Last month I visited the AWE Appliance & Electronics World Expo, an international exhibition of household appliances in Shanghai. The definite highlight of my trip was attending the launch event of BSH’s new product, X-Spect. As the first real consumer material scanner, it is a good example of how spectroscopy will find new emerging markets outside of professional applications. This made me think about our last couple of years - and what it has taken to end up to this point.
Emerging new markets
Spectral Engines’ business has been growing rapidly in the last couple of years. Four years ago, we were handling just hundreds of sensors for expensive professional measurement applications annually, though MEMS fabrication allowed us to scale up the production to several thousands.
Major application areas for our customers lie in smart agriculture, homes, industry and handheld screening. In all of these applications, the price point, scalability of sensor technology, ruggedness and data management from the fleet of sensors are critical factors. So, we are really proud that our sensors have been qualified and validated by such a big player as BSH is in the home appliance market. This shows that the development of our sensor technology platform has been successful.
High volume applications with NIRONE Sensor X
We launched our NIRONE Sensor family two years ago. Our newest product, NIRONE Sensor X, was launched just a few months ago. We redesigned our award-winning NIRONE Sensor to meet the requirements of consumer applications on size, robustness, performance, and of course manufacturability. Even though our products are comparable simply in structure and assembly, there have been challenges to increase the production volumes with such big annual steps that we have done.
These last two years we have been pushing production capabilities to the next level in order to meet our customers’ growing needs. We decided not to invest into our own factories, but to find world-class manufacturing partners who are capable and willing to grow and take those huge steps with us every year. A reliable and scalable manufacturing partner network is one of the major key factors in our and our customers’ success. Our major driver is to be able to meet our customers’ needs on quality, ramp-up timelines and deliveries.
The next level of production
It hasn’t been straightforward to multiply the annual volumes many years in row. All optical, electrical and mechanical components have some variation due to manufacturing. Many infinitesimal details become predominant in optical interferometers, like our NIRONE Sensors. Every nanometer matters. This gives an idea of tolerances what we can accept in high volume production. Thus, we have realized and implemented number of quality monitoring steps along our production chain. Each and every sensor is measured and analyzed automatically to ensure their quality. These variations and requirements become pronounced when the volumes increase, and the diversity of the applications grow. While doing all this, the costs of course must be kept low, as it’s everyone’s benefit.
Data management with Artificial Intelligence
Hardware products do not solve all problems by themselves. They can be optimized with software modules and algorithms to fully flourish. Some of our customers are able to build their own algorithms to optimize the performance in their applications. For those who have not this expertise in house, we offer turn key solutions for building application models for sensor fleets by sophisticated machine learning algorithms.
One major enabler has been our cloud-based machine learning platform for data scrunching. The platform is globally scalable due to microservice architecture and secured to handle the dataflow from the sensors and back. This can be done in milliseconds, globally. The key has been to setup modern continuous development and deployment pipelines, so that the cloud service we offer for our customers is available 24/7. These are crucial building blocks in managing the sensor fleets and helping our customers to reach untapped new emerging markets that haven’t been possible before.
Towards an exciting future
It was nice to see the X-Spect launch in Shanghai. This is clear evidence for all of us that spectroscopy can be used very broadly by average consumers as well. We are convinced, that we’ll see many similar new products for prosumer and consumer markets in the next two to three years.
Tematys, France based market survey company, predicted two years ago that the spectroscopy market will be doubled in the next five years. We know now, that this prediction was quite conservative.
By Uula Kantojärvi, CTO, Spectral Engines