Two Technologies to Watch

E-mail Ray Peacock

Two technologies have recently captured my attention and fired my imagination. Neither is brand new, but product and application developments have demonstrated their usefulness and broad-ranging potential.

New Pairing Represents Radical Breakthrough
Cavity ring down spectroscopy (CRDS) enables trace moisture analysis to a parts-per-trillion resolution and creates a whole new class of standard techniques in moisture measurement of gases. But until recently it's been limited to specific laser wavelengths.

Now, optical frequency control and tuning devices based on "frequency comb" technology have elevated CRDS to a whole new realm. The frequency limit has been eliminated by the ability of lasers to generate hundreds of thousands of wavelengths simultaneously.

One industry observer has likened the pairing of CRDS and frequency comb to the effect the telephone had on communications, and the impact of oscilloscopes on AC electrical circuits analysis. The combination of methods represents a radical breakthrough in sensing and measurement at the molecular level. Now near-real time devices can monitor species and concentrations of a wide range of chemicals with unprecedented speed and resolution.

You'll find more on CRDS, including links to use cases and development reports, in my essay, A Big Boost for Optical Analysis, in the April issue of Sensors' Industrial Automation newsletter.

Far Beyond Inventory and Logistics
Another technology, RFID, made headlines-even in the mainstream media-for its application to inventory and logistics challenges by retail giants such as Wal-Mart. But RFID applications have moved far beyond the realm of bar code replacement afforded by passive tags. Now, semi-active and active RFID tags, other technologies, and standards are enabling a rich and profitable future in manufacturing and process automation.

Here's an example: I was awakened to RFID's process automation applications by a recent press release about an agreement between a group at Texas A&M University Sensors and RFID Technologies Laboratory and Axcess International Inc. to work on applications developments in the chemical industry for active RFID devices integrated with temperature and chemical sensors. Axcess has patented its ActiveTag RFID tags that enable sensing of temperature, humidity, door status (open or closed), vibration, motion, radiation, and of chemical and biological agents.

Active RFID devices with programmable memory had great potential for industrial automation projects even before they carried sensors. Such devices are enabling detailed auto manufacturing work in progress (WIP) parts tracking at Ford and VW. The devices can be programmed on the fly with QA product information once an operation and test is completed.

My essay titled Wake Up to RFID For Industrial Automation gives more examples of how inexpensive RFID tags are being paired with traditional sensors to enable interesting capabilities.

If industrial automation is your area of interest, you can keep in touch with key developments through the monthly Sensors' Industrial Automation newsletter.

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