A Scottish tech firm is developing a ‘world’s first’ 5G sensor to monitor industrial machinery for faults in real-time.

Livingston-based Sensor-Works is working on a prototype device that will assess the condition of factory equipment, picking up on tiny vibrations that indicate imminent breakdown.

The company – working with CENSIS, Scotland’s innovation centre for sensing, imaging systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – is working on proof of concept trials.

If successful, it could open the firm to new global markets and fuel demand for up to 10,000 devices per year.

The sensors will be applied to industrial machinery to detect when a fault is likely to occur, by monitoring for vibrational signatures and temperature increases in real time.

Vibrations are the most accurate indicator a machine is beginning to fail and the signature can determine what kind of fault is going to occur – for instance, bearing defects or components falling out of alignment. 

Sensor-Works worked with CENSIS on the development of its original BluVib device in 2017, which was one of the world’s first Bluetooth-enabled predictive maintenance sensors. 

Thousands of the systems have been sold across the world since its inception, including in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and South Africa. 

The use of cellular networks – such as 4G or 5G – will allow the sensors to send data directly to the cloud, rather than having to use intermediary devices such as phones, laptops, or routers that would limit their use for remote monitoring. The new generation of the device could be used in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, oil and gas, and water management.

Sensor-Works is partnering with Grupo Álava in Spain to commercialise the sensor and explore distribution opportunities in Europe, once the proof of concept is complete. The electronics, plastic injections, and other main components will be sourced from within the UK, while the product assembly will take place in Livingston.

Ian Bain, managing director at Sensor-Works, said: “The original BluVib device, which CENSIS helped us develop, became our best-selling product – it is still unsurpassed in the market and has been an enormous success for us as a company, with the Bluetooth product line expanding and growing over the years. 

“On the back of the device’s success and the roll-out of 5G, there is a huge opportunity for us in creating a new generation of sensors which uses cellular networks to transmit data. This will create significantly more demand because using 5G will remove the need for a middle layer of technology in the process and increase the volume of sensors that can be deployed. 

“Working with our partners, this is a huge new development for Sensor-Works and will result in a significant new revenue stream that will help grow the company.”

Stephen Milne, director of strategic projects at CENSIS, said: “Sensor-Works’ BluVib technology has been a great success story of a world-first in sensing being developed in Scotland and used around the world. The next iteration of the device could be another first in condition monitoring and a great demonstration of how more companies can make the most of the opportunities presented by 5G. 

“Small businesses like Sensor-Works are the lifeblood of the Scottish economy. This project shows that companies of any size can be innovative and look at international growth opportunities – and CENSIS can support them through that journey.”