In part two, the pressure-sensor makers outlined the current hottest markets for pressure sensors with the top three being
- Oil and gas
That being said, it easily triggers the solutions question. Aside from outsourcing their manufacturing abroad, what should pressure-sensor makers be doing to stay effective, profitable, and competitive in the aforementioned markets?
Acuity's CEO Jim Knutti logically acknowledges, "It is all about adding value and looking at new segments, not following the herd and providing support to the new segments." What can be viewed as an enhancement, or value-added extension of Jim's forecast, AST's Greg Montrose values the fine art of listening. He states, "Employees, suppliers, and customers provide valuable input to meet the stated goals above. Bringing the three factors together creates a cost effective product that meets price and performance requirements." In other words, listen to your most valuable assets.
Extending functionality to existing components could be a likely key to market sustainability as well. "We are still living in a world that is driven by making things smarter, faster, smaller and cheaper", says TURCK's Kyle Horsman. "Besides re-inventing current products and technologies to incorporate some of those dynamics, there needs to be some R&D work to see if there might be a new way of interpreting pressure." Along the same lines, Scott Dalgleish at Phase IV Engineering claims, "Miniaturize and develop complete, low power pressure sensors." And Integrated Sensing Systems' Nader Najafi concurs, "Add new features and approach new applications."
Honeywell's Ketan Mehta grabs the issue from the manufacturing end of things. "Pressure sensor manufacturers need to have the right manufacturing strategy to support customer needs, as well as stay on top of technology development, and agency requirement changes, ensuring that sensor technology continues to evolve to support market requirements." And, also at Honeywell, Eric Anderson sees building on the existing foundation as the way to go. He states, "Keep investigating new core technology, new pressure sensing elements that can provide the benefits of the current generation of sensors with measurable improvements in size and lower cost. Also, add value at the transducer / transceiver level with faster logic, new compensation mechanisms and improved power consumption."
Bring It On Home
The word "outsourcing", not so much the concept, can leave a bitter taste in some folks' mouths, particularly when it refers to sending work out of the United States (US) to foreign shores, Asia in particular. Most outsourcing is manufacturing work, which is more costly in the US due to higher wage regulation as well as environmental and bureaucratic mandates that increase the manufacturing costs.
Be that as it may, the folks at Sensor Platforms Inc. say we should bring it back home. The company says what pressure-sensor makers should be doing to stay effective, profitable, and competitive in aforementioned current markets is twofold. First, "Packaging and interconnects represent up to 60% of the cost of sensor development/manufacturing. Innovative, cost effective package development would be a good start." And second, "Bring manufacturing — particularly backend — back to the US. Costs are becoming more competitive and companies will have more control and oversight of process." We can safely assume that overall product quality will improve as well.
The $64,000 Question
With insights in mind, we approach the penultimate question. It's always a crapshoot trying to predict any financial market, which can be tipped in any direction due to anything from a severe weather pattern to unexpected geopolitical events. Hypothetically, assuming all things remain as they are now, what are the emerging applications and markets that will provide pressure-sensor makers the greatest room for both innovation and economic growth within in the next five to 10 years?
Honeywell's Eric Anderson directly cites, "Handheld devices, there's lots of opportunity to use pressure sensors in those devices once the tech is small and cheap enough. Also, process control; pressure will continue to be a big risk mitigator for the process control market." His colleague Ketan Mehta adds, "Disposable sensors, use once and done. Improved performance on sensors, i.e., energy efficiency at component level, alternative fuels and associated compatibility, and remote monitoring, wireless, and Ethernet, i.e., medical applications that include real time- data monitoring and equipment-health monitoring."
Greg Montrose at AST feels, and rightfully so, that this and the ultimate question are tough issues to address. On the question at hand he says that, "The industrial market continues to show innovation. Customers continue to replace manual gauges with pressure sensors to continuously monitor and remotely monitor pressure and temperature. Many developments in the industrial market then expand into automotive in lower cost assemblies or oil and gas in higher accuracy and hazardous area certified products."
Nader Najafi at Integrated Sensing Systems Inc. sees the health/medical market as the next frontier to tame. He forecasts a "reduction of the cost of health care by providing both mobile and home monitoring sensing" as being important areas.
Scott Dalgleish confidently cites "fracking (oil and gas), automotive, condition-based maintenance (industrial wireless), lower-power pressure sensors, and long battery life or battery-free wireless sensors" as the next spotlight candidates.
"I would imagine that the oil boom that is still occurring in North Dakota will continue to drive new innovation for the oil and gas markets", TURCK's Kyle Horsman muses. "The automotive industries are still a vital part of the US economy and will continue to drive the needs for pressure sensors. Industries are evolving daily, along with the innovations required for their needs. Those new discoveries should lead to a widespread development of products and processes."
Okay, we have one of the most delicate issues — where is the market headed? — addressed with a modicum of diversity. When we wrap up the survey next week, we broach the equally tricky question: What countries and areas within them do you see innovation and future growth happening? ~MD
Here are some interesting websites for the pressure-sensor curious.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mat Dirjish is Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].