The role of Sensors in the industrial IoT (IIoT)

Industry 4.0 is the next generation of the manufacturing industry. A factory composed of smart devices is referred to as a Smart Factory. This concept is composed of many different physical and informational subsystems, such as actuators and sensors, control systems, product management systems and manufacturing systems that all work together.

In this Special Project (SP), we will take a broad and diverse view of the overall IIoT system architecture with respect to the important role of sensors.

Sensors are the eyes (LIDAR, RFID and camera), ears (microphones), hands (Soft robotics, HMI), voice, nose and more for the IioT. We will take a look at sensor state-of-the-art solutions and off-the-shelf industrial sensor solutions. Then we will look at various industrial needs, showing the wide range of opportunities that come with the marriage of the IioT and sensors: robotics in Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Laser Welding, smart factory assembly (Augmented Reality), predictive maintenance, process control, and much more.

We will then match that to the information and operational needs of industrial applications and cover the many other factors that are involved beyond just the sensor itself, in more depth, such as:

  • Sensor pre-processing for predictive maintenance applications
  • Surveying off-the-shelf industrial sensor systems that include sensor, communications (often wireless), and infrastructure software support for plug-and-play operation.
  • The need for security; sensor fusion/correlation for added security – We will examine what happens when the IIoT gets hacked.
  • Case studies of an actual IIoT implementation on a factory floor with Automated Guided Vehicles, Robot LIDAR and camera sensor fusion, Augmented Reality (AR) assembly, Robot LASER welding, and Soft Robotic handling.

Figure 1

The Smart Factory (Image courtesy of Bosch)

The Smart Factory (Image courtesy of Bosch)

The rate of production in the manufacturing industry must be increased to meet the demand of the final customers. In order to increase the speed of manufacturing, the machines on the factory floor need to be able to make adaptive decisions without human intervention. We need to make the manufacturing processes autonomous in a smart factory; this will provide the desired product for the customer quickly and reliably, through improved and enhanced processes.

When we can add Information and Communication technologies (ICT) to optimized automation systems, manufacturing processes will be more seamless, and will rely less on human intervention; they can perform more efficiently by making their own optimum decisions in the ‘blink of an eye’. The final goal is to make factory environments more intelligent where the products will ultimately determine the processes they need, and the associated factory machinery will carry out those processes.

Thus, in the end, we need to finally connect front-end processes and systems, flowing from equipment and resources, to higher levels of process control, analytics, and intelligence.

The physical information from the sensors and actuators must be passed on to a higher-level system where smart decision-making will be made. This will enable better flexibility in the production line, with a much more efficient process. The system will now be able to make products more suited to specific customers and to manage energy and resources better as compared to the current methods of production, all done with a great reduction of down time and the need for human intervention.


1 In-line monitoring of laser welding using a smart vision system, Simone Pasinetti, Giovanna Sansoni, Franco Docchio, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Brescia, IEEE 2018

Other articles on this Special Project topic from my colleagues

Designer’s Guide to Industrial IoT Sensor Systems

Jumping into Industry 4.0 with Predictive Maintenance solutions

Deploying IIoT sensors in the Smart Factory

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