Caren B. Les, email@example.com
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Fiber optic sensors are emerging as
an alternative to conventional electronic sensors, mostly in applications where
highly developed devices are required.
Demand for fiber optic sensors is expected to grow within the
next five years, largely because of initiatives taken by market participants, said
Amritha Sridharan, a research analyst with Frost & Sullivan. Her report, Fiber
Optic Sensors, is part of the company’s Technical Insights program.
“Offering efficiency and versatility, fiber optic sensors
are finding greater application in areas such as the oil, gas, aerospace, defense
and civil structure sectors,” she said. “Innovations that address the
demands of these application areas are helping to foster the growth of the industry.
The devices are increasingly being used to detect critical problems at an early
stage, thus contributing to worker safety and reducing repair costs.
A rise in the demand for fiber optic sensors is predicted. Skilled
operators at RJC Enterprises LLC in Bothell, Wash., are shown producing the devices.
The small sensors (300 x 300 μm) and small optical fibers (170-μm optical
density) require microscopic assembly. Courtesy of RJC Enterprises.
“Partnerships among participants from various industries,
along with university research and funding activities, will play an important role
in implementing the sensors on a broader scale.”
Tendeka, a global organization of gas and oil technology experts,
provides assistance to companies in the development and implementation of monitoring
technologies such as distributed temperature and strain sensing, and fiber optic
multipoint pressure gauges. OTM Consulting Ltd., based in Guildford, UK, offers
technology management help to oil, gas and alternative energy companies and their
suppliers to identify, commercialize and deploy new technology. OTM manages the
Seafom Subsea Fiber Optic Monitoring Group.
The fiber-based devices that are typically used to sense temperature
and mechanical strain can be used in high-voltage or highly explosive environments
because they are made up of electrically insulating materials.
They are immune to electromagnetic interference and have a wide
operating temperature range. Their applications include monitoring the conditions
of airplane structures, bridges, dams, oil wells and pipelines, and aging buildings.
Fiber optic sensors are expensive in comparison with conventional
electronic sensors, but their cost is likely to decrease as greater awareness of
their advantages leads to a rise in demand. Extensive testing results and a history
of successful deployment cases are expected to enhance the adoption rate of fiber
optic sensors in conservative markets, according to a November 2010 press release
from Frost & Sullivan.
Consolidation of companies is another emerging trend, she said.
Startup companies and their innovations will gain greater acceptance from the larger
fiber optic manufacturers. “Some of the big companies from various application
sectors for fiber optic sensors would buy the startup companies under their umbrella
and thus achieve direct utilization of the techniques in their respective application
There is a trend toward standardization and miniaturization of
components within the industry that is expected to continue over the next three
to five years as well, she added. Standardization activity is handled by organizations
such as the Society of Automotive Engineers, the German Association for Experimental
Stress Analysis, the Association of German Engineers, and the European Cooperation
in Science and Technology, with its Action 299 guidelines.
“I can’t address the entire fiber optic sensors market,
but, for us, the major issue is market awareness,” said David Weston, director
of business development at TerraEchos Inc. in Missoula, Mont. “As with many
new and rapidly evolving technologies, there are segments of the market that could
benefit from broader knowledge of the technology and its advantages. The challenge
is then market warming and customer acceptance.”
TerraEchos has developed and now supplies the Adelos S4 digital
acoustic fiber optic system, which is designed to provide covert, real-time surveillance
over large areas. With its ability to track simultaneous intrusions in land, air
and water environments, the interoperable sensor-to-sensor communication and analysis
system has applications in protecting critical infrastructures, monitoring remote
border areas and securing vulnerable perimeters. Customers for the technology include
the US government.
Weston predicts that fiber optic sensor technologies and applications
in growth sectors of the economy will advance. “In our market sector, the
twin threats of terrorism and asymmetric warfare are driving investments in new
technologies. The challenges are huge, but the consequences of failure are measured
in lives lost, assets destroyed and damage to the economy.”