Data is at the center of digital transformation. The more data you can acquire, the more possibilities open up to your company. However, there are a variety of ways to collect data. Data acquisition systems (DAQ) collect data and, together with data analytics software, turn them into useful insights that your company can use to improve its processes and gain an advantage over the competition.
Consider some of the different types of DAQ systems, how to implement them, and the benefits they can bring to your business.
How Different Types of Data Acquisition Systems Drive Digital Transformation
Retrofitted Analog Data Acquisition
Many industrial companies in the aerospace and defense sectors still use older machines that rely on analog controls. Since these machines require a massive investment, it’s only natural for companies to try to get as much production from them as possible. However, older machines don’t readily have data acquisition systems. Retrofitting machines with sensors or turning their analog signals into digital data provides a useful solution. It’s possible to turn a traditional analog device into a smart machine.
You can start by equipping older machines with sensors that monitor vibration, temperature, noise levels, and more. These devices will output simple analog signals that feed into an analog-to-digital converter, which will then output data in 1s and 0s. A computer can then collect this data and analyze it. If you install additional digital-to-analog controllers, you can even automate an old machine’s operations. This approach extends the useful life of older equipment, maximizing the return on investment.
Benefits and Applications
With older equipment, you have very few data points that you can measure. Most companies will only track throughput: how many units a machine can produce or how many operations it can conduct in a given time period. However, retrofitting machines with sensors can tell you what’s happening while production occurs. This unlocks the ability to perform preventative maintenance. Instead of routinely servicing machines according to a schedule, you can proactively address issues and optimize your engineers’ time.
For example, you could configure a computer to alert engineers when a vibration sensor outputs a result that exceeds acceptable operating parameters. Excessive vibration is a sign that a machine is due for maintenance. Your technicians can now plan around this maintenance and ensure minimal downtime. Meanwhile, machines that are running within specifications can be ignored, minimizing unnecessary maintenance operations. You get more uptime and save valuable time, all thanks to a simple DAQ upgrade.
Digital sensors output digital data without the need of an analog-to-digital converter. These have several advantages compared to analog DAQ methods. First, digital data does not degrade over distance. Analog sensors have limits to how long their wires can be, while digital sensors can readily transmit data over any distance without quality loss. Second, digital sensors virtually eliminate the lag between measurement and transmission, which gives you a real-time, always-on data measurement. Finally, they’re immune to noise or interference.
Digital sensors can be a great solution when dealing with environments with heavy interference or when you need more data from your sensors. Likewise, when wire length is limited, digital sensors are the best option. There are also some measurements that can are best acquired with digital sensors. While you can also use digital sensors for preventative maintenance, there are other applications worth considering.
Benefits and Applications
Digital sensors require less power than analog sensors, which means you can deploy many more of them to get a broader range of measurements. Their fast transmission rate is also useful when quick decisions are necessary. For instance, you could use an array of digital sensors to create an emergency stop protocol to prevent damage to systems if a machine suddenly starts to fail. Digital sensors are also ideal for hard-to-reach places and hazardous environments.
Digital sensors are great for building climate control. You can easily configure a system to adjust your HVAC automatically, which could save your company money, especially now that energy prices are at record highs in many areas. Collecting digital data also means that your data analytics systems can cross-reference data sets to produce interesting findings. You may find a specific process heats up your building more, for example, requiring more cooling to prevent damage.
Remote Data Acquisition Systems
Aerospace companies regularly have to perform work offsite in live testing operations. In many companies, data is collected during the test and then transferred manually to a computer later for analysis. However, this method slows down operations and can result in entirely wasted tests if data is not properly captured or damaged during the test. Remote DAQ solves this problem by creating a long-distance data feed in real-time. Best of all, it’s very easy to install and configure.
Using a GSM module, data can be transferred over GSM cellular networks back to your offices. Simply wire sensors to a GSM module and program it to send data to a specific server online. Your digital data is always safe when you use encryption, meaning that you can use this method even if you’re working on confidential defense contracts. If you’re operating in an area without GSM coverage, there are other methods of long-distance wireless transmission available.
Benefits and Applications
Transmitting remote data in real-time provides numerous benefits for your operations. Perhaps the most important is the fact that you can use this data to control a test subject. Autonomous drones, for example, depend on this technology. Data processed at a central server can be returned to the drone nearly instantly to correct flight paths, alter mission parameters, and more. Drone operators can work from safer or more convenient locations, making testing and operations easier.
Remote DAQ systems also make mobile platforms possible. Since a mobile radar device or defense platform cannot depend on a hard-wired line, GSM modules enable the same connectivity even when on the move. Satellite-based solutions also exist for when GSM networks are unreliable, as is often the case in an active warzone where network infrastructure may be destroyed. Finally, having a live feed of data helps to troubleshoot issues and identify exactly when failure occurs.
Automated Visual Data Collection
So far, we’ve only looked at data collection methods involving signals, either analog or digital. However, modern technology has made it possible to extract data from a wider variety of sources. In particular, visual data processing has made incredible progress in recent years. Now it’s possible for companies to integrate this technology into their processes. All you need is a camera and a computer that can process visual data using special components.
A camera records a certain number of frames per second, which are saved as separate image files. Visual processing units (VPUs) installed in a computer then take these individual frames and analyze them. They can identify objects in the scene and even learn to identify faces! The more images they are trained on, the better they get at identifying their targets. For industrial companies, this is easily one of the most useful tech enablers for digital transformation.
Benefits and Applications
Visual data acquisition can provide quality control and security. With regard to quality control, cameras at various points on a production line can capture images of components and compare them to reference images to determine if there are any obvious defects or issues. If your system detects a flaw in production, you can program it to stop production or alert someone on the floor to inspect the component manually. This makes your QC much more efficient and automated.
Security is another important concern, especially if you’re involved in defense contracts. Instead of just having security cameras that detect motion, you can use visual data collection to know who entered your building and where they went. By training your system on trusted faces, you can later use it to identify unauthorized entry to specific spaces in your building. Not only will this help you defend against potential intruders, but it will also make sure your employees don’t go where they shouldn’t.
Turning Acquired Data Into Insights
With all of these DAQ systems in place, your company will have a wealth of data to guide its operations. However, you’ll also need data analytics software to unite all of these data sources and turn them into actionable items. Every company is unique, which means that the right combination of DAQ systems and software varies from one to the next. What systems does your company truly need?
That’s the question we want to answer at SAAB RDS. We’re experts in digital transformation and can help your company figure out what to install and how to best leverage technology to improve your business. Contact SAAB RDS to schedule a meeting with one of our experts.