ARCHIVED - They feel the Earth move
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May 07, 2007— Fredericton, New Brunswick
The earth moves. Not just through space and around the sun. The soil that comprises the earth's surface is also in constant motion. This movement, which can be very slow but then accelerate suddenly due to rain or earthquakes, is a major cause of damage to buildings and roads. Measurand, a New Brunswick-based company, has developed ShapeAccelArray (SAA), a product that measures soil and structure movement.
SAA, which looks like a string of sausages and up to 100 meters long, is being used world-wide to keep tabs on the movement of the earth below us. "Shape" in the name indicates the precise measurement of 3D shape of the array in soil, usually down a hole drilled in the earth. "Accel" indicates SAA's ability to also measure vibration from earthquakes or nearby machines.
Incorporated in 1993, Measurand has over fifteen years of experience measuring 3D data in automotive, military, space, and biomedical environments. The company pioneered the use of 3D flexible arrays of distributed sensors based on fiber optics. The fiber optic sensor arrays, with names like ShapeTape and ShapeWrap, are used in diverse applications from virtual reality to crash testing.
SAA, developed over the last three years, has enabled the company to enter new markets where exceptional long-term accuracy is required. Millimeter-scale accuracy required for soil and structure measurement was achieved by using strings of interconnected silicon-based sensors instead of fiber optics. At the same time, Measurand was able to add MEMS sensing to some of its existing product line, where it makes it much easier to use a ShapeWrap system for human motion capture.
Measurand's success is due, in no small part, to its ability to incorporate advanced technologies in its products. Its over one dozen patents attest to the new ideas embedded in every product. Current sales, which are in the one to two million dollar range, have reflected double-digit growth since its incorporation, an indication of Measurand's focus on product sales. The latest product, SAA, is in the same broad category of 3D shape sensing, but uses a technology newer than fiber optics, called Micromachined ElectroMechanical System (MEMS). MEMS sensors are built from silicon, like computer chips, but contain tiny flexible structures smaller than a dust mite. The MEMS in ShapeAccelArray sense gravity and vibration.
When the company realized that adding the MEMS technology to their products would open new markets for them, they turned to the National Research Council Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). NRC-IRAP helps small- and medium-sized enterprises grow their businesses, increase their competitiveness, and enhance their impact in the marketplace. The program is delivered through a network of 260 advisors located in 100 communities across Canada who possess technical expertise in a multitude of fields. NCR-IRAP is unique in its delivery of service, providing one-on-one attention to its client SMEs.
When developing SAA, Measurand took advantage of the NRC-IRAP network. Their NRC-IRAP advisor Morrill Sisk participated in development review meetings, providing ideas for product applications and collaborations with companies in similar fields. Morrill informed Measurand about web-based earthquake and climate databases, software systems used to interface with them, and other companies using wireless technology. This new information helped improve Measurand's approach to the software for SAA, which is used to get data from remote solar-powered SAA sites over the wireless cellnet system to Measurand's automated server in Fredericton, and from there to their customers world-wide. NRC-IRAP also assisted in the organization of testing and selection of some of the alloys necessary to add MEMS technology to Measurand's ShapeWrap product line.
Measurand founder and President Lee Danisch says, "NRC-IRAP advisors are indeed the best people to work with, both for their contacts in various sectors, as well as their help with practical aspects of the project. This project was our best development project yet. We were able to improve our existing products by adding MEMS technology, and bring a new all-MEMS product to a new market in record time."
The new technology and its applications have led to rapid market expansion in the geo-technical market and the company's sales have doubled in the last three years as a result of this partnership. Geotechnical sales have increased from zero to 35 per cent in the last two years, and are accelerating rapidly. Measurand has operations in North America, Central and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Middle East.
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