Semiconductor chip technology is enhancing our lives in many ways. Emerged from semiconductor technology, MEMS chip technology is also present in devices around you in the form of sensors. Think of your smartphone that captures your voice and senses the smartphone position, orientation and movement by means of Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS). Adding those features is barely impacting the physical dimensions of a smartphone: it still fits in your hand and pocket.
This blog is about instrument miniaturization by MEMS chip technology and the benefits of miniaturized gas flow instruments for application in the field of gas chromatography. As a MEMS Product Manager at Bronkhorst High-Tech, I can see the benefits of miniaturization by MEMS technology in such applications.
IQ+ FLOW solution based on MEMS modules
Miniaturization by MEMS chip technology
Further miniaturization is achieved by combining MEMS modules in customer specific flow solutions.
In a laboratory environment, it is advantageous to work with desktop-sized equipment. Advantages of increasing functionalities in table top equipment are: reduced space requirements, enhanced ease of operation and often reduced cost of ownership.
Gas chromatography equipment is a good example of a concentration of functionalities on a small footprint. Many types of gas composition and vapour composition can be analysed with high accuracy and for very low concentration levels. Additionally, there is a certain degree of automation involved. This is all within arm’s reach of a laboratory analyst.
The goal of gas chromatography analysis is to identify and measure the concentration of gas components in an analytical gas sample. Within the gas chromatograph (see picture 3), there is often a need for gas flow or pressure control. The picture shows a gas flow controller for the carrier gas stream (red) and a pressure controller for the split flow stream (yellow).
The principle of gas chromatography involves a controlled carrier gas stream that passes an injector, column and detector. A sample gas is injected for a short period of time, creating a gas sample plug. The gas sample plug is separated into gas components across the column, which become visible as peaks during detection.
Picture 4 shows an example of a gas chromatography output.
Let’s zoom in on dynamic headspace sampling that is used in combination with gas chromatographys. Headspace sampling refers to the gas space in a chromatography vial containing a liquid sample. The liquid sample is a solvent, containing material to be analysed. E.g. volatile organic compounds in environmental samples, alcohols in blood, residual solvents in pharmaceutical products, plastics, flavor compounds in beverages and food, coffee, fragrances in perfumes and cosmetics.
This is explained in picture 5. Dynamic headspace sampling is performed by purging the gas space and the adsorbent. The adsorbent collects the sample gas. After transport, the adsorbent is purged again to release the sample gas into a gas chromatograph.
Where a gas flow controller comes into play is at purging the headspace with a constant Helium or Nitrogen flow for a pre-determined period of time at a specified temperature between 10 - 200 °C. The gas flow, containing the headspace sample gas, passes an adsorbent that collects the headspace sample gas.
The adsorbent is usually made of Tenax TA material. Now, the adsorbent is transported to the inlet of a gas chromatograph. While the adsorbent is heated between 20 - 350°C, a controlled Helium or Nitrogen gas flow passes the adsorbent to release the headspace sample gas into the inlet of the gas chromatograph. The gas chromatograph does its job to analyse the sample. Different signal peaks in time show the different components and their concentration.
IQ+FLOW gas flow meters and pressure controllers
For flow instruments, a number of specifications are important in headspace sampling and gas chromatography in general. The IQ+FLOW product line addresses these specifications with small instrument size, fast response, good repeatability, low power, low cost of ownership and the excellent support that you can expect from Bronkhorst.
Read more about the IQ+FLOW chip based product line
For more information about gas chromatography in combination with IQ+FLOW flow and pressure meters and controller have a look at our application note ‘Gas Chromatography'.
The future of MEMS technology
Bronkhorst is committed to look ahead and find applications that can be enhanced with MEMS chip technology. Feel free to contact us for questions. We will keep you informed!
Read more about MEMS technology in our blog 'Miniaturization to the extreme: micro-coriolis mass flow sensor'
Miniaturization is a trend you see in our daily life. The tiny house movement is something very popular at this moment, people choosing to downsize the space they live in by moving to a tiny house with an average space of 100-400 square feet. But also in industry miniaturization is a hot item. Mass flow meters and pressure controllers with minimal footprint fit this trend.
