Case Study: Nikola Labs' PfM Sensor System

Developing a predictive maintenance system for monitoring heavy machinery
Nikola Labs predictive maintenance system designed by Nottingham Spirk
Nikola Labs - Sensor and transponder connected devices developed by Nottingham Spirk

Columbus-based Nikola Labs takes its name from the visionary engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, who in 1905 wrote: “The economic transmission of power without wires is of all-surpassing importance to man. … It will make the living glorious sun his obedient, toiling slave. It will bring peace and harmony on earth.” That grand prediction remains elusive, but Nikola Labs has taken an important step in that direction with its PfM Sensor System.

The Challenge

The predictive maintenance system consists of sensors and transponders. The sensors monitor the temperature and vibrations of heavy machinery, and relay data back to the transponders to help staff anticipate equipment failure. The sensors are also equipped with tiny, proprietary INDRA chips, which convert radio frequency (RF) energy from the transponders into direct current power. This means more sensors can be used in more hard-to-reach places, because there is no need to schedule down time for battery replacement (“a maintenance program for my maintenance program,” as one factory owner put it).

Nikola Labs smart product transponder & sensors developed by Nottingham Spirk

The Product Design & Development

The technology was developed at The Ohio State University by Dr. Chi-Chih Chen, who worked with Texas Instruments and Skyworks Solutions to reduce the size of the chip. Nikola Labs then turned to Nottingham Spirk for help with the product design and building critical waterproof housings and mountings. NS worked fast and responded in time to prove value in the field. We also helped Nikola develop the proximity sensor, which shuts off the RF flow when obstructed, for instance by a person walking past it.

The PfM Sensor System is exactly what modern industry has been waiting for.

“Industry 4.0 models are based around working smarter instead of harder through networked, monitored equipment,” writes Manufacturing Focus magazine. “Machines and facilities cannot simply be kept running until they fail and then have repairs; the upkeep on them must be constant. Twenty to thirty percent of the value of production can be lost due to downtime. To recoup these costs, industries have moved toward a model that can keep machines running and is predictive rather than reactive.”

Nottingham Spirk is pleased to announce our strategic partnership with Nikola Labs, Inc. Learn more about the PfM Sensor and our partnership here.

Learn more about Nottingham Spirk’s expertise in the B2B and industrial product industry, as well as our innovation approach.

Nikola Labs Logo

Nikola Labs partnered with Nottingham Spirk to develop the sensor and transponder hardware needed for their proprietary technology for monitoring heavy machinery.

“If I had to choose a partner that was most influential in our business, it would be Nottingham Spirk.”
– Brian Pitzer, Vice President, Nikola Industrial & Manufacturing Solutions

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