Sensor + Test Expo Recap
By Ray Hicks, President, CO2Meter, Inc.
This was our 10th year at the Sensor + Test Expo in Nuremberg, Germany. Because it was the end of June, we missed Spargelzeit (white asparagus season) but the Herring had just come on in Holland.
What does this have to do with the Sensor + Test Expo? As the writer Henry Bromell said, “It’s important to begin a search on a full stomach.”
The Sensor + Test show floor is quite large but manageable. Like all EU shows, it was clean and orderly with informative booths representing both the top sensor manufacturers in the world as well as several European institutions with cooperative sensor research and engineering programs.
This year’s theme was the “Industrial Internet of Things.” The alternate theme is “A Radio for Every Sensor.” The goal, as it has been in the past few years in America, is to have everything talk to everything else - and do it wirelessly. No surprises here.
However, many of the presentations on IOT were made with a European perspective. Instead of the Internet of things (IOT) as the headline, their focus was on how interconnectedness can be both cost effective and beneficial.
Being a shiny new technology isn’t enough to sell a product in the EU. Privacy is their concern, and every new technology has to answer the question, “Is it worth collecting the data?”
Keep in mind that in the EU privacy is not limited to personal information. They understand the threat of hacked systems, both to steal good data and to insert bad data. When a recent series of cyber attacks targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, they took it seriously. Good for them.
Cooperation and Competition
To strengthen security in the IOT, I saw a plethora of competing hardware and protocol solutions: WIFI, BT, P2P, RFID of numerous flavors, some open, some proprietary, and some new. What is interesting to see is the ebb and flow of companies both cooperating on standards and competing against other standards.
Of particular note is KNX, an evolving standard sponsored by Siemens / ABB for home automation. This simple, low-power protocol will compete with enOcean and LRA (Long Range Radio) as a standard. The only reason the KNX protocol has a chance of success is the power of the companies behind it.
In the EU it is common for sensor manufacturers to partner with government-funded projects or universities to create new technologies. Certainly Fraunhofer Institute leads in presence for a number of sensor projects across a range of technologies.
In addition, it was interesting to see that sensor manufacturers are now partnering with semiconductor manufacturers and systems integration experts to implement IOT.
I visited our partners and scouted out a range of new technology for expanding our offering of gas, humidity, temperature, pressure sensors and instruments. Alpha Sense, Figaro, GSS, SenseAir, SST and Amphenol were all showing a range of gas sensors as well as filters, pumps, PCB hardware and electronic components to implement their applications.
Alpha Sense has a new particle sensor in the 2.5-10um range that is very accurate, and a new gas "stick" appliance with electrochemical sensors (looks like a relay wand) that is designed to be an inexpensive data logger suitable for outdoor use.
Figaro has a development agreement with ST Micro Electronics for electrochemical and Microelectromechanical systems (mems) sensor signal processing including CO and IAQ. This gives Figaro a path to a device that has IOT capability.
Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) has shortened the response time with cleaver integration and flow dynamics on the ExplorIR (formerly COZIR) 5% to 100% CO2 sensors. By using miniaturized electronics and reducing the internal volume of the sensor, they handle the flow of gas more accurately and quickly.
SenseAir AB has been acquired by Ashahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), a large Japanese conglomerate in the automotive and consumer products industries. AKM makes products like electronic compasses and noise reduction technology for automobile manufacturers, so while they are large, they are not well known. However, this bodes well for SenseAir's new optical solid state Sunrise sensor. I'll be testing these very soon.
SST Sensing has lowered the implementation effort on their UV O2 sensors with a new sealed flow-through design. this should eliminate any leakage in sealed gas measurement systems.
Telaire Amphenol Sensors showed their ruggedized 3000 series sensors with expanded temperature and environmental range that will stand up to harsh environments like the trucking and transport industry.
One of our future supplier's Wuhan Cubic has added our exclusive GasLab power management to their low concentration hydrocarbon sensors. Cubic offers high-concentration sensors with low cross-sensitivity. If testing goes as expected, expect to see them on our website in the near future.
Interesting New Technologies
Micro-Hybrid and SenseAir have jointly developed Nova IR, a midwave IR source with enough energy so that gases like nitrous oxide, and ammonia can be measured at the parts-per-million range.
Although it is not yet on the market, WiTec Raman Imaging in Germany showed an interesting UV absorption sensor for measuring low concentration of VOCs. These measurements have typically relied on expensive Photo Ionization Detectors (PID) glass tubes with noble gases at high voltage. By replacing PIDs with LED NDIR technology, this lends itself to making inexpensive VOC detectors with high selectivity at a reasonable cost.
Fraunhofer Institute displayed some interesting research on the improvement of colorimetric measurement of gases.
In addition to the EU, US and Asian companies at Sensor + Test, I saw many new Asian and Indian manufactures in all areas of sensors and component elements for development. The Indian companies are the proverbial "new kids on the block", although their expertise seems to be focused on pressure and temperature sensors today.
As I looked over the show, I thought about the timeline of sensing technology as a whole. Beginning in the 1800's German and English scientists lead the field, followed by the French, the Americans, the Japanese, and later the Koreans and Chinese. Will the Indians be next? Only time will tell.