Colibrys MEMS receive Frost & Sullivan 2010 award
They are being fitted onto trains such as China’s Maglev, Italian Pendolinos and the new Siemens Velaro D high-speed trains to monitor bogies and to stabilize the tilt in the train as it turns into a bend at high speed. You will find them on the earth’s surface creating images of the geological structures 5’000m below for use in discovery of oil and gas or even deep below the surface where, at temperatures around 200 Celsius, they are detecting where reservoirs of oil exist or precisely guiding directional drills to increase efficiency of extraction from existing oil fields. They are out-of-sight in thousands of buildings from California to Japan or Chile and Haiti where they help understand better the nature of earthquakes and tsunamis or monitor the structural integrity of buildings during and after earthquakes.
They are invisible but they are ubiquitous. MEMS, micro-electromechanical systems, can integrate sensing, processing and communications on the same silicon chip. “MEMS are generally 50 times cheaper, 50 times smaller and 50 times more energy efficient than existing systems,” explains Colibrys CEO Sean Neylon. “Because of these disruptive features they are spreading across numerous applications in all varieties of industries.” That claim has just received international backing with an award to Colibrys for its high-end MEMS from leading American independent technology consultancy Frost & Sullivan. From lab to market
For the company that spun off the entire microsystems research unit from the Swiss Center of Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), Neuchâtel in 2001, this honour underlines the profound changes the company has made to build leadership in extremely competitive markets. “Back in 2001, we started as a custom manufacturer of MEMS for the telecom industry,” explains Neylon. “But with the ‘dot.com’ collapse and consequent fall in the telecom market in 2003 we reoriented our activities toward high-end accelerometers and gyroscopes for industries crying out for high precision measurement especially in harsh environments.”
In 2004, the company signed a Preferred Supply Agreement with British Aerospace to produce accelerometers to be integrated in the smart guidance systems for missiles and munitions. Neylon’s next move was into oil exploration, where Colibrys landed major contracts with ION Geophysical in the US and Imdex in the UK amongst others. Then the company turned to the industrial monitoring market, building and transport industries, with a recent major contract with Siemens. It has benefited from various industrial cycles to grow a MEMS production that has already reached 100,000 units a year. The company is now leading the world in development of sensors for guidance and navigation when GPS doesn’t work, shock sensors for detecting bomb blasts and for sensors for use in measurements systems in the most rugged environments from thousands of metres below the earth’s surface to millions of kilometres into outer space.