Research project aims at more flexibility in sensor development and production

May 31, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Multi-sensor systems are one of the crucial elements for the success of industrial internet applications, also known as industry 4.0. These systems collect, process and transfer multiple measurands such as acceleration, pressure or temperature – all in a very small space. Not only tool machines, but increasingly also the workpieces themselves are increasingly equipped with intelligent sensor systems. Thus, the product itself becomes aware of its blueprint and production status. Based on these status data, the production can organise its processes autonomously and monitor the progress in real time.

Eleven partners have joined in the RoMulus project, targeting the objective of simplifying and accelerating the development of smart multi-sensor systems. As one of the goals, they intend to standardise and refine the process steps. This will make production more scalable – with such a data infrastructure and standardised process steps it will be possible to profitably manufacture a product independently of its quantity; even if very small quantities are produced it would not have a negative impact on profitability. This in turn could improve the competitive position of small and medium-sized enterprises.

In terms of technology, the RoMulus project aims at combining two sensing technologies in a very small space – MEMS and microelectronic sensor components. In this context, MEMS will be used to measure mechanical dimensions such as pressure or acceleration. The microelectronic sensors will be designed to acquire specific physical values like temperature, light intensity or chemical concentrations. The systems will also be designed to process the largest amounts of data possible. Plus, they need to be robust enough to operate reliably in rough industrial environments.

The sensor market is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such companies typically cannot render all services necessary for development and production of multi-sensor systems. Therefore, they depend on close collaboration with semiconductor manufacturers and engineering service providers for they research and development activities.

“Our intention is to disentangle this collaboration and thus standardise the design and manufacturing process,” says project coordinator professor Eckhard Hennig from Hochschule Reutlingen university. Hennig sketches a scenario in which SMEs will be able to mix and match development services as well as electronic components according to the need of their customers for their specific industrial applications.