Building Your Shop’s Personal Data Network

Wireless technology is ideal for creating individual data collection networks when measuring parts.


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I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but there’s a revolution going on in the personal health monitoring industry. Products are coming to market now that link sensors to your phone and enable you to track your personal fitness. Whatever facet of a workout you want to monitor—speed, distance and altitude, pulse, temperature, breathing, or personal performance—there is 
an app out there that monitors the appropriate sensors and collects the information for real-
time monitoring.

All of this is possible because of new wireless technology that was developed specifically for the medical industry. Now in its second generation, this wireless technology, known as ANT+, is established in a unique position within the ultra-low-power wireless industry. It was designed from the ground up to establish a personal network of sensors that can be scaled up into a complex network of devices.

Besides having ultra-low power consumption, ANT+ offers a number of other unique advantages. The first is the ability of a single receiver to accept the signals from a large number of transmitters without transmission “collisions” as the data is being shared. And if more are added or others are removed, the receiver and display will continue to receive data from the others.

For sport and fitness applications, this many-to-one technology is a perfect application. For example, in an indoor cycling/spinning class, all the wearers can have their personal data collected for comparison to others in the class. Or, in road-running races, each participant’s data can also be individually monitored and collected. For these applications, long battery life, portability and good transmission range are essential, and the ANT+ technology delivers.

This same technology is ideal for creating individual data collection networks in the shop when measuring parts. Previously, wireless gaging setups would have one receiver in a shop and multiple gaging transmitters with long transmission capabilities (and associated high power consumption) that sent data to the master receiver. Now, the benefits of personal network technology can change that. First, the cost of both the transmitter and receiver are significantly less with ANT+. Second, they are small enough and draw so little power that they can be integrated right into the gaging device. 

Therefore it’s now both possible and economical to create dedicated data collection stations for each technician making measurements. Most workstations in today’s modern shops already have PCs in place. With low-cost receivers, each workstation can now become the operator’s unique network for data collection. Or, it can just help get rid of a tangle of wires. 

This technology is ideal for benchtop or inspection-room data collection systems. In these applications, the distances are not great, but there could be numerous measurements going on simultaneously, and it is critical for them all to be received and stored in their appropriate data location. Still, the transmitters do have a good transmission range and offer the ability to take the gage to the part or to the machine to collect measurement results.

Another application might involve multiple digital indicators being used on a single gaging fixture. Previously, each digital indicator would have required its own cable, and since there are so many, some type of interface box would have been needed to handle the multiplexing of the signals to the computer. Now, with transmitters integrated inside the indicators, both the cabling and the multiplexers are eliminated. This makes a much cleaner-looking gaging station. Plus, the PC running the data collection software can be triggered by the operator to gather the data from the multiple digital indicators.

Eliminating cables is great, but probably the best application for this technology is right at the machine tool. By transmitting wirelessly into the machine tool’s controller, the data can be put to use as part of the calculation for offsetting. Thus, as the operator measures the parts, the data is used to assign the proper offsets, greatly improving the quality and throughput of the machine tool. Out-of-spec parts are virtually eliminated, and the ability of the machine to make parts to the desired dimension is greatly improved.

At the same time, the data can be stored for long-term archiving, recording when the part was measured and by whom. It can also be used for tracking and improving operator throughput.

Today, the technology that was conceived and developed for personal health monitoring is becoming the technology for creating individual data collection networks for part measurement. Whether it’s a single, handheld caliper making a single measurement on multiple parts, or whether the gages are part of a fixture making numerous checks at once, ANT+ technology now available from some gage manufacturers can reliably monitor the pulse and quality of your parts manufacturing operation.


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