Having worked in both the Life Sciences and Analytical industries I am sympathetic to the ever increasing demands for small foot prints and faster instruments. It has been a continuing trend for many years that lab real-estate has become more and more expensive; this led to a drive for footprint reduction of instruments. You had to make sure that size didn’t make you expensive in bench space.
One of the drivers behind this process was the NeSSI system initiative (New Sampling/Sensor Initiative), sponsored by the Centre for Process Analysis and Control. The aim was to reduce the overall costs of engineering, installing and maintaining chemical process analytical systems. In the NeSSI system, mass flow meters and pressure controllers needed a standard footprint of 1.5’’.
Footprint of Mass Flow Meters and Pressure Controllers
This footprint is perfect for a large number of applications and end users, even for some of the Life Science OEM companies that have room to spare in their systems. However, when you are re-designing your system and you have the chance to incorporate new technologies, look at the placement of existing technology and maybe add more. It helps if you can reduce the footprint of the components that you use even further.
Reducing the footprint of a known, working technology has challenges of its own. The design and function of which will be driven by the physical characteristics of the measurement principle and therefore the sensor that it uses. To change this you need to look at alternative measurement technologies as a way to achieve the end goal of the industry, same functionality, same signal, smaller package.
Mass Flow Meters and Pressure Controllers for minimal footprint
Working in conjunction with the TNO, the Netherlands organisation for applied scientific research we designed a new range of mass flow meters and pressure controllers built around MEMS technology. This allowed us to offer solutions with a footprint of 0.75’’, halving the footprint and offering ultra-compact flow controllers.
Have a look at our blog MEMS technology to support compact gas chromatography equipment to read more about miniaturization by MEMS chip technology.
This has given our customers:
- Compact assembly ensuring space efficiency
- Analog or digital communication
- Top mount and side ports modules, easily accessible
- Pre-testing ’Plug and Play’ manifold assemblies, reducing customer test requirement
To maintain the usefulness of the new instrument you have to have the same functionality. Along with a sensor on a chip, we need a new, smaller control valve, filter options and a smaller pneumatic shut-off valve. To save even more space and build time, customers requested a down-ported version.
The final addition that makes full use of the space saving created by the addition of new technology was to create a manifold system where a customer can design a number of flow channels into a manifold, all well within the internal space limitations they have for their instrument.
This is one of the key themes of our blogs and it is referred to time and again. The Solutions based approach, ending up with a bespoke solution not a standard product with compromises. Innovation in technology must be driven by the customer. If you do not think that a standard flow or pressure solution will meet your needs then let us know and challenge our team, we will be your low flow fluid handling specialist.
Check out our chip-sensor based mass flow meter/controllers or the Pressure Controllers using MEMS technology.
This miniaturization trend is observed in many places as can be read in our blog Customized low flow measurement systems to support winning Solution factories
New Year's marks a time not only for resolutions, but also reflection. We are very delighted that our blogs have been received so well! This past year there were again many interesting stories to tell, how could it be otherwise given the industries in which we operate. I would like to share our top 5 best-read blogs of 2017 with you.
1) The importance of mass flow measurement and the relevance of Coriolis technology
Why is Mass Flow Measurement important within process industries and what are the strengths of Coriolis Flow Meters and Controllers? Given the number of readers of this blog, this is a frequently asked question.
2) A typical day at Bronkhorst’s flow meter Calibration Centre
We followed Mandy Westhoff, one of our Calibration Centre operators at our headquarters in Ruurlo, during her daily routines to get a realistic view on the activities of the Calibration Centre. A unique moment for readers to gain more insight about this challenging and important work!
3) How to measure low flow rates of liquids using ultrasonic waves?
In June 2017 we were proud to launch our ultrasonic flow meter, the ES-FLOW™, for measuring and controlling liquid volume flows. In collaboration with TNO (Netherlands organization for applied scientific research) we were ably to develop this instrument using Ultrasonic Wave Technology. More in-depth information on this subject can been found in this blog post.
