Ultrasonic sensors are adaptable tools with a diverse range of applications. Essentially an instrument for distance calculation and measurement, they've seen use in the health care, automotive and food industries, among other sectors which have found the technology attractive. Their functionality is deceptively simple.
As the name indicates, ultrasonic sensors use ultrasonic waves to measure distance. The sensor head emits an ultrasonic wave and then receives that wave reflected from the target. It measures the distance to the target by counting the elapsed time between the initial emission and the reception of the wave.
The true value of ultrasonic sensors comes from their impressive capacity for detection. They can detect transparent objects, reflecting off glass and liquid surfaces. Their waves are resistant to mist, dust and dirt particles, with stable presence detection for complex shapes like mesh trays and springs.
Naturally, the potential of ultrasonic sensors has given way to incredible innovations in 2019. This article seeks to explore and examine those innovations, looking at four applications for ultrasonic sensor technology this year within the context of market trends. Professionals in relevant industries should take note.
1. Smarter Flow Measurement
Improvements to ultrasonic sensors have made them more accurate and less expensive, reducing their size while increasing their availability. With these changes, they're an effective technology for flow measurement, especially for utility companies. The benefits for water, gas and heat meters are considerable.
For example, manufacturers can replace their mechanical flow meters with ultrasonic alternatives. These sensors are compelling for several reasons, such as their precision and absence of moving parts. Even so, manufacturers must understand pipe design and sensor positioning to enjoy the benefits of the technology.
In the future, ultrasonic technology will have a significant role in efforts to modernize the energy grid. As ultrasonic sensors continue to evolve, they'll make the grid more robust, efficient and secure. Given current trends, it's safe to speculate this technology will assist in the maturation of the "smart grid."
2. Improved Waste Management
One of the many applications of ultrasonic sensors is their ability to determine the amount of material remaining in a bin. These sensors function by shooting a sound beam at the surface level of the contents of the container, receiving the reflection of that beam. Even with dust, calculations remain accurate.
In this way, ultrasonic sensors serve a function in waste management. With the strategic placement of sensors in trash receptacles, companies can refine the waste collection process and reduce inefficiencies in their practices. They can prevent spills and other incidents which cause setbacks and difficulties.
With the current trajectory of sensor technology, they'll likely see widespread adoption for waste management in the next decade. As sensors continue to decrease in price, they'll increase in popularity, and municipal services will implement them to simplify and streamline their responsibilities.
3. Reliable Predictive Maintenance
Ultrasonic sensors have value for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. They can minimize production downtime, improve troubleshooting capabilities and enhance quality control and safety. The U.S. DOE has even recommended ultrasonic technology as one of the foremost solutions for leak detection.
A third-party evaluation team for the integration of ultrasonic technology studied its potential at more than 500 sites within a single organization. They found over 100 applications at each site, looking at boilers, compressors, heat exchangers, steam traps, valves and other components. The savings were remarkable.
That single organization would save approximately $3.7 million every year with the installation of ultrasonic technology. With market trends in mind, more manufacturers will incorporate ultrasonic sensors for predictive maintenance, assessing and addressing smaller issues before they escalate.
4. Enhanced Safety in Autonomous Vehicles
A variety of sensors assist self-driving vehicles in navigation and general operation. Among these sensors, ultrasonic technology has seen integration with autonomous systems. Ultrasonic sensors have a function in conventional vehicles as well, helping with blind-spot detection and self-parking.
One of the primary examples of ultrasonic sensors in self-driving vehicles comes from Tesla. Their ultrasonic sensors can see out to a range of nearly 500 meters, ensuring the safety and security of passengers in transit. With this degree of awareness, Tesla vehicles can effectively mitigate risk and avoid accidents.
As self-driving vehicles improve with each passing year, ultrasonic sensors will evolve alongside them. They'll ease the transition toward autonomous cars and alleviate anxieties over potential problems with detection. With the utility of ultrasonic sensors, this technology will prove indispensable in the future.
The Value of Ultrasonic Sensors
Ultrasonic sensors are an adaptable tool with a diverse range of applications, and the four functions above represent only a fraction of their potential. Flow measurement, waste management, maintenance and detection are all practical uses for ultrasonic sensors, but they show promise in other areas as well. Moving into 2019 and the next decade, this type of technology will continue to prove its value elsewhere, delivering on the promise of its impressive design.