The accuracy of output achieved by MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) and piezoelectric-based pressure sensors and transmitters is generating significant interest from a variety of end-user markets, so much so according to most leading experts in this area that traditional mechanical sensors are no longer an option for critical pressure applications. By all accounts, digital electronics, software integration, and networking systems are also in high demand for pressure sensing applications.

According to Rajender Thusu, Ph.D., an industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan (www.frost.com), despite the huge amount of hype around MEMS in the early 2000s, uptake for micro pressure sensor technology was somewhat lackluster. However, he says MEMS pressure sensors have really gained momentum since the second half of 2004.

A new report compiled by Dr. Thusu titled World Pressure Sensor and Transmitter Market predicts revenue will grow from $4,018.8 million in 2004 to $5,545.1 million in 2011. According to the study, MEMS-based pressure sensors and transmitters accounted for 42.1 percent of total market revenue in 2005.

Among the most attractive characteristics of MEMS-based sensors and transmitters is the speed of communication they offer, and recent technological improvements ensure the integrity of data packets during transmission. As a result, users can take advantage of near-immediate notification of changes in pressure in their systems. In addition, with the evolution of multivariable systems, users can now typically glean information on leaks, temperature, and water quality from their pressure sensors.

MEMS pressure sensors and transmitters are being employed for a variety of applications, including food & beverage, medical, oil & gas, and water & wastewater. Karmjit Sidhu, vice president of business development for American Sensor Technologies (www.astsensors.com), says one of the more interesting applications for MEMS-based pressure sensors is in the oilfield. Since surface oil reserves are growing more and more scarce, Sidhu says oil producers must explore deeper regions where pressures and temperature may be extremely high. In such environments, corrosion is a factor, which is creating a market for pressure technologies made of specialty materials, like nickel alloys, Iconel, and Hastelloy. Likewise, Sidhu says specialty materials may be required for water & wastewater applications where treatment chemicals with bleach and chlorine may pose corrosion issues.

Sidhu sees nano-scale systems as the next big trend in the pressure sensors market. He says there is currently a lot of research and development being invested in nano pressure technology at the university and government level, particularly in the biomedical area. And Sidhu says he expects the transition to commercial applications to pick up pace in the coming years.

Dr. Thusu, on the other hand, isn’t as bullish on the prospects for nano pressure sensor technologies. While he sees nano emerging for some applications in the process industries, such as automotive and food & beverage, he doesn’t think the technology is ready for highly critical applications in petrochemical, nuclear, and custody-transfer environments, where accuracy is of the utmost importance. In these areas, Dr. Thusu says “safety is more important than miniaturization.” Further, he says nano has not lived up to many of the lofty market predictions bestowed upon it a few years ago. “Nano,” he says, “is still not at the rate it was intended to grow at five-to-seven years ago.”