Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT (IIoT) are disrupting industries from healthcare to the supply chain across all levels of product development. For example, for the automotive market, connected technology paired with increased vehicular electrification enables autonomous driving. This pairing shows the high magnitude of disruption that comes from previously-unrelated industries becoming connected. Historically, for example, hydraulic equipment had little to do with software.
So how are engineers connecting these industries to leverage the benefit of smart technology? The answer lies in the currency of Industry 4.0: data.
Hydraulic Market Overview
Smart sensors in construction are bringing the power of connected technology to the hydraulics market through intelligent data collection. Driven by increased construction and agriculture activity (and associated higher equipment demand), Research and Markets estimates that the global hydraulics market will grow from $37.4 billion to $42.1 billion between 2020-2025.
The study also projects that mobile hydraulics will grow at the highest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) in the forecast term due to stability technology advancements for lifting and moving heavy materials. The analysis cites smart hydraulic equipment as a critical growth opportunity during the next few years.
Before reviewing how smart sensors advance the hydraulics market, it is worth examining the common types of smart sensors in construction for how they operate and what they measure.
Sensor technology types
In construction, the common types of smart sensors are pressure, temperature, flow, position, level, and contamination. These various sensor types measure critical performance data within a hydraulics application, such as stress/strain, fluid characteristics, amount of fluid in a component, and the presence of foreign materials. System and process designers can also include sensors to track materials through the plant, adding traceability to the supply chain and providing wearable sensors to monitor workers at the site.
Historically, construction equipment only measured these parameters to monitor performance and confirm a hydraulic machine was running as designed or to count inventory. Adding connected technology to the performance readings provides engineers and operators a better ability to control and optimize the system, component, or plant’s output.
Types of sensors and how they become “smart”
Employing the above sensor types in construction has numerous benefits. Collecting data from these sensor types can help plant personnel:
- Monitor the condition of the site for both productivity and safety, augmenting human senses with quantifiable level readings
- Streamline supply chain with enhanced inventory and material tracking
- Measure safety conditions at the plant, such as environmental concentration levels of dust, noise vibration, and volatile organic compounds (VOC)
- Gather information around worker conditions like ergonomics and health
Integrating these benefits with data processing, either remote or local, makes a sensor “smart” – and where the massive improvement occurs. With integrated processing, the system can analyze data closer to being collected. The extra step uncovers trends or abnormalities in the data sets for the engineers, identifying the issue and resolving it independently.
Influence of 5G in smart sensors
Though the amount of data a smart sensor needs for this level of performance is massive, advancements in network speed like 5G are not allowing the data processing time to become a limitation. Instead, 5G substantially speeds up data processing while reducing the lag between the signal the sensor collects and the response the system provides.
Applications and benefits of smart sensors in construction
With the enhancement of integrating data analytics, here are some benefits that smart sensors in construction are providing the hydraulics industry.
Remote system control
Adding the ability to control construction site operations has several benefits. It can limit an operator’s direct access to hazardous situations or components and expand the impact of existing human resources by handling some of their tasks. In addition, collecting and processing sensor measurements can reduce wear and tear on hydraulic system components due to machinery fatigue. Finally, the external processor can modify system data remotely and react to unexpected changes it reads from the sensor data.
Smart construction sensors collect information around the process fluids of hydraulic power components and communicate the information where it needs to go. Engineers load the initiatives into the process software, and the data processor can analyze the information received from one machine and send a dynamic set of commands to another device.
While the initial programming is critical to the accuracy and success of the job, employing smart sensors in construction creates the framework and source data the processor needs for the machines to communicate without human intervention.
Data trending for system optimization
One of the most transformative benefits of employing smart sensors in hydraulic construction is the ability of the processor to trend data to optimize the system. For example, sensors can detect when process measurements deviate from known standards and tolerances. This feature recognizes that transient response has occurred and enables the processor to modify its program to optimize system performance or alert an operator that the conditions have changed.
A significant way to improve the financial impact of capital investment is to leverage smart sensors to perform predictive maintenance. Before connected technology, technicians would either perform maintenance reactively, after a failure, or as part of a regular downtime cadence that could sacrifice useful life remaining in the machinery.
Smart sensors in construction measure vibrations, pressures, temperatures, fluid and environmental conditions, and equipment performance and compare them to a known standard. The processor signals an out-of-specification measurement and alerts the manufacturing team that a specific component is likely to fail in a particular way. Modeling potential failure modes and comparing the data signatures against the measured sensor data ensures the technicians can repair or replace the soon-to-fail part. Then, they can utilize the entire useful life of the component while not causing a surprise downtime event.
This year, a critically-important topic is inventory management. Smart sensors can monitor inventory of hydraulic components and trigger processing of an automatic order when the levels reach a specified threshold. In addition, leaders often try to expedite construction projects, so ensuring component supply is essential to driving the project to completion without supply disruption.
Conclusion and Main Takeaway
Smart sensors in construction are catapulting the growing hydraulics market into Industry 4.0. These devices enable process enhancements through providing remote system control to engineers, machine-to-machine communication, passive system optimization, predictive maintenance recommendations to optimize equipment utilization, and dynamic or passive inventory management.
Collecting massive amounts of data and processing it in real-time provides construction leaders benefits they had never experienced before. As 5G continues to come online, the ability of construction equipment to implement machine learning and real-time response will only increase, driving the entire hydraulics market forward.
About the Author
Adam Kimmel has nearly 20 years as a practicing engineer, R&D manager, and technical consultant, with expertise in automotive and mobile applications, industrial/manufacturing, technology, hydrogen and alternative energy, and electronics. Adam has degrees in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering and is the Principal and Founder of ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical content writing and strategy firm.
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