Study Reports Sensor Advances

(from release) Frost & Sullivan's research study, World Pressure, Temperature, and Flow Sensor Technology Developments, reports advances and the challenges facing their development; and examines automotive, consumer electronics, industrial control and monitoring, and medical device applications for these sensors.

It covers a number of sensing technologies, including piezoceramics, thermistors, MEMS, CMOS, Coriolis and ultrasound, IR, fiber optics, and nanotechnology. New products are mostly refinements of existing technologies; particularly noteworthy are those related to delivery of information generated by smart sensors. Wireless networking is having a major impact on industrial applications. The development of the ZigBee standard is facilitating cost-effective, efficient wireless communications for sensing and control applications. Emerging energy harvesting technologies that rely on vibrational energy, the movement of a switch, and very small thermal differences promise to free wireless sensor networks of the need to change batteries forever are also technologies worth monitoring.

Automotive and Medical Applications
With regard to automotive applications, some specific examples of recent developments include sensors that measure and/or control fuel injector pressure, and throttle valves. Tire pressure sensors are also emerging to meet new regulations, and many others have been developed to control specific safety features such as air bags.

Medical applications too have some very specific use of sensors and a recent development provides continuous blood pressure monitoring, notes the analyst of this research service. There is now a sensor technology to control the removal of cataracts using a hollow surgical tool, and a portable electronic spirometer that uses a pressure sensor to measure respiration for diagnosing pulmonary disease.

Oil Industry Adopting FBG Fiberoptic Sensors
While it has taken a few years for them to gain acceptance, fiberoptic temperature and pressure sensors are being increasingly adopted by the oil and gas industries. Down in the harsh environment of well holes, the fibers behave as multiple sensors and serve as the data-transmission pathways from that environment. A Fiber Bragg Grating (FBG) sensor can be made with more than 60 different parameters written into the core of a length of virgin optical fiber using a laser and deployed into an oil well environment that could include temperatures in excess of 250 degrees C and pressure up to 25,000 psi. The FBG fiberoptic technology is far superior to traditional sensor technologies that use a transducer (a piezoelectric crystal or thermocouple), and produce weaker signals.

RoHS a Major Challenge
Notwithstanding these developments, a major challenge for sensor technology, including smart sensors, lies in adhering to the European Union (EU) Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) that require electrical and electronic equipment to be lead free. Lead-based solder has been used in electronic equipment, including sensors, for years, and the most successful piezo-ceramic materials are lead based, says the analyst. RoHS will hence demand the development of suitable lead-free technologies and this has proved significantly costlier to the industries involved than was originally anticipated.

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