4) Bronkhorst, its share of a clean – solar – energy future
Sustainability and clean energy remains a hot topic. CO2 reduction is one of the major trends worldwide in the energy market. The global focus on CO2 reductions matches perfectly within the Bronkhorst principles regarding respect for nature and environment.
5) How low can you go?
Well, this recent blog of Marcel Katerberg is not very low on our rankings. If you are keen to learn more about how to handle ultra low flow, then you definitely should read this blog.
Furthermore, I would like to thank our guest bloggers of this year, who were so generous spending their time in crafting an interesting blog contribution.
Frank Nijsen (Quirem Medical), Bram de la Combé (Green Team Twente), Maarten Nijland (Veco B.V.), Jeremy Lowe and Ian Brown (Anglian Water Services), Jens Rother (Rubolab GmbH), and Kees Jalink (NKI – Netherlands Cancer Institute)
I am confident that you will enjoy reading these blog posts - if you haven't read them already. But for now, I wish you on behalf of our whole team great health, happiness and success in the coming year.
Today I would like to share an application story with you using mass flow meters in an application at Umicore in Suzhou (China).
Umicore is one of the world’s leading producers of catalysts used in automotive emission systems. The company develops and manufactures high performing catalysts for, among other things, gasoline and diesel engines to transform pollutants into harmless gases, resulting in cleaner air.
Umicore’s production location in Suzhou ‘Umicore Technical Materials’ is using Bronkhorst Mass Flow Controllers and Vapour Systems for research and testing of automotive emission catalyst materials. Newly developed catalytically active materials of Umicore consist of oxides and precious metals, such as platinum and palladium, incorporated into a porous structure which allows intimate contact with the exhaust gas.
What catalyst materials does Umicore test?
Umicore in Suzhou uses various test benches in which newly developed catalytic materials are tested on performance (read: low output of toxic emissions). “Umicore develops new catalysts directly with top-tier automobile manufacturers in China. We are testing new formulations of materials and shapes of the catalysts on performance” explains Mr. Yang Jinliang.
How are the mass flow meters and controllers applied for identical testing and simulation?
The Bronkhorst mass flow meters and controllers are used to accurately deliver the right amount of several gases in a mixture that simulates the exhaust of an engine in different circumstances. “To really compare the performance of newly developed formulations, we have to be sure that the operational conditions of our tests are identical.” Mr. Yang explains that this requires the use of high performance mass flow controllers to accurately mix the simulated exhaust gas.
“We need flow control equipment which is reliable and has excellent repeatability during our simulation runs. Therefore Umicore developed the test equipment together with the Bronkhorst flow specialists.” Umicore runs various simulations. “We simulate exhaust gases of engines under various life cycle simulations and operating conditions. For example, the exhaust gas of the car is different if the engine is still cold or if the engine has a high number of revolutions.”
Test bench for ageing simulation
One special test bench of Umicore simulates the ageing of the catalyst materials. This has been achieved by heating the ambient temperature of the Catalyst up to 800° Celsius for a couple of hours up to 24 hours in a test run while adding the simulated exhaust gas. “Here the Bronkhorst instruments prove high stability under the harsh testing conditions,” says Mr. Yang.
Exhaust gas simulation recipe
In order to simulate engine exhaust gas, Umicore mixes multiple gases. In general the following reactions take place in the catalytic converter:
- Reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen: 2NOx → xO2 + N2
- Oxidation of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide: 2CO + O2 → 2CO2
- Oxidation of unburnt hydrocarbons (HC) to carbon dioxide and water: CxH2x+2 + [(3x+1)/2]O2 → xCO2 + (x+1)H2O
To mix these gases, EL-FLOW Select digital mass flow controllers are being used. In order to maintain the gas mix under the same pressure, an EL-PRESS pressure controller instrument is used to control the pressure simultaneously with the flow.
