Sensors are now being integrated into an increasing number of devices, and sensor development and manufacture has become a major segment of the electronics industry.
Cars might not be ready to fly just yet, but plenty of smart objects are on the market and the smart home, though not yet a reality, is also on its way to becoming part of our everyday lives. The common thread of all these ‘intelligent’, connected objects – and the main reason for the recent technological leap forward and the surge in the market – is the progress that has been made with sensors. In 2012, the sensors market accounted for over $64 billion, reveals a recent report by business consultancy Frost & Sullivan, which also explains the different generations of sensors. The four basic types of sensors – i.e. measuring the ‘traditional’ parameters of liquid flow, pressure, humidity and temperature – now account for not more than 32% of the market, with around 60% of the market now captured by speed, vibration, biometric and other similar sensors. The remaining 8-9% of the market is taken by ‘emerging’, increasingly specialised sensors, a segment already worth close to $6 billion, say the Frost and Sullivan analysts.
Sensors with everything
The recent strong growth in the market for sensors is due to their vertical integration into the production process for many types of modern devices. In some sectors, specialised ‘new generation’ sensors are now being integrated systematically into all equipment. Dr Rajender Thusu, who authored the report – Improved Smartness and Higher Intelligence Necessary to Open Growth Opportunities for Sensors – on behalf of Frost & Sullivan, points to such potential industrial advances as the rollout of smart grids, environmental initiatives such as CO2 capture and storage and monitoring companies’ water footprint, plus surveillance and protection systems, and non-invasive bio-sensors for the medical sector as crucial for the development of the sensors market. In fact sensors have already become an essential component in addressing some of society’s main issues and challenges, he points out. On the market today we can count 87 different types of sensor, and investment in the research and development of these little devices is growing. Moreover, a virtuous circle appears to have been generated as they are being used systematically in more stages of manufacture, bringing down the costs of making them and so enabling their penetration into less obviously ‘technological’ areas such as commercial, consumer and service sectors, underlines Rajender Thusu.
From data capture to intelligence
“Continual R&D work has enabled sensors to evolve from being simple transmitters to intelligent sensors,” explains Dr Thusu. The progress made in programming and also in the type of materials used, for example with the development of soft sensors, is an indication of the new direction this sector is taking. We are no longer talking about merely transmitting information but also sifting and analysing. "High levels of intelligence and use of advanced programmes will mean that various devices and intelligent systems will be integrated not only into manufacturing processes but also services,” says Rajender Thusu. One example is their use in setting up equipment maintenance alerts. Embedded smart sensors will be able to spot, and even predict, exactly where faults will arise, thus helping to rationalise the maintenance process for installed equipment, explains Dr Thusu.