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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Our theme for this issue is “Automotive and Aerospace applications”. If we regard both automobiles and planes as machines then we should ask ourselves why we should treat them differently from any other machine.
The two big differences between them and other machines are that: they carry people and they are moving.
The fact they carry people automatically implies that safety is top of the priority list. The next priorities are reliability and customer satisfaction. All of which apply just as much to a piece of factory automation – so the design aims are very similar. However, there is something fundamentally sobering about a machine that encloses you as opposed to a machine that you can enclose in safety fencing.
The same enhanced safety awareness is implied by the fact that the automobile or plane is moving. Suddenly not only are we enclosed by the machine but we are also allowing it free rein to pass amongst us.
In previous issues I have advocated the use of wireless (radio and infrared) communication – but I am not sure I would recommend its use in automobiles and planes. It is interesting to see however that two of our papers cover the application of fibre optics, not for basic data communication, but for the measurement of critical safety information such as temperature and stress and strain.
Readers may be becoming aware that I have a strong dislike of wires. This is probably somewhat unfair but it has recently been reinforced by a rather hefty garage bill for the replacement of a wiring loom to the tailgate of my car. The previous one had simply suffered metal fatigue and had become increasingly unreliable.
Fibre optics are pretty wonderful creations. Not only can they be used for routing telephone calls and Internet spam at high speed between continents, but they can also be used as sensors themselves. And even both at the same time.
There is however one characteristic, of at least automotive sensors, that fibre optics may have trouble with, and this is cost. The sensors that have been developed for automobiles are extremely reliable and very low cost whereas fibre optic based sensors are comparatively expensive. This is primarily because of the very small signals that are involved and the reduced quantities that they are produced in. However, given mass production there is no reason why the cost could not be brought down to conventional sensor levels.
I read in a newspaper just yesterday that strong evidence was currently emerging that at least two major plane crashes were caused by wiring faults that in turn lead to fires on board the aircraft. Experiences like these, and my trivial tailgate example, bring me to the conclusion that our cars and planes should be embracing fibre optic technology much more than they are at present.