Exhaust gases of engines also contain evaporated H2O. For this purpose the Bronkhorst ‘Controlled Evaporation Mixer’ (CEM) is used. All digital mass flow controllers, pressure controller and the CEM are connected with a computer that runs a software program to control the instruments.
In the ageing simulation test-bench of Umicore, high-temperature mass flow controllers of Bronkhorst are applied. The Bronkhorst EL-FLOW Select controllers have remote electronics to resist gas temperatures as high as 110° Celsius and still control the gases with high accuracy and excellentrepeatability.
How do you like the support of Bronkhorst products in China?
When asked about Bronkhorst support and service in China, Mr. Yang is very enthusiastic: “All Bronkhorst experts in China are very professional and have quick response. Especially during the start-up phase of our project, when we needed it most, my contacts were determined to support us. The system runs smoothly, but it’s comfortable to know that Bronkhorst is having one of its Global Service Offices in Shanghai if we need calibration or service.”
Each industrial process starts on laboratory scale to define the important parameters efficiently. These parameters might be pressure, temperature, flow but also cost efficiency and standing times. The process with the highest yield is not automatically the most efficient one. For example in catalysis or exhaust/raw gas purification it is very important to find the economically best materials and parameters. From the laboratory beaker to bulk is the process which starts at a microscale and ends with a fully operating industrial process. In between often a pilot stage is included.
Biogas Purification Testing
In Pressure Swing Adsorption systems (PSA), adsorption processes are used for the purification of bio- or natural gas. Thereby, the preferred adsorption of CO2 by zeolites or carbon-based sorbents is used to generate highly pure methane. This methane can be used for heat and power generation, offering an alternative to fossil fuels. Particularly in case of pressure swing adsorption systems, new materials are continuously being developed and evaluated, promising optimized efficiency caused by better sorptive separation properties.
Laboratory scale studies are of special interest as the potential of new materials as well as the associated economics of corresponding industrial processes can be assessed in advance.
Breakthrough Measurements on Laboratory Scale
The Rubolab GmbH has been a spin-off from Rubotherm GmbH, Germany and the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany. Rubolab offers a broad versified portfolio of different adsorption measurement instruments. As Managing Director of Rubolab, I developed the worldwide first manometric high pressure adsorption screening instrument in 2012. During the last years, dynamic adsorption measurement instruments, so called Breakthough Analyzers, have gained increasing importance. In this context, Rubolab offers costumized instruments for the evaluation of novel sorbents in smallest amounts (MiniBTC series).
High pressure resistant vessels are filled with the materials which have to be analyzed. Afterwards this adsorber bed is pressurized using defined gas flows. A corresponding flow sheet of the instrument is shown in the following figure.
In the example above, the sorptive separation of CO2 and CH4 is investigated. In this case, CO2 is adsorbed by the material while the gas is flowing through the fixed bed. A high-purity methane stream is recovered at the top end of the adsorber column.
Three temperature sensors are positioned at different heights within the adsorber column. Due to the exothermic adsorption process, a temperature change within the adsorber bed can be detected, indicating the so-called Mass Transfer Zone (MTZ) going through the fixed bed. When this zone reaches the adsorber head, a corresponding breakthrough can be observed by using downstream gas analysis. Thereby the measured CO2 concentration in the product stream approaches the CO2 concentration of the feed stream. In larger industrial systems the adsorber should be regenerated at this time. This kind of experimental data provides information about adsorption capacities of the substances being investigated.
Mass Flow Controller and pressure regulation valves
For the highly accurate controlling of mass flows and downstream pressures these instruments are equipped with Bronkhorst mass flow controller and pressure regulation valves. In particular devices of the newest generation of mass flow controllers, the Bronkhorst EL-FLOW Prestige series, are used in corresponding laboratory instruments for high end accuracy and versatility. In other devices where the size is of high importance, the Bronkhorst IQ+FLOW series is used to take advantage of it’s very compact size and the possibility to set up small manifolds.
