Ensuring regulatory compliance with smart sensor technology #engineering #compliance #sensor #technology

How ASICs can help businesses maintain and prove compliance.

How do you prove your facilities are compliant? Gathering data, reports and logs from every inch of the manufacturing shop floor can take time, and it might not be as comprehensive as one might wish. Here, Richard Mount, Director of Sales at ASIC design and supply company Swindon Silicon Systems, explains how ASIC-driven smart sensors can help businesses maintain and prove regulatory compliance.

The manufacturing sector is a major UK industry, accounting for around eight per cent of the workforce and just under ten per cent of the country’s total economic output. With millions of employees across the country, and vast amounts of products manufactured each day, there must be an element of standardisation to ensure that work is performed safely, and that products meet specifications.

Regulations are crucial in achieving this. Government and industry bodies set standards across areas including health and safety, environmental impact, and process quality. Meeting these standards often requires extensive reporting on the part of the manufacturer, which may include historical data, detailed process methods, and maintenance logs.  

Penalties for non-compliance are typically fines, but if the business is not proven to meet other regulations, such as ISO, these certifications may also be lost. On top of that, businesses may need to cover the cost of inspection. Government agency HSE will recuperate costs for inspection of health and safety legislation breaches at £163 per hour, a significant financial cost to businesses.

Additional implications such as reduced consumer trust and damaged reputation also come with non-compliance. So, how can manufacturers ensure they are compliant — and prove it?

Intelligent data collection

Implementing sensor technology into the shop floor can help, continuously measuring metrics such as temperature, humidity, air quality and noise. These sensors are used in a variety of applications. Perishable goods and chemicals that need to be stored under specific conditions can be monitored to ensure quality and prevent wastage. They can also benefit worker safety, by ensuring noise remains at safe levels or for monitoring the presence of toxic or harmful gases.

Combining these sensors with IoT technologies means that this data can be accessed real-time, ensuring operators can pick up faults almost immediately and take necessary action. It can also make reporting much easier, collating data from multiple connected sensors across the factory into one location.  

With the important role that smart sensors play, they themselves must meet strict requirements. Sensor technology relies on ICs to perform the signal conversion, processing and digitisation to transform analogue signals obtained into digital ones that can be reported. For some applications, standard, off-the-shelf ICs may be sufficient to perform these tasks. But to give smart sensors a technical and competitive edge, opting for a custom Application Specific IC, or ASIC instead can elevate sensing technology to the next level.

ASICs are designed exactly to the customer’s specification, resulting in a fully optimised chip for the specific application. This level of optimisation helps give ASICs a smaller footprint, as well as reduced power consumption. The smaller size of an ASIC helps broaden the number of potential applications where it can be used. For example, wearables such as wristbands and headsets are made more viable, offering workers an increased level of protection and safety compliance.

The low power consumption of an ASIC also means that battery-operated sensors have a much longer lifetime, lessening the need for battery replacements. It also prevents downtime of the sensor itself to ensure that there are no gaps in or loss of any data.

As new regulations continue to emerge in response to changing industry standards, it can be tricky for manufacturers to keep up. Making the most of smart sensor technology with ASIC-improved capabilities can help manufacturers ensure compliance across the whole of their plant not just on inspection day, but for the remaining 364 days of the year.