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The sixth sense

The sixth sense

By Huned Contractor

Pune-based IFM Engineering India is a subsidiary of the global company IFM Electronic GmbH and is actively engaged in the development of new sensors for the worldwide automotive market


That day is not too far off when the collision of cars on freeways and even in congested areas will be reduced to a minimum. And when that happens, the magic can be credited to the use of sensors, which will be able to control the speed of the vehicles as per the oncoming traffic. Furthermore, accidents caused due to the inability of dumper drivers to have a clear 180 degree vision may also be a thing of the past if their vehicles are fitted with 3D cameras that will feed their dashboard panel with ‘live’ coverage of the area around them.

“Sensor technology is one of the most important and exciting developments happening in the automotive sector today,” says Vishwas Udpikar, managing director of Pune-based IFM Engineering India (P) Ltd, a subsidiary of the German company, IFM Electronic GmbH. IFM is one of the world’s leading manufacturers in the automation industry. With more than 4,300 employees in over 70 countries who develop and sell solutions for about 1,00,000 customers in machine construction, automotive and other industries, the success story of the family-owned company began in 1969 with the invention of inductive proximity sensors on the basis of film technology. Today the trade name ‘efector’ is synonymous with position and fluid sensors, object recognition, diagnostic and identification systems. The ‘ecomat’ brand stands for networking and control systems.

With its corporate headquarters in Essen, plus a development and production site in Tettnang on Lake Constance, 88 per cent of the 7,844 IFM products are manufactured here and the company has to its credit over 580 patents.

The Indian base was set up by Udpikar, a PhD from IIT Madras with about 24 years of experience in signal processing domain. His other companies are Wavelet Group and SCI-COM Software, engaged in areas like digital signal processing and digital image processing technologies.


Speaking about what led to the formation of IFM Engineering, Udpikar says, “The technical competencies of the Wavelet Group led to a couple of good projects executed by us for IFM Electronic GmbH. These were in the areas of 3D camera technology and applications. So it was felt that an Indian subsidiary to provide research and development capabilities would be very useful.”Today, given the fact that India is making its way to being an important global automotive hub, Udpikar and his team have been entrusted with the task of developing exclusive sensor applications that the vehicles of the future will be equipped with. “As automation grows, sensor applications will become a vital part of the machines as well as process automation. We now have the top four companies in India’s automotive sector as our clients and we also provide our technologies to the big four in the steel and the machine tool sectors,” Udpikar states.

Some of the new technologies being offered currently include a sensor-based automatic boot door opening system as also keyless entry-related products. “A 3D camera-based driver assistance system is in the offing and we have also developed solutions for mobile equipment such as cranes,” he adds.

Mobile controllers meet the requirements of modern electronics. They are able to simultaneously perform complex and proportional functions with a large number of inputs and outputs. The controller was developed particularly for use in off-highway and mobile vehicles on the basis of the current standards. Besides the multifunctional inputs and outputs, each control module is equipped with four CAN (controller area network) interfaces. They support all the important bus protocols, different baud rates (a data transmission rate for modems in bits/second) and also the transparent and pre-processed data exchange.

Yet another major application developed by IFM is that of touch sensitive sensors compatible with automotive applications. In this technology, the capacitive measuring principle detects an approaching human hand.


“Dynamic touch sensors suppress interference such as water, layers of ice or foreign bodies to a large extent. However, a gloved hand will still trigger them. Static touch sensors detect hands and objects for as long as the sensing face is damped. Touch sensors also work through glass. Compared to mechanical switches the sensors operate without wear. Since they react to contact, no pressure is required for activation, which means considerably increased ease of use. The sensor can be used as a button on mobile vehicles and trailers. Also, they can be used as stop buttons or door openers,” Udpikar informs.

There are a wide variety of sensor applications for the powertrain too. One such is related to coolant monitoring on a camshaft grinding machine. The surface quality achieved here is decisive for the quality of the shafts.

To assure a consistently high precision during the grinding process, coolant emulsion must be permanently supplied. In the supply pipe of the plant, the flow of the emulsion is monitored using a type SI5000 flow sensor. If the coolant supply is interrupted, the grinding process is stopped. Due to the permanent monitoring of the emulsion, the high processing quality of the camshafts is ensured and the uptime of the grinding disks is increased.

Another such area is that of compressed air. With even the smallest leaks leading to high costs in the course of time, compressed air losses in a robot cell with different tools have to be minimised. The compressed air supply consists of two compressed air circuits (6 and 12 bar), which are to be monitored separately. In case of compressed air losses, an error message is to be sent to the maintenance staff. In both of the compressed air lines, compressed air meters of the type SD8000 are installed. They continuously monitor the compressed air consumption – during production as well as in quiescent condition. There are limit values for both operating states. An error message is generated when the limits are exceeded.Another application area that has been covered by IFM is of object recognition in gearbox assembly. In the production of gear shafts a sensor is used to check if a needle bearing has been installed, if it is the correct bearing and if the installation has been carried out correctly.

The Efector Dualis Contour Sensor is used for this task together with a background illumination unit. The contour comparison, by means of a backlight, ensures that the shaft meets the quality requirements of the customer. “Given the increasing scope of using sensors for automotive production lines as also the finished vehicles, continuous innovation is the key factor. And here in India, our focus is on making vehicles of all kinds superior and safer,” Udpikar states.

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