Lighthouse project "eHarsh"

Sensor systems for extremely harsh environments

Sensors are key elements for monitoring technical processes in realtime, therby forming the foundation for the comprehensive, intelligent control of industrial value-added chains. While highly integrated sensor systems are already commonplace in many technical areas, for example in smartphones and wearables, and have become an integral part of modern society, that is not at all the case in the industrial environment. Until now, the use of sensor systems has often proved impossible, since the extreme environment of industrial processes, characterized by high operating temperatures, mechanical loads in the form of pressure or vibrations, or a humid or chemically aggressive milieu, does not permit reliable operation of sensitive electronic components. Yet there is an enormous demand for sensor systems in this area, especially for monitoring plants and processes better and controlling them precisely. Sensor systems provide the only way to achieve the ambitious goals of Industrie 4.0, such as the individualization of products under conditions of (large-scale) production, improved monitoring and the optimization and realtime control of entire value-added networks.

The aim of the eHarsh lighthouse project is to develop and provide a technology platform on the basis of which sensor systems, comprising sensors and electronics, can be developed and manufactured for use in extremely harsh environments. The realization of such systems requires interdisciplinary skills, starting with the selection of suitable materials and technologies, a range of development expertise, system integration for the required application, and the evaluation and prediction of reliability and operational behaviour.

To this end, a consortium of Fraunhofer Institutes has joined forces under the leadership of the Fraunhofer IMS to pool their expertise. The participating institutes are known within the scientific community for their specific areas of focus, such as ceramic materials, assembly and fastening technology, high-temperature integrated circuits, sensors, material diagnostics, test methods, reliability analyses and modeling. Whereas it is often the case in the scientific arena that only certain aspects are considered, the aim of the lighthouse project is to apply those scientific skills to achieve comprehensive solutions up to the system level through guided development and interdisciplinary cooperation.

The lighhouse project will develop and deliver the following technologies and skills:

  • robust sensors, e.g. pressure and temperature sensors for use up to 500°C and MEMS sensors for use up to 300°C
  • integrated circuits and system components for use up to 300°C
  • hermetically sealed encapsulations, allowing simultaneous media access to the sensors
  • 3D integration and encapsulation at the system level in the form of system scaled packages
  • analytics and test methods – alone or in combination − for various loads
  • an understanding of material behavior with regard to defect risks and degradation mechanisms
  • extended reliability analyses and models

The technologies and skills will be developed and evaluated on the basis of two characteristic and extremely demanding demonstrators from the areas of engine / turbine monitoring and geothermal energy. With its technologies and demonstrators, the lighthouse project offers the opportunity to open up and expand outside markets, develop unique selling points and establish Fraunhofer technology leadership in the field of sensor systems in extremely harsh environments.