Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Improving the efficiency of air travel with STFC spin-out Oxsensis.

Increasingly adaptable aircraft systems are on the horizon for Oxsensis Ltd, a spin-out from the Science and Technology Facilities Council which, on June 17, 2013 entered into a new partnership with leading global provider of technical aerospace components, Parker Aerospace, a business segment of Parker Hannifin Corporation (NYSE: PH). Their collaborative technology could lead to cheaper, greener air travel.

Parker Aerospace and Oxsensis Ltd. will work together to develop a highly accurate, highly stable pressure sensor based on innovative fibre optic technologies for a Parker aero instrumentation system. Oxsensis Ltd. brings a key new technology and expertise in developing stable pressure sensors for harsh environments and the electronics and opto-electronics for interfacing with them. Combined with Parker Aerospace's proven experience in developing reliable aircraft systems and equipment, this new technology will make Parker's future system designs even more competitive, offering a highly integrated, fibre-optic-based system for the aerospace market.

Improvements in the instrumentation system are envisaged in terms of reduced weight, increased accuracy, and immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI). Aircraft wings are increasingly made of composite materials which do not shield sensors from EMI as well as their metal predecessors and this increases the attractiveness of non-electrical sensors. The reduced weight implications of such systems will lead to reduced fuel consumption and could mean a future of air travel that is both cheaper and greener.

Their advanced sensor technology also has the ability to gather previously unattainable information from environments that would destroy existing sensors, such as in the heart of engines or braking systems.It is also sensitive and stable enough to provide information where existing technology is not currently viable, such as within gas turbine combustion systems. This access to previously obscure data provides to key to better fuel economy and more appropriate servicing intervals, both of which save time and money.

Parker Aerospace Principal Engineer for Gauging and Sensors Dr. Lewis Boyd commented, “The pressure sensor to be designed will provide more precision than existing commercially available electrical sensors, while also being suitable for use at low temperatures and under high-vibration conditions. The use of fibre optics is also expected to deliver a sensor that is immune to electromagnetic interference and completely free of any metallic or electrically conductive materials.”

Oxsensis Chief Executive Officer Ian Macafee stated, “Oxsensis’ market-leading, high-performance sensor technology is now being moved into the product application phase. Since 2003, Oxsensis has demonstrated in excess of 1000°C pressure and temperature instrumentation systems operating with high accuracy and has developed multi-measurand capabilities concurrently delivering pressure and temperature data from new locations in turbo machines.” He added, “The same core technology is now being deployed in lower temperature applications, demonstrating EMI immunity and superior measurement performance, including in the aerospace market — in which Oxsensis is now active in two development programs. We look forward to working alongside Parker to extend aero instrumentation capabilities.”

The alliance has sprung from a collaborative research and development project supported by the Technology Strategy Board, where the two companies were part of a consortium with Nottingham Trent University. The progress made on this project has prompted Parker and Oxsensis to extend their engagement to include further product development and exploration, specifically the application of an Oxsensis technology to a Parker aero-instrumentation system.

Oxsensis Ltd. was formed in 2003 as a spin-out company of STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and maintains strong links with STFC’s engineering and research programmes. Their world class expertise lies in fibre and laser optics, particularly stable pressure sensor technology and the associated interfacing electronics, utilising the micromachining of super resistant materials such as single-crystal sapphire, which has a melting point of over 2000°C.

Kate Ronayne, STFC’s Head of Innovation said: “We’re delighted that Oxsensis is able to expand the reach of their pioneering technology in an international high-value market by collaborating with a global player in the aerospace industry. We hope that the partnership between Oxsensis and Parker Aerospace will continue to push boundaries to make a significant impact within the aerospace industry and contribute to more efficient, safer air travel worldwide.”

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