New fibre-optic sensing spin-off


Ghent University (UGent) and imec have announced the incorporation of Sentea, a spin-off from their Photonics Research Group.

An initial €1.6 million (approximately £1.4 billion) in funding was raised from Fidimec, Finindus, PMV, QBIC II and the founders. Sentea will develop and market advanced silicon photonics-based fibre-optic sensing solutions. These will be used to continuously monitor engineering structures for signs of damage that over time could lead to catastrophic failure and to control industrial installations to maximise their efficiency.

According to a new market research report from MarketsandMarkets, the structural health monitoring (SHM) market is estimated to grow from US$1.48 billion (approximately £1.2 billion) in 2018 to US$3.38 billion (approximately £2.6 billion) by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.93% between 2018 and 2023. The major factors driving the growth of the SHM market include concerns about catastrophic failure due to ageing infrastructure in developed countries, stringent government regulations pertaining to the sustainability of structures and the superior benefits of SHM. Furthermore, the structural health monitoring market for the energy vertical is expected to grow at a rate of more than 20% from 2018-2023, owing to various applications such as wind turbines, nuclear power plants and hydropower plants.

“Integrating all optical functions into a single silicon photonics component will allow us to make highly accurate, small and robust fibre-optic sensor interrogators. Silicon photonics is also very cost-effective, which makes fibre-optic sensing affordable for a wide range of new markets and applications and facilitates universal and continued monitoring of structures,” commented Karsten Verhaegen, CEO of Sentea.

“Key potential customers have expressed great interest in Sentea’s solutions, stating that better infrastructure lifetime management and process control makes them more competitive in their respective markets.”

“Sentea builds on the state-of-the-art silicon photonics technology IP that has been developed by the Photonics Research Group of imec and UGent for the past 20 years, a technology in which both organisations are perceived as world leading,” stated Luc Van den hove, President and Chief Executive Officer of imec. “This firm technology base will provide Sentea with a kick-start to develop its sensor technology, which is answering an existing need in a broad range of market segments.”

SHM is a process in which engineering structures are continuously monitored throughout their lifetime for early signs of damage that over time could lead to catastrophic failure. By detecting any damage early on and repairing or replacing the damaged part, catastrophic failure and the resulting downtime and huge repair costs can be avoided. A range of SHM solutions, such as fibre-optic sensing, have found their way into engineering structures, such as wind turbines, nuclear power plants, ships, trains, aeroplanes, buildings, bridges, dams, tunnels, heavy machinery, blast furnaces and so on.

Fibre-optic sensing is a technology in which the sensor itself is a specialty fibre, designed such that it can sense pressure and temperature at multiple points along the length of the fibre. An interrogator device then captures the signal of the multiple sensing points in the fibre and interprets the signal into pressure, temperature or other derived parameters (for example acceleration or vibration). The inherent advantages of fibre-optic sensors, such as their light weight, small size, passivity, low attenuation, immunity to electromagnetic interference, wide bandwidth and environmental ruggedness are heavily used to offset their major disadvantage, which is the high cost of the interrogator. Cost reduction of fibre-optic sensor interrogators, together with new trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and Industry 4.0, will boost the utility and demand for fibre-optic sensing in SHM and process control even further.