Mass Flow Controller of the EL-FLOW Prestige Series
EL-FLOW Prestige mass flow controllers and meters are highly versatile instruments with their onboard database for gases and mixtures. So it is easy to react on changing customer needs without the necessity to purchase another instrument, when the test gas changes. The Prestige guarantees highly accurate and reproducible gas flow due to an automatic temperature correction, newly designed sensor and valve technology.
Mass Flow Controller of the IQ+FLOW Series
The IQ+FLOW series consists of ultra compact mass flow meters, controllers and also pressure controllers, which are designed for analytical instruments with limited space. The integrated chip technology enables fast measurement and control down to smallest ammounts. 3-Channel devices designed for customer’s application are also available.
To get familiar with this mass flow controller series, please download the white paper for more in-depth information.
You will receive the white paper when you fill out your email in the form above.
Check our instruments used in this application:
At Bronkhorst® we’ve experienced an increase in the demand for skids: a customized system that consists of various types of instruments such as liquid and gas flow meters and an evaporator. In this blog post we explain why we think that there is a correlation between an increasing demand for skids and the ability to compete in competitive industries.
Europe’s Solution Factories
We were triggered by a publication in the Havard Business Review by S.E. Chick, A. Huchzermeier, S.Netessine and others which analyzed applications from European manufacturing which deem themselves “excellent” in manufacturing and won Industrial Excellence Awards. It is remarkable that despite the fact that Europe has some of the world’s most stringent regulations regarding the use of labor, facilities, and equipment and relatively high labor cost, the factories that have won an Industial Excellence award have all prospered in highly competitive industries.
The four distinquishing factors as described in the article which made the winning European manufacturers succesfull:
- They leverage data flows to integrate closely with their supply chain partners.
- They optimize customer value across the whole chain, not just their part of it.
- They harness their technical capabilities to offer a high degree of product customization for their customers
- They cooperate with suppliers to rapidly improve their manufacturing processes.
In short- the winning manufacturing companies work with partners to manufacture solutions for other partners. It is a privilige of Bronkhorst to work closely together with our customers to design smart customized designs which support them with their specific needs. A skid is a customized system based on a standard concept. Customization of standard concept by leveraging the experience and knowhow of our customers and us as low flow experts seems to be an attractive offering for many winning companies in the industry for several reasons. We would like to share with you why we believe customers partner with us to create their own skid.
The four reasons why customized skids are popular
1. Focus on core business
Companies are increasingly focusing on their core activities. They expect from a supplier to deliver complete solutions instead of only individual instruments. We engineer the skid together with our customers and deliver a solution in which all relevant instruments and accessoires have been integrated. The ‘solutions approach’ is explained in more detail in this video.
2. Purchase at one supplier
On a skid we can integrate flow meters (thermal or coriolis), an evaporator, RH sensors, pressure indicators, pumps, liquid vessels and other third party instrumentation. All internal tubing in the skid will be assembled by Bronkhorst. This way, customers can purchase a complete solution at one supplier instead of individual instrumentation at multiple suppliers. The skid will be pre-tested and ready for use by the customer. Besides, the skid is pressure and leak tested and will be delivered including instruction manual. A bonus is that our skids are based on standard proven platforms which make the time to market meet the expectations of our customers.
3. Customized design
Customized products, support and after-sales services support customers to distinguish themselves in a competitive market. All skids are designed customer specific. Even if the customer needs only one skid, we offer a solution. Besides, we offer support and after-sales services that fit with the needs of every individual customer.
4. Compact design
The miniaturisation trend is observed in many places. Small components need fewer quantities of raw materials, in production as well as in (chemicals) use. Customers of high-tech machines would like to have their equipment as compact as possible. Machines have to be smaller in size, as floor area is expensive, especially in cleanrooms - the 'natural' habitat of machines that manufacture solar panels and microchips. A skid can be a very compact solution integrating multiple instruments.
Europe’s Solution Factories
Europe’s Solution Factories by S.E.Chick, A.Huchzermeier and S. Netessine, Havard Business Review, April 2014 issue