With the emergence of wireless technology, manufacturers now can integrate sensors into their factories without making big investments in infrastructure and installation.
While there are a number of wireless options in the marketplace, Banner Engineering Corp. senior product specialist Bob Gardner notes that the SureCross Q45 sensor stands out because it is completely self-contained.
In a conversation with New Equipment Digest, Gardner explains that Banner Engineering spent 10 years perfecting the wireless technology in the Q45, which is designed to monitor and coordinate multiple machines and processes.
NED: What motivated Banner to develop this product? Were there new technologies, processes or market demands behind its introduction and development?
BG: Banner is continuously innovating new products to help our customers increase efficiency, reduce costs and ensure quality. By going "wireless," this exciting new technology, which eliminates the need to wire sensors, enables users to create scalable monitoring environments and apply sensing technology in situations where it was not previously possible.
But, ultimately, it's about saving time and money—the Q45 significantly reduces the labor required for installation.
NED: How is this product different from similar sensors on the market today?
BG: While there are, of course, other types of wireless technologies and sensors in the marketplace, this product is unique in that it is completely self-contained. There are no battery packs or hardware to connect to.
Features that set Banner’s Q45 apart include:
- Range of 3,000-plus feet enables long-distance sensing, which is rare for a battery-operated sensor. Similar battery-operated systems fall short of this range.
- Battery life of up to five years.
- Deterministic background heartbeat is continually testing the wireless link, ensuring the system’s reliability. In the event a heartbeat signal is not received, outputs are set to a predetermined state and a fault output is set.
- Real-time response of less that 250 milliseconds.
- Bi-directional system means it can be used for outputs, as well as inputs.
- Based on frequency-hopping spread spectrum and a very short transmit time, users can create an extensive monitoring system. Literally hundreds of sensors can easily co-exist.
NED: What problems needed to be addressed during the development process?
BG: Key opportunities included:
- Power consumption. To last five years on an AA battery, the wireless system and the sensor itself needed to consume minimal amounts of power. The average power used is a fraction of a milliwatt. This is 1,000 times less power than the 24-volt wired sensor with similar performance. This was a very difficult challenge to achieve.
- Reliability. Anyone who owns a cell phone knows that at some point wireless links can be lost. Most wireless systems are not designed for industrial control. We spent years designing a system from the ground up based on PLC level concepts of reliability. This is the first sensor-level network that essentially has built in all the elements of a PLC network. It is deterministic and has mechanisms to handle communication faults in real-time. Examples of this include defined output states when a link is lost or the background heartbeat signal is not received.
NED: How long did it take from conception to ultimate production?
BG: It took almost 10 years for Banner to perfect its wireless technology.
NED: What effect did cost factors have in changing the final design of the product?
BG: Banner examined a number of different cost models and markets before designing the Q45.
To make the sensor immediately useful, we decided to model its performance after its wired predecessor, allowing it to be installed in existing applications. The wireless components and batteries, of course, make it more expensive, but the price difference is less than the labor required to install even short wiring runs.
NED: Who is your target audience and what benefits will they achieve from using this product?
BG: The Q45 will appeal to our traditional factory-automation customer using the wired version of the sensor. However, because of its uniqueness, we are constantly finding new applications we did not anticipate—and new customers..