Production

SMART SENSORS FOR A SMALL PRICE

Fraunhofer FHR conducts research on innovative sensors for quality control in real time. Apart from in-line capability and reliability, the price also plays an essential role in the development phase.

Electronic sniffer devices and artificial eyes – modern quality control has access to countless amounts of information when measuring production tolerances as well as product and material properties: Big Data allows a wealth of parameters which can be used to optimize production. Within the framework of the digital revolution in the production plants, in short Industry 4.0, the networking of production facilities and operational management is leading to increased demands on sensor systems: they have to be faster, more precise and more versatile.

Sensors for production and industry have been a focal point of the research at Fraunhofer FHR for many years already. Although the results attract a great deal of attention at a scientific level, industrial application is still the ultimate aim. The synergy of scientific excellence and highly professional engineering – 3D printing process, high-precision workshop, obsolescence management and cost efficiency – paves the way for the creation of customized solutions. The institute and its systems already pursue many avenues: from the food and recycling industry through to plastics and steel production and agriculture.

The matters to be addressed are, in the most cases, very specific with the result that commercial solutions are of little assistance. Harsh environmental conditions – temperatures of several hundred degrees, steam or smoke, vibrations and belt speeds of over 20 m/s – quickly reveal the limitations of conventional systems. The high frequency systems from Fraunhofer FHR have already proven their stability under such conditions. The sensors work in 24/7 operation, measure in real time and achieve an accuracy of several 100 µm. And: they can be fully integrated into the existing production equipment.

When developing application-specific solutions, the price, cost-efficiency and short development periods are important, but so too are the reliability and durability of the system. Legal conditions and industrial standards are, of course, also observed, e.g. in the case of interfaces. Fraunhofer FHR offers all services from a single source: after a period of just two to four weeks, the scientists can estimate whether or not the required application will work. A specific feasibility study can last three to six months depending on the level of detail. If required, the scientists can also design the system and build a prototype which can then subsequently be developed for series production in cooperation with an industrial partner. Prototype development takes on average 6 to 24 months and, of course, also includes the integration of the test system in the production plant. The institute then accompanies the optimization and further development of the system.

The highly integrated single-chip radars developed by Fraunhofer FHR on a silicon-germanium (SiGe) basis allow the realization of task-specific but yet cost-effective systems, also in large quantities. Generally, the largely standardized but adaptable systems operate at 30, 60, 90, 120 and 240 GHz – but frequencies up to 300 GHz are also possible. In addition to sensors for distance, density and thickness measurement, Fraunhofer FHR also develops a range of imaging sensors. The latest innovation in this category is an internally developed line scan camera. It can be scaled in accordance with the application and is currently in the test phase. The results to date are positive and in line with expectations.

Thanks to the good network it has established both within and outside the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Fraunhofer FHR has access to wide-ranging know-how and always performs cutting edge research. With short innovation cycles, the institute can guarantee that the technology is always state-of-the-art. This helps the company to strengthen its market position.