The Next Generation of Industrial Automation Devices

E-mail Ray Peacock

The past few months have been rife with the release of new industrial automation devices and market analysis that points to a growing trend toward the integration of complementary technologies. The demand for multivariable and multifunctional instruments is a byproduct of the high-pressure drive to achieve greater efficiencies in the world of industrial automation. Some great examples of the trend can be found in all categories of sensing, including pressure, flow, level, and temperature.

A marketing study by Venture Development Corporation on multivariable electronic pressure transducers and transmitters (i.e., a pressure sensor and another sensing output, such as temperature or level) predicts a significant increase in worldwide sales of pressure sensors over the next four years, but it also sees a drop in the technology's market share. Whereas, the same study forecasts an increase in sales (17.6% compound annual growth rate) and market share for multivariable devices.

Almost on the heels of that announcement comes the release of two significant products that typify the trend toward integration.

Ashcroft Inc. announced a new pressure sensor-pressure transmitter device. "The breakthrough Ashcroft Xmitr" has been designed for uses where both a gauge and transducer are used. The net benefit is that it saves the user money, space, and time. It also eliminates one instrument and the associated piping, fitting, installation, and maintenance costs. In addition, there are fewer leak paths and dead-legs in the process.

Kulite Sensors introduced a miniature high-pressure IS pressure transducer, with integrated temperature sensor, billed as "the world's smallest pressure and temperature sensor." The device measures 6 mm in diameter and has a platinum resistance temperature detector element (RTD) located beside a diaphragm to detect media temperature.

As with the pressure sensor-transmitter from Ashcroft, integration is appearing in flowmeters as well.

One example is the OPTIFLUX family of magnetic flowmeters from Krohne. With just one signal converter, this family of flow sensors covers all applications, from a simple water flow to corrosive or abrasive flows to pulp in the paper industry.

Integration is going on here, too.

AMETEK Drexelbrook offers a wireless transmitter/receiver set that can be part of an integrated solution with the company's level sensors in harsh environments, hazardous Class 1 Division 2 areas, or other locations where conduit or cable would be costly or impossible to install.

K-TEK, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art instrumentation for liquid level measurement for 30 years, has announced the new MT5000 series of guided wave radar level transmitters. Designed for use in a variety of harsh environments, such as oil and gas processing and power generation, the series includes the MT5000 liquid level transmitter and the MT5100 level and interface transmitter.

The integration of sensors and electroincs has, of course, been going on for many years in the temperature sensor market, starting with Mikron Infrared in the IR spot sensor, 2-wire infrared market, widely copied and litigated against in the past. Signal transmitters of the two-wire variety, it seems, began with thermocouple and RTD temperature sensors. That's old hat now. The topics above are less obvious and indicate a significant trend in overall instrument design, I think.

Market studies show the use of all types of sensors increasing. So I am not suggesting that the old standards are falling by the wayside. But I do see a growing presence in the market of products that pull together the best of multiple worlds by integrating complementary technologies. As you would expect, there is a corresponding increase in demand for these new workhorses.

A relative newcomer to automation, wireless communications are increasingly being integrated with traditional industrial systems. You can see some examples of the infusion of this technology by checking out the Top News section in the most recent issue of Sensors' Industrial Automation newsletter.