireless networks, which are designed for higher bandwidth, larger volume data devices. Low-power wide-area networks, for example, have reduced cost, power consumption, and range issues for smart sensor usage."
One technology to watch when it comes to sensors and signals is LoRa. The acronym stands for long-range, low-power wireless radio frequency (RF) technology that is used in devices in such a network: sensors, gateways, machines, and devices. Even cows and other livestock are prime candidates for LoRa technology.
The devices, as well as any such subject that is being monitored, are connected to a home base via the Internet. Thus, long range, but low power – or LoRa – helps connect these items to the internet from afar with a minimum of power.
Sensor technology and design, according to Deloitte, will gravitate towards applications. Within each application, new and better technology will emerge to serve them. For example, acoustic sensors "are in development that help recognize audio vibration or frequency to determine activity, location, and intensity," explains Deloitte. Additionally, sensors in a chemical environment are being developed to "perform complex tasks such as the measurement of fluid composition and concentration of biological and chemical compounds," they say.
Naturally, there are other applications that will vary, depending upon need and usage; but we can only expect that sensors will be developed to work in severe and harsh environments, have a boost in performance, and are designed for security as well as enterprise usage and need.
As the number of implementation and connected devices coming online increases, we can expect function to drive form. That is, the characteristics of sensors will be driven by designs that meet demands. Sensors will also be part of a self-sustaining equation. As their utility increases, and their economic viability surfaces, companies will be spending more to develop sensors and sensor technology.
Such development will be centered on size, speed, power, and application. For the supply chain (which is moving at lighting speed, it seems), we can expect the characteristics of sensors to not only be used on the moving assets, but also on goods shipped. Thus, because the supply chain has so many moving parts, sensor technology will follow that environment and afford the two important words in the vocabulary of today’s supply chain manager: visibility and control. To refine this, we need to focus on size, speed, power, and application to design the best sensors to provide the very best results.
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