In today’s competitive business environment with the need to reduce and sustain low operating costs, engineers and manufacturers are faced with the problem of how to increase production and the lifetimes of their constructions, whilst also cutting the cost of manufacturing and ongoing maintenance. The key major barriers to achieving increasing productivity continue to be equipment degradation and unexpected manufacturing process downtime.
Companies across every major vertical from construction and maintenance to pharmaceutical and industrial are faced with the problems of how to predict early degradation, impending mechanical and electrical failures and maintenance problems before they occur to save on the potential of huge costs in equipment failure and manufacturing downtime.
One simple and cost effective solution has been the use of devices to monitor the changes in frequency and amplitude of vibrational energy by engineers. Mechanical faults developing within the system will be exhibited as a change in the vibration energy in specific frequency ranges. These changes are monitored over a period of time to observe any trends indicative of possible failure. These relatively simple self-powered devices can provide very early warning signs of a deteriorating machine, or stress so pre-emptive action can be taken.
Currently, self-powered devices are scavenging energy from a vast range of sources from mechanical using vibration, mechanical stress and strain, and thermal with waste energy from furnaces, heaters, and friction sources to natural energy sources such as the environment including wind, water flow, ocean currents, and solar and even the human body with the mechanical and thermal energy naturally generated from bio-organisms or through actions such as walking and sitting.
With the very significant technical advancements in recent years, these self-powered devices and systems are now being used with very positive impacts across a very wide and diverse range of industries, and with the promise of maintenance-free operation for ever increasing lifetimes of up to 15 years, self-powered sensors are now becoming the killer app for many markets offering an alternative low cost, long-term power solution.
According to technology market research firm Yole Developpment, the market for self-powered devices will be worth about $45 million in 2013. Over the period from 2011 to 2017 the market is forecast to demonstrate 51% compound annual growth rate, rising in value to about $100 million in 2015 and $227 million in 2017. Meanwhile, emerging technology research company, IDTechEX predicts the global energy harvesting market will grow from $605 million in 2010 to $4.4 billion by 2020.
As technology developments continue to enhance the power efficiency of these self-powered devices, so the engineering community will look to utilise self-powered sensors and systems to provide the answers to detecting impending mechanical and electrical failures at the early stages to prevent unplanned downtime, and improve productivity across every vertical market. These ideas are also applicable across any environment where continuous processes or processing is monitored in one way or another. There may be applications in mining (infrastructure) for example as well.
To support this market interest, a special interest group has been set up by the NanoKTN, the Electronics, Sensors, Photonics (ESP) KTN and the Materials KTN called the Energy Harvesting Special Interest Group (SIG). The aim of this SIG is to accelerate the development and commercial use of products, processes and services based on energy harvesting technology. The SIG also aims to bring together communities along the energy harvesting value chain - from academia, materials technologies, devices, systems integration and through to the user communities, helping to build a vibrant and productive energy harvesting community in the UK. Visit https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/eh1 for more information on the Energy Harvesting SIG.
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