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Precise non-contact sensors could open up new applications

15 July, 2015

A German startup company has developed a contactless optoelectronic sensing technology that, it claims, will lead to new levels of precision and robustness in industrial applications. Munich-based Konux says that its patented technology can be used to measure at least nine different types of variable, including position, pressure, acceleration, angle, level and force.

The wear-free sensors incorporate LEDs pointing at photodiodes that convert their light into a current. Between the LED and the receiver is a converter (light filter), that moves in response to a physical input force. This movement changes the amount of light transmitted which, in turn, modifies the diode’s output. The current is proportional to the movement of the converter, allowing the smallest changes in force to be measured accurately.

One of the first applications for the technology is in a torque sensor that has less than 1µV of noise, even in low-torque applications, and a two-digit microsecond response time, allowing it to be used in real-time control. The sensors can self-calibrate “intelligently” and will measure to an accuracy of up to 0.01%. The contactless operating principle means that the sensors are insensitive to vibration and resistant to wear. They are robust enough to be used reliably in extreme conditions.

One potential application for the torque sensors is to ensure the safe operation of the new generation of “collaborative” robots. The sensors can be incorporated into the joints of robotic arms to sense if the arm makes contact with anything or anyone. Konux says that its sensors have the reliability, real-time response and accuracy to allow collaborative robots to operate safely near humans.

The company predicts that its sensors will also lead to faster operation of production lines. They can store their output signals, ensuring that absolute measurements are preserved in the event of a power supply failure or machine downtime. After the system has been restarted, the sensors resume measurements immediately. Any changes during the downtime can be detected. The self-calibrating devices can adapt to changing conditions and do not need to be removed from the system for maintenance.

This precise torque sensor is one of the first applications of Konux's technology

Konux says that the custom-made sensors can be scaled and integrated into various applications. They can be networked and are optimised for use with Ethernet and industrial Wi-Fi, leading to fast, efficient production, as well as facilitating autonomous machine-to-machine communications.

“We are already developing sensors which meet the high demands of Industry 4.0,” says chief technology officer, Vlad Lata. “As a young company, we profit from the fact that we don’t have to change existing systems. Right from the start, we are manufacturing the products our clients need to tackle the upcoming challenges in manufacturing.”

Konux was founded in 2014 by four students from the Munich Technical University. It now employs about 30 people. In October 2014, it embarked on a project with Siemens to look for potential applications for its technology.

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