Industrial

Electronics: keeping the world connected

21st April 2021
Alex Lynn

The term ‘remote working’ has popped up a lot recently, and electronics has helped to keep us connected. Spurred on by the pandemic, companies have taken advantage of the latest technologies and moved their teams away from the usual workplace. Even now that lockdown restrictions are lifting, many companies are looking to make this new way of working a more permanent fixture.

By Phil Simmonds, Group Managing Director of EC Electronics.

But it is not just the workplace that is becoming increasingly remote and digitalised. These days, most tasks can be digitised in some way, and there is a growing demand for tools that allow people to carry out day-to-day activities from any location.

As this trend continues its upwards trajectory, electronics will play a crucial role in keeping the world connected.

Increased connectivity with the IoT

Sensors are key to digitising applications and provide a range of data, which can help to enhance safety or simply improve convenience. For example, sensors can measure temperature, regulate pressure, gauge distance, and detect smoke amongst a myriad of other uses.

The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is another core part of remote solutions. Combined with sensors, IoT offers a whole new level of connectivity. As an example, sensors can be used to monitor the temperature of commercial fridges and freezers. But unless these sensors are connected, someone still has to check and record the temperature manually. The IoT allows the data captured by the sensor to be recorded and stored in the cloud, enabling real-time alerts and superior remote monitoring.

Connected devices have been a mainstay in consumer electronics for many years now — from smartphones to smartwatches and other forms of wearable technology. But over the years, devices with connectivity capabilities have found their way into numerous applications as more and more industries seek digital transformation.

The medical sector is increasingly using sensors and the IoT to facilitate remote patient care and communication between doctors and patients. And connected scientific instruments allow laboratories, universities and other research hubs to connect their instruments to networks that can be monitored from anywhere in the world.

Sensors can also be used in oil, waste or septic tanks to measure liquid cases; when connected to the IoT, workers can monitor levels in the tanks remotely. Even asset tracking and other security applications can now be carried out instantly and remotely thanks to the IoT.

Understanding the requirements of connected devices

Until recently, most of these devices have run on Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular — the same networks and protocols that support mobile communications and the internet.

However, computers or phones have completely different network requirements to distributed devices such as embedded sensors, which often need to connect in areas away from the traditional infrastructure and a convenient power supply. When using the internet, we also access large volumes of data at irregular intervals. But remote sensors send small packets of data at regular intervals — the complete opposite.

Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN), such as Sigfox and LoRa-based standards, are specially designed to send small amounts of data from numerous low-power devices — such as sensor endpoints — at longer intervals. The protocols in these networks also have specific long-range capabilities and less interference than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

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