Integration Is the Name of the Game

E-mail Ray Peacock

The past few months have been rife with the release of new industrial automation devices and market analysis that points to a growing trend toward the integration of complementary technologies. The demand for multivariable and multifunctional instruments is a byproduct of the high-pressure drive to achieve greater efficiencies in the world of industrial automation. Some great examples of the trend can be found in all categories of sensing, including pressure, flow, level, and temperature. In addition, the overall market for sensors is expected to experience tremendous growth. For example, IC Insights' 2006 Optoelectronics, Sensor/Actuator, and Discrete Report sees the global market for solid-state sensors and actuators growing twice as fast as that of integrated circuit–based devices. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

In another the marketing study—this time on multivariable electronic pressure transducers and transmitters (i.e., a pressure sensor and another sensing output, such as temperature or level)—Venture Development Corporation predicts a significant increase in worldwide sales of pressure sensors over the next four years, but it also sees a drop in the technology's market share. Whereas, the same study forecasts an increase in sales (17.6% compound annual growth rate) and market share for multivariable devices.

There are many other instances of the integration of multiple sensing devices or the combination of sensors and complementary functionality. Consider the following examples.

Ashcroft Inc. announced a new pressure sensor-pressure transmitter device. "The breakthrough Ashcroft Xmitr" has been designed for uses where both a gauge and transducer are currently being used. The net benefit is that it provides the user with money, space, and time savings. It also eliminates one instrument and the associated piping, fitting, installation, and maintenance costs. In addition, there are fewer leak paths and dead-legs in the process.

Kulite Sensors introduced a miniature high-pressure IS pressure transducer, with integrated temperature sensor, billed as "the world's smallest pressure and temperature sensor." The device measures 6 mm in diameter and has a platinum resistance temperature detector element (RTD) located beside a diaphragm to detect media temperature.

But there are other surveys and sensors, too.

As with the pressure sensor-transmitter from Ashcroft, integration is appearing in flowmeters as well.

One example is the OPTIFLUX family of magnetic flowmeters from Krohne. With just one signal converter, this family of flow sensors covers all applications, from a simple water flow to corrosive or abrasive flows to pulp in the paper industry.

Another is the versatile two-wire magnetic flowmeter from Yamatake, the MagneW Two-Wire PLUS magnetic flowmeter series, which delivers reliable performance at a fraction of the cost of traditional four-wire installations. With these devices, you can cost effectively replace the extra two-wire flow measurement instruments, improve performance, and reduce maintenance.

There's much more going on with flowmeters, though. Consider two great resources:

  1. In its Worldwide Survey of Flowmeter Users, 2nd Edition, Flow Research asked major flowmeter suppliers to list subjects they would like to see addressed in the user survey. The results are now available as part of the 12th volume on flowmeters.

    Over the past five years, Flow Research has systematically analyzed the worldwide flowmeter market. They have studied every flow technology and created an individual study on each one. They now have a market study on every type of flowmeter. Their latest study, The World Market for Vortex Flowmeters, 3rd Edition, was released in March 2006.

  2. The team of Spitzer and Boyes LLC continues to provide research on engineering, markets, and related consulting services to instrumentation users, manufacturers, and representatives on a worldwide basis. But they go one step beyond market studies: They help users select and apply flowmeters by providing independent consumer guides to the world's instruments, ranked by performance, size, features, and supplier (as applicable).

    Their guides contain technical information about evaluating and applying the equipment, including pointers on installation, covering such topics as fluid, piping, hydraulic, mounting, and electrical considerations (as applicable). Tables include the types of equipment and features that are available from each supplier, along with their country of origin or source.

    I can't recommend them enough. Dave Spitzer is a highly respected instrumentation engineer (PE) with more than 20 years experience in the field of flowmeters. Walt Boyes, aside from being a widely published editor and author in many areas of instrumentation and control, is experienced in engineering, business, and marketing—a unique combination.

Finally (for flowmeters), there are other improvements. Emerson has enhanced its Rosemount 1595 Conditioning Orifice Plate for uses ranging from high-pressure applications to ANSI 2500 and DIN PN100 to processes requiring material (e.g., Hastelloy, Monel, and 304L SS) compatibility. Emerson has extended Rosemount 1595's use into applications involving installations between orifice fittings with the Universal plate style.

It's going on here, too.

AMETEK Drexelbrook now offers a wireless transmitter/receiver set that can be part of an integrated solution with its level sensors in harsh environments, hazardous Class 1 Division 2 areas, or other locations where conduit or cable would be costly or impossible to install.

K-TEK, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art instrumentation for liquid level measurement for 30 years, has announced the new MT5000 series of guided wave radar level transmitters. Designed for use in a variety of harsh environments, such as oil and gas processing and power generation, the series includes the MT5000 liquid level transmitter and the MT5100 level and interface transmitter.

Temperature and Other Sensors
The integration of sensors and electroincs has, of course, been going on for many years in the temperature sensor market, starting with Mikron Infrared in the IR spot sensor, 2-wire infrared market, widely copied and litigated against in the past. Signal transmitters of the two-wire variety, it seems, began with thermocouple and RTD temperature sensors. That's old hat now. The topics above are less obvious and indicate a significant trend in overall instrument design, I think.

Near Infrared (NIR) Sensors
The National Science Foundation recently provided multimillion-dollar funding for a new engineering research center—MIRTHE—to transform sensor technology. The center is to be based at Princeton University, and it is expected to revolutionize sensor technology, yielding devices that have a unique ability to detect minute amounts of chemicals found in the atmosphere, emitted from factories, or exhaled in human breath.

The goal of the research is to produce devices that are so low in cost and easy to use that they transform aspects of the way doctors care for patients, local agencies monitor air quality, governments guard against attack, and scientists understand the evolution of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

A key technology enabling the center's work is the quantum cascade laser, which is named for the way the electrons "cascade" through thin layers of material stacked within the device. Dr. Gmachl, a member of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, is a pioneer in creating quantum cascade lasers and is a recipient of a 2005 MacArthur "genius grant" in recognition of that work.

This commentary would be incomplete without the mention of the fastest growing innovations in radio frequency identification (RFID) devices.

Smartcode Corp. announced "The World's First 5 Cent RFID Tag" in May, saying that "it won the race for the 5 cent RFID tag—the Holy Grail of the RFID Industry. The company, which was already among the world leaders in low-cost, high-performance RFID hardware solutions has outperformed all others in the field to become the cost leader.

Savi Technology, a provider of RFID-based supply chain solutions, announced the release of two innovative sensor tags that reduce spoilage and damage by monitoring the temperature and humidity of military and commercial shipments, including aircraft engines, ammunition, medical supplies, food stuffs, and other perishables vulnerable to environmental conditions as they move through the supply chain.

Then, surprise (or maybe not): Lockheed Martin Corp. announced in May that it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Savi Technology Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Calibration Management Software
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