The Rise of Smart Industrial Applications

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



“Industrial” is often what the marketing department labels an application when they aren’t sure what category it fits into, but the term generally encompasses applications that must withstand hostile environments. This includes systems used in factories or outdoors, like an automated fruit-labeling and sorting system. It also could be a system sitting on top of a snow-covered mountain that can only be accessed by helicopter once every six months or so. In other words, industrial systems must work and last in extreme heat and cold, humidity, shock and vibration, as well as exposure to EMI and surges and transients.

Because industrial products must work and last for a long time, downtime is expensive. They are often repaired, calibrated, and maintained in the field; unlike in the consumer electronics market where you typically find the customer donating the product or discarding it and buy something new. Often 10 years of assured supply is commonly needed as the consumer electronics components are obsoleted and replaced every 6 months. In other words, consumer products are not designed to last. This is not the case with industrial electronics – customers are depending on the quality and reliability and longevity, and if you cannot provide it to your customers, it’s clearly not the market for you. 

The end-applications for power electronics products used in industrial applications are often qualified for the rigorous MIL STD 810G standard. But if you have industrial customers, and if your organization offers AEC-Q qualified parts, you might have it in your power to meet military-grade requirements without going through additional testing. (I often say that industrial is automotive without wheels.) Like automotive customers, industrial customers need a long-term commitment to product longevity in their designs. Therefore, if you already use the AEC-Q process flow and qualification data for your automotive parts, your industrial customers will typically find that acceptable for their parts as well. 

Over the decades, through up and down markets, the industrial market has held steady and is long-term oriented.  Today, industry trends, driven by COVID-19, continue to move towards robotics and automation. With the emergence of AI in processes combined with edge computing, IoT sensors are everywhere. Smart monitoring is for any applications needing communications and control. Almost nothing is off-limits for new technologies using predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics.  A real-world example is the remote monitoring of propane tanks. In this application, a low-cost IoT sensor is placed on the tank to sense when it needs to be filled. This, obviously, is less expensive than using fuel and people to send trucks around to check the tank on site.

The economics of the industrial market is only limited by the value of the information provided via IoT. In harsh industrial settings, these applications will require power to be processed either by energy harvesting or by using lithium 40-year life cells. From off-mains powered welders and large battery chargers and 3-phase offline motor drives, the dynamic range of the power levels is as wide and diverse as imagination and the industrial market itself.