Wireless sensors for applications in impractical locations

How energy solutions enable sensing capabilities in places even without power.

By Mike Bacidore, editor in chief

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Many applications require measurements in places where wires or the sensing devices themselves are difficult to place. And, if communication wiring isn’t viable, then power cables aren’t any more likely. But measurement data waits for no one. Our panel of industry veterans offers insights on going wireless and powering those devices.

Meet the panel

Ken Cunefare

Kenneth Cunefare, Ph.D., is professor of mechanical engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Tim Hazelton

Tim Hazelton is product manager—wireless products, Banner Engineering.

Zechariah Hoffman Zechariah Hoffman is product marketing specialist, wireless, Phoenix Contact USA.
Marshall Miles low res

Marshall Miles is managing director at Global Controls, a system integrator in St. Charles, Illinois.

CD1508 Luis Torralva

Luis Torralva is North American marketing manager, Telemecanique Sensors.

Danny Weiss100

Danny Weiss is senior product manager at Newark element 14.

What sorts of machine applications are wireless sensors best equipped to handle?


Cunefare: Wireless sensors are best used in inaccessible locations and locations where it is impractical or costly to run wiring. Inaccessible locations include on rotating or moving components of systems, such as directly on crankshafts or plungers. Other example locations include below the rotary joint on mobile equipment or beyond articulating joints.

Torralva: Wireless sensors or switches are the solution when cabling is difficult, expensive, or unwanted. It’s also the perfect way to give mobile machines more freedom of movement.

Miles: Wireless sensors are equipped for turret, mandrel or spindle-mounted container such as cans or bottles, presence, AGV’s load/unload cell position detection and robot end effectors in special cases.

Hoffman: Monitoring is a vital part of increasing the efficiency, reliability, safety and automation of machines. There are many different variables that need monitored in machines such as vibration, force, pressure and temperature. Sensors can take measurements of these different values and send the data back to a host to be referenced as needed. Wireless communication is one method of transporting this type of information. This method is becoming popular because of how cost-effective it is. Wireless helps to eliminate the need to run as many wires, perform maintenance and prevent conventional downtime associated with broken wires. Many different wireless technologies are available now, ranging from more robust, long-distance technologies to short-distance, high-speed technologies.

For applications such as machine control, material handling and automated guided vehicles, technologies like WLAN that have high bandwidth capabilities are preferable as they allow for real-time communication between end device and host. When sensor data needs to be transmitted through various obstacles, noise or long distances, wireless devices that transmit on lower frequencies like 900 MHz will provide more reliability due to their lower attenuation over the air. Applications with these types of requirements are typically for monitoring applications or non-application critical control.

Also read: Hydraulic pressure energy harvesting for wireless sensing

Wireless is not always the right fit for all applications. The use case and risk for each application needs to be evaluated. The user needs to ask the question, just as if they were using a wire: What happens if the wireless link breaks for a period of time? Is the result acceptable? Using wireless sensors is becoming more and more a normal operation in industrial applications. It offers one alternative to the traditional wiring techniques at a fraction of the cost.

Weiss: Wireless pressure sensors have a broad range of applications from process control and manufacturing to fluid-level monitoring in storage tanks and reservoirs. Liquid reservoirs and storage tanks are found throughout the industrial environment. They can be located in machine shops that use liquid coolant for their high-precision fabrication centers and may also be found in the rugged and harsh atmosphere of the oil and gas processing facilities. Some may even be used in close proximity to drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations, housing slurries or casing mud. Even though their locations and applications may change, storage tanks and reservoirs are used by organizations that need to know the fluid level housed within them. Knowing when a tank is full, or nearly empty, could be the difference between running smoothly and costly downtime. When the tanks are in a remote area, it is not always cost-efficient running wiring or cabling.

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