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Good, Better, Best – Making Products Smarter With Indicators and Sensors

Our world is becoming more digital and data-driven by the day - and it’s not just with computers and phones. The data insights that we can acquire from smart products helps us make better, more timely decisions, take appropriate actions, improve performance, or even prevent negative outcomes. Just about any product today can become a “smart” product thanks to advancements in materials and manufacturing processes like flexible electronics.

If you’re looking to make your product more functional or connected, you have several options to consider. In this article, we’ll cover the advantages and differences between indicators, data logging sensors, and cloud connected sensors.

Benefits of indicators and sensors

Indicators and sensors can monitor all kinds of environmental factors and add exciting functionality to products. Sensors help medical devices detect abnormalities within the body that could potentially be life-threatening, enabling medical professionals to take proactive measures to improve patient outcomes. For industrial applications, indicators and sensors improve performance, mitigate risks, and streamline operations and safety.

There are numerous advantages of including indicators and sensors in your products. But the big question is, which one is right for my product? The answer depends on several factors – from capabilities to costs. Here at Tapecon, we think about smart products in three product families.

Good: Printed and electronic indicators

Indicators alert our senses to an environmental change, or the presence of something that wasn’t there before. Most often they’re designed to provide a visual notification or an audio alert but they can also take on other forms. For example, a chemical is added to natural gas that gives it a rotten egg odor to enable us to detect gas leaks.

Printed or chemical indicators can offer immediate visual verification (such as a color change) when a specific variable or event occurs, such as confirming that a medical device has undergone sterilization or alerting that a product reached a certain temperature during transportation. Another example is the label inside of your smart phone that turns red if the phone has been exposed to water. Electronic indicators take a similar approach but incorporate flashing LED’s or audio alarms. For example, a carbon monoxide detector that sounds an alarm when poisonous gas is present. There are multiple types of indicators with varying levels of sophistication.

The advantages of indicators are that they are simple and cost-efficient to produce. Their weaknesses are they are limited in the information they provide, especially compared to the next types of sensors we’ll explore.

Better: Data loggers

Moving from indicators to data loggers provides greater detail of what is happening. As the name suggests, a data logger can sense and capture (log) data and thereby provide insightful information about what has occurred or how the state of a product has changed. These devices don’t just give alerts on one-off events – they continuously capture and record data over time to provide a broader understanding of past occurrences.

In the medical field, data loggers are invaluable in tracking the detailed storage conditions of sensitive equipment or medication. Similarly, in industrial environments, they track conditions like temperature, humidity, and even pressure over time. This in-depth data collection offers valuable insights, facilitating improved process adjustments and maintenance schedules.

Data loggers are also useful in remote locations where the ability to connect to the internet may be inconsistent or not possible at all. Sensing data can be captured and then recorded on a memory chip where it can be retrieved later.

Best: Cloud Connected IOT Devices

Real-time sensors (aka Cloud-Connected IOT devices) offer the pinnacle of data collection and decision-making. These tools can be configured to instantly and continuously transmit information. The information that these sensors capture can be transmitted through a variety of ways including WiFi, NFC, BLE, LoRa, RFID, and other digital technology. Additionally, information can be imported into cloud-based technology where advanced algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can be leveraged to create more informed data-driven insights.

IOT sensors enable users to make swift decisions and respond immediately to changing conditions. In medical applications, this technology opens the door for remote patient monitoring and continuous analysis of a patient’s health data. Industrial products with real-time sensors can improve safety and make predictive analyses to improve productivity, enhance efficiency, and reduce waste.

The Good, Better and Best tiers just described refer to the degree of sensing sophistication, the quantity of data being collected, and the speed at which we can receive it, but they are not meant to imply that one is always better than another. It depends on the data insight needed, the value and time sensitivity required, and the cost incurred if a negative outcome isn’t prevented.

Manufacturing partner for indicators and sensors

If you’re interested in how indicators or sensors can enhance the value of your product or how you can get more deeply connected to your customers, talk to our expert team at Tapecon. As an advanced manufacturing partner, our reputation is built on precision, expertise, and innovation. We have experience producing a wide range of applications, including printed indicators and flexible electronics solutions.

But we’re not just a manufacturer. We aim to collaborate and contribute early in the design process to make your product successful. From our ISO-13485-certified, US-based facility, we offer a wide range of new product introduction support services, including materials consulting, feasibility and testing, prototyping, and more.

Let’s make something great

With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our new product introduction support services.

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