Spotlight: Sensing progress - safer and more economical sensor technology

Materials World magazine
9 Apr 2013

Improved sensor technology is helping engineers meet demands for safer and more economic systems. Rachel Lawler looks at developments in the field.

Engineers and manufacturers are finding themselves under greater pressure to reduce waste and energy use as firms continue to focus on safety, environmental and financial concerns. Part of the response from engineers has been the development of more effective sensor equipment capable of detecting problems and limiting damage before failures occur.

One popular development in sensor technology has been the expanded use of self-powered sensors to provide new and improved autonomous systems for monitoring and control. In response to this the NanoKTN, the Electronics, Sensors, Photonics KTN and the Materials KTN have set up a new Special Interest Group with the aim of promoting the development and commercial use of products, processes and services using this energy harvesting technology.

Another development in sensor technology is the use of inclination sensors in renewable energy applications. Inclination sensors from Balluff Inc measure deviation on a horizontal axis up to 360° and are suitable for precise position control and continuous positioning of rotational movements in critical applications. The devices are accurate to within 0.1° and have an expanded temperature range of -40–85°C, making them suitable for applications that require angle measure or constant rotary monitoring, including solar power plants.

Elsewhere, sensors are helping engineers working with liquids to monitor the flow within pipes. The flow of clean liquids including oils, chemicals and water can be checked from outside a pipe using the Portable Transit Time Flow Meter from Greyline Instruments Inc. The device can be used for calibrations, troubleshooting, spot checks and balancing flow on plastic or metal pipes. Clamp-on transducers mount the pipe and inject ultrasonic signals through the pipe between two sensors.

Shrinking pressure sensors are furthering the success of battery-operated devices requiring minimal size, such as smartphones, tablet computers and sat navs, in another aspect of sensor innovation. Digital Barometric Pressure Sensor Modules from Measurement Specialities Inc measure just 3x3x0.8mm and features the best resolution, highest pressure accuracy and lowest power consumption available. The compact device has a pressure accuracy of 2mBar at 25°C.

These developments could soon be translated into reduced costs, improved safety and increased sustainability.