Gas detection sensors - a market of dynamic growth

Sensor Review

ISSN: 0260-2288

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




(2000), "Gas detection sensors - a market of dynamic growth", Sensor Review, Vol. 20 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Gas detection sensors - a market of dynamic growth

Gas detection sensors - a market of dynamic growth

Keyword: Gas sensors

In this article Martyn Judd, European Sales Engineer for gas sensor company, Sixth Sense, discusses the recent growth and changes which have occurred within and impacted upon this industry.

Since the 1950s when Joshua Sieger developed one of the first commercially available catalytic elements, the gas sensor market has grown into a multi-million pound industry. Recent estimates put the total revenue at about £100 million in Western Europe, £100 million in the USA and £30 million in the rest of the world. Electrochemical sensors have dominated the market since the mid 1970s and they currently account for almost 25 per cent of the world market.

Users of gas sensors are predominantly manufacturers of gas detection systems. Traditionally they have been located in the USA and Western Europe, but more recently the Far East and Eastern European markets have begun to grow. Manufacturing relocation to these areas by world industry has seen increased investment in gas detection equipment by those keen to implement Western safety practices. As a result, there are now a number of emerging companies manufacturing gas detection systems in these areas. Since they can benefit from low cost local labour, they are able to offer these niche market products at a far more competitive price than their Western counterparts.

There are three major markets for gas sensors:

  1. 1.

    occupational health and safety;

  2. 2.

    environmental/emissions monitoring; and

  3. 3.

    residential health and safety.

All of these have seen dramatic growth in the past ten years.

The main driving force behind this has been the steady tightening of toxic gas exposure and pollutant emissions legislation. Perhaps the most exciting, and most recent, has been the increase in consumer concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. This has stimulated a huge increase in the use of electrochemical sensors in this area, which now account for 15 per cent of a £15 million market.

Within the industrial marketplace The Health and Safety Commission's "Confined Spaces Regulations 1997", which came into effect on 28 January 1998, have had a significant impact upon the gas detection and sensor markets. The regulations provide a simple set of aims for virtually all sectors of industry and are designed to reduce the number of accidents which occur due to a hazardous environment within a confined space.

In an industrial environment, the atmosphere in a confined space can be compromised in a number of ways. Oxidation through rusting, displacement of oxygen by other gases in purging or through naturally occurring biological processes will lead to oxygen depletion and potential asphyxiation. Leaks, spillages, emissions, decaying matter and processing can generate the presence of toxic gases, whilst flammable gas can build up from natural sources and the decay of organic matter.

In the "Confined Spaces Regulations 1997" a confined space is defined as "any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk."

The regulations have impacted throughout industry. Every employer must ensure compliance with the regulations in respect of work carried out by employees, as well as, where reasonably practicable, work carried out by other people, such as contractors. Additionally, no person at work shall enter a confined space to carry out work for any purpose unless "it is not reasonably practicable to achieve their purpose without such entry".

Under such circumstances, and to help comply with the new regulations, portable gas detection equipment has a critical safety role to play. For many organisations dataloggers from such monitors are also vital as they allow a full analysis to be made of an operator's exposure to hazardous gas levels to assist with legislative requirements, such as COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations. The storage of exposure data, including alarm events, exposure profiles and session peaks, that can be downloaded to a PC for analysis is very useful.

Confined space entry, or the provision of continuous protection in a hazardous area where a known gas is a hazard, can be provided by specialist "pocket sized" monitors. They can give clear audible and visual alarms when the gas concentration exceeds the recommended limit with Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) and Time Weighted Average (TWA) alarms providing workers with ample warning where accumulated exposure of toxic gases may threaten health.

Again, optional datalogging can allow records to be kept of workers' exposure to hazardous gases, in line with legislative requirements.

In many installation areas, monitoring may be needed where a number of workers need protecting in a specific area, such as hot work in the petrochemical industry. In such environments, extremely robust monitors may be needed which are designed to warn personnel working in chemical plant, refineries, sewage systems, tunnels or other environments where hazards due to oxygen, flammable and toxic gases may occur.

For the gas detection sensor industry this has meant that a large number of oxygen sensors are being fitted into portable instruments that are used by engineers with no previous experience of gas detection. These instruments are never treated as they would be in the laboratory and recent designs of sensor have to contend with physical shocks, rapid temperature changes and environmental condensation, yet still be able to operate faultlessly. This increase in demand for personal gas monitors has also resulted in an increase in the number of "clip-on" devices on the market. Some of these are no larger than a box of matches, so a new generation of "micro" gas sensor has been required. They are capable of providing scientific accuracies and industrial reliability yet are able to fit into the smallest packages.

In the past, sensors have only been available from a few key suppliers, but in recent years a number of competitive organisations have emerged. As a result, sensor development has been fast and furious pushing the technology further than ever before. Problems that were considered the norm in the past are no longer acceptable and gas sensors continue to become more robust and simple to use, while still performing accurately and reliably.

The future looks good for gas sensor manufacturers with the continuing expansion of the industrial market and a rapidly developing consumer market. Electrochemical sensors, particularly, are consumable components, so there is always a steady flow of underlying business. The market is expected to grow significantly over the next five years. Further fuelled by new legislation and the growth of the Far East and new Eastern European markets, some estimates suggest that the market will have grown by almost 45 per cent by the year 2004. Sixth Sense is succeeding in this competitive and expanding marketplace because they can offer gas detector companies exactly what they want; a range of sensors that are at the cutting edge of technology and the full back-up and technical support that you would expect from a leading company in this field.

For further information contact: Martyn Judd, Sixth Sense, 4 Stinsford Road, Nuffield Industrial Estate, Poole, Dorset BH17 0RZ, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1202 645770; Fax: +44 (0) 1202 665331.

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