Grant Will Speed Production of Gas Sensor “Noses”
KTH and a group of industrial partners have been granted $1.5 million for large-scale development of new sustainable production systems for gas sensors. Current and future applications include wearable monitors for asthma patients, breath alcohol lock-out devices for cars, carbon dioxide monitoring for climate control systems and oxygen monitoring for hospital intensive-care units.
Like an artificial nose, modern gas sensors detect specific gases and generate an electrical signal.
As part of a “Challenge-driven Innovation” research programme funded by VINNOVA (the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems), KTH and companies including Aerocrine, SenseAir and Silex will receive a total of SEK 10 million ($1.5 million) to develop sustainable gas sensor solutions designed for use in health and medical care, industrial production and other areas. Seven partners are cooperating in the project, which has an overall budget of SEK 30 million ($4.5 million).
The participants will develop sustainable and flexible forms of production together — systems that can fulfil various customer demands while opening the way for high-volume manufacturing of gas sensors. KTH’s Department of Production Engineering will manage the work on flexible forms of production, known as evolvable production systems, while the university’s Microsystem Technology Lab is responsible for developing the next generation of miniaturised gas sensors based on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS).
To reduce costs and increase production volumes, the sensor solutions must be fully integrated, with all functions placed on a single chip. The solutions must also be significantly smaller than the current 1 cm sensors. The chips should be small enough – a couple of millimetres – to fit inside handheld devices.
“If you can get all the functions onto the same chip, you avoid several mounting stages, and the sensors can be manufactured using batch production, where they are produced in parallel,” says Niclas Roxhed, MEMS research leader at KTH’s Microsystem Technology Lab and assistant project manager. “This manufacturing technique considerably reduces the cost and enables application on a mass scale, for example in mobile phones.”
Sweden already has several world-leading manufacturers of sensor technology and systems, and effective cooperation between these players is essential for the country to maintain its position internationally. In addition to sensor manufacturers SenseAir and Silex, which are contracted MEMS manufacturers, several systems manufacturers are included in the consortium: Aerocrine (nitric oxide sensors in devices worn by patients for the optimised treatment of asthma), Autoliv (sensors for non-contact ignition interlock devices in cars to improve traffic safety), Hök Instruments (alcohol sensors and carbon-dioxide sensors for emergency medical treatment) and Maquet Critical Care (oxygen sensors for real-time monitoring in life-support apparatus).
The project, entitled “How gas sensors could become the mobile noses of the future,” will continue until 2014. Each partner must provide financing for the work equivalent to the amount provided to it by the VINNOVA grant.
By Marie Androv