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Wireless Sensors Harvest the Power of Vibration
National Instruments is the latest wireless sensor manufacturer to partner with energy-harvesting firm Perpetuum to power sensor nodes with energy from a machine's vibrations.
Jul 20, 2011—National Instruments, a Texas-based test and measurement equipment company, is partnering with energy-harvesting technology provider Perpetuum to offer a measurement node network that can be powered wirelessly, without batteries. According to Keith Abate, Perpetuum's director of business development, Perpetuum's vibration energy-harvesting technology can power National Instruments' sensor nodes by drawing energy from the vibrations of the very machine that the sensor is monitoring. What's more, sensors that track vibration levels within the machine, in order to monitor that device's health, can also draw power from those same vibrations.
The energy-harvesting technology, Abate says, operates with National Instruments' latest node: the NI WSN-3226, which is commercially available now. The device can also be powered in an outdoor setting, with a solar energy-harvesting system provided by Solarcraft Power Products. In both cases, the harvesting system will be sold separately by the technology providers, and can be wired to the sensor nodes.
National Instruments provides wireless sensor network (WSN) technology to help industrial firms track their machinery's health, by measuring the conditions around those devices. If a machine gets too hot or cold, for example, or vibrates excessively, that can indicate a problem that, if addressed quickly, can ensure the machine does not break down, or interfere with the company's productivity.
Although sensors that monitor the health of critical equipment, such as gas turbines that run an entire facility, are typically wired to guarantee they never fail, there has been an increase in the use of wireless sensors for other equipment, Abate says, such as compressors and pumps. "The biggest problem is that batteries wear out," he explains, thereby creating a need for industrial plants to replace sensor batteries at regular intervals, in order to avoid risking a sensor failure. Some factories have hundreds of sensors in place, making frequent replacements a time-consuming—and, at times, hazardous—process.
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