Pacer Components’ special projects group manager, Barney Mitchell, walks readers through the evolution of sensor technology and the vital role custom sensors now play
Q: From a buyers’ perspective, how have sensors advanced over the years?
A: Development of sensing technologies is driven by demand for better data, to enable better control of dynamic systems. Often, a sensor’s role is to enable constant monitoring and control, to reduce variation as much as possible, increasing the value of its output. This typically means detecting smaller changes, requiring the sensor to give more precise and reliable data, at higher speeds.
This is true whether the sensor is monitoring temperature, pressure, humidity, chemistry, colour or other parameters. It applies equally whether a system is: producing a drug requiring high purity levels and consistent dosage; or seeking a trace electromagnetic/thermal signal for defence purposes.
The industry is also self-reliant, with greater process monitoring capability allowing more accurate production of sensor components, enabling development of smaller, faster, more sensitive and reliable sensors. This leads to earlier technologies becoming more manufacturable at higher volumes and lower cost, in turn allowing greater adoption of sensors in more price sensitive applications.
Q: What types of applications benefit from customised sensors?
A: There is a concerted drive for customised sensors in sectors including healthcare, oil/gas, automotive, chemical, automation and robotics. Medical applications frequently require sensors for fluid diagnostics. For example, one customer needed a sensor to measure the volume of hazardous fluids filling a container. Pacer designed an optical fill level sensor, which triggers a warning when the container reaches a certain level. If there’s no intervention and the fluids reach critical levels, the sensor disables the system automatically, preventing hazardous waste from overflowing.
One challenge facing users of optical sensors is variable ambient lighting conditions. Off-the-shelf sensors check for signal presence, but varying background conditions can trigger false readings. A finely tuned, customised sensor circuit will process data and discount noise accurately in these environments, enabling correct system function.
The electric vehicle market is also witnessing increasing demand for custom sensors. Sudden dramatic temperature rises can be extremely dangerous in electric vehicles, where lithium battery packs are used. Pacer is currently working on a project to develop a temperature sensor assembly for stator windings.
The oil/gas sector is also eager for bespoke sensors, an example being overfill sensors on fuel trucks. It takes less than two minutes to fill a 5,000l fuel container, so dangerous and costly overfilling can happen rapidly.
- What special relationships does Pacer have with suppliers and how does this benefit buyers sourcing custom sensors?
- Pacer’s wide range of industry leading manufacturers of COTS component level sensors affords strong buying power where custom versions are built at source or customised and/or integrated into larger subsystems at one of Pacer’s manufacturing facilities. This can result in favourable pricing. Where Pacer’s own design team is used and demand grows for higher volumes and lower prices, the company has partnerships with Eastern manufacturers who will build to Pacer’s designs and replicate the NPI process to ensure the same quality product at competitive high-volume rates.
Pacer’s world class manufacturers are a key driver of quality system development and programs to design new sensors and systems. Solutions can often be develop based on existing core tested technologies, significantly reducing the timeline to design completion. This helps customers control costs and bring their product to market faster, with the reassurance of world-class quality production. Production equipment which is adaptable for new projects reduces the initial outlay and lets Pacer ramp production rates up and down at short notice.