The reliability, scalability, sensitivity, and cost-effective solutions offered by micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology have provided viable sensor solutions for industrial automation. The trend toward MEMS-enabled miniaturisation and micro-mechatronics bolsters the development of components, devices, systems, and subsystems for industrial applications.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan which analyses the impact of MEMS-based sensors on industrial automation finds that MEMS-based sensors and actuators have experienced a slow yet steady growth in the industrial automation sector. As the industrial arena moves toward intelligent, distributed as well as wireless monitoring and control, MEMS technology will likely play an increasingly vital role.
The small size and simple structure of MEMS devices make them easily adaptable in places not suitable to heavily structured devices. Moreover, the low energy consumption and high precision of these devices are vital to wireless monitoring and multisensor networking in industrial automation applications. Wireless sensing enables sensors to measure a parameter despite harsh circumstances and therefore it represents a substantial benefit to industrial automation. Additionally, wireless sensors allow for more efficient configuration or re-configuration of large-scale sensor networks to establish comprehensive monitoring of key parameters with respect to vital plant processes or machinery.
According to Frost & Sullivan, actuators such as radio frequency (RF) MEMS for wireless sensing applications are making inroads, but are still in a relatively embryonic stage as the investment required is high and the revenues are lower in this sector. On the other hand, pressure sensors fabricated using MEMS technology represent one of the largest applications in industrial automation.
Industrial applications such as process control, automotive testing, hydraulic, and pneumatic monitoring/control, utilise silicon micro-machined pressure sensors. Compact silicon micro-machined gauges and sensors with integrated electronics also assist with pressure (vacuum) measurements in semiconductor tools/equipment such as load-lock transducers.
With regard to costs, industrial automation is less price-sensitive than higher-volume markets for more commodity-type sensors. Since MEMS device fabrication requires a large initial investment, efforts are focused on application segments where there is large volume demand. As a result, consumer electronics, medical, and automotive segments are currently driving the MEMS industry. However, the industrial automation market can offer MEMS developers and providers opportunities to provide higher value MEMS-based sensors and actuating devices that could command a higher price compared to MEMS devices used in more price-sensitive, higher-volume applications.
MEMS developers and providers can focus on collaborating with users in the industrial arena to provide them with a high-value solution for key industrial applications such as intelligent networked health monitoring of machines, which involves monitoring multiple sensed parameters or distributed process control. MEMS sensors for parameters such as pressure, flow, acceleration/vibration/tilt and angular velocity, have started playing a vital role in the industrial automation technology arena.
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