New advances in ‘Micro Electro-Mechanical’ technology including progression towards new semiconductors with greater capacity will open the door to a myriad of new opportunities for the maritime sector, according to an EU study.
Scientists working on the €1million KETmaritime project have today released a detailed report on the potential of ‘Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems’ (MEMS) for marine applications.
The KETmaritime project is being delivered by a consortium of seven partners across Europe in an effort to identify ‘Key Enabling Technologies’ to support the future needs and demands of the Atlantic maritime industry.
Project coordinator Ana Vila, from the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL), said new advances in MEMS are driving developments across marine navigation systems and autonomous exploration vehicles, as well as structural health and ocean weather monitoring systems and biological and marine pollutant studies.
“Leading producers of electronics worldwide have spent many years developing MEMS, carrying out research, production and commercial activity, ensuring a high degree of maturity across many applications,” she said. “Our latest KETmaritime reports highlights how the electronics sector, and MEMS in particular, will enter a turning point in the coming years driven by advances in current technology including silicon semiconductors and possible progression towards new semiconductors or alternatives with greater capacity.
“Increased demand for smaller more intelligent electronic devices continues to drive advances on all levels. Global innovation in production processes has boosted capability of micro and nanoelectronic systems, while advances in engineering are provided the basis for chips not only containing electronic components, but also integrating mechanisms for sensing applications – resulting in a fusion between electronics and mechanics. This has combined to provide a host of new opportunities across the marine field.”
The report was authored by Spanish industrial design centre IDONIAL in collaboration with Marine South East in the UK and the INL. IDONIAL provides tailor-made solutions related to the development of materials, advanced manufacturing and the digital industry through technological development and innovation. Its team includes more than 160 professionals, delivering more than 120 R&D&I projects each year.
Ms Vila said manufacturing mechanical elements at micrometric scales has spurred the development of multiple devices with different sensory capabilities.
“Within navigation, the development of MEMS sensors is key not only for the implementation of location and positioning technologies, but also for the development of complete mobile platforms for the collection and distribution of data in open water environments,” she said. “In addition, weather monitoring and forecasting, traditional navigation and fisheries activities, as well as partially unassisted activities (associated renewable energy or aquaculture fields) require complete sets of sensors capable of monitoring environmental variables. MEMS help produce short and medium-term weather prediction systems driving productivity.
“MEMS are further used for monitoring water properties and composition. This is highly valuable for maximizing aquaculture activity, identifying potential pathogenic agents and unwanted variations of acidity, etc. MEMS technology can also be used to monitor marine structures. Any activity carried out continuously in marine environments is inherently subject to external aggressions, capable of deteriorating all structures in the absence of adequate controls and maintenance. MEMS sensors are now capable of measuring variations of the stresses and strains which structures are subjected to, essential to informing maintaining plans and preventing accidents.
“Within marine biology and chemistry studies, sensor technology for the detection of analytes is also being developed at microelectromechanical levels. In combination with microfluidics, it is feasible to develop micro devices, with the capacity to act as real laboratories or ‘labs on a chip’. The field of marine exploration also benefits from MEMS technology. This wide-ranging discipline involves marine bed surveys, the early detection of earthquakes in the sea as well as marine deposits. The implementation of MEMS technology in autonomous or semi-autonomous operations can further aid underwater prospecting and the discovery underwater resources.”
The KETmaritime project is funded by the Interreg Atlantic Area Program, via the European Regional Development Fund. The consortium also includes French multidisciplinary research laboratory CIMAP (CEA group) and Portuguese maritime economic cluster Fórum Oceano. Ireland’s national centre for marine and renewable energy MaREI is delivering further support, alongside Spanish non-profit research association AIMEN.
Sea News Feature, February 14