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Effective Solutions to Monitoring the Quality of Air Indoors: an interview with Rob White


Rob White, Sales and Marketing Director at SGX Sensortech, speaks to AZoSensors about the company and their future, and how they are involved within the indoor air quality monitoring industry.

Could you please provide a brief introduction to the work that SGX Sensortech does?

SGX Sensortech is a manufacturer of high performance gas and X-ray sensors used across a range of industries. Our flammable gas sensors are used across the world to protect workers against the hazard of explosions and asphyxiation in coal mines, in petrochemical plants, throughout the oil and gas industry and in waste water treatment plants.

Our X-ray sensors are used not only in high energy physics research but also as a vital accessory to the world’s leading scanning electron microscopes (SEMs). Our air quality sensors are well established in the automotive sector where they are used to detect environmental levels of pollution and smells and allow intelligent air conditioning systems to prevent the levels entering the car and affecting the driver experience.

More recently, our air quality sensors are finding use in indoor air quality monitoring applications such as add-ons to air purification systems, as a component in intelligent building controls and excitingly as an additional sensing component on mobile devices such as phones, wearable technology and tablets.

Why is it important to monitor the air quality of indoor spaces such as offices and homes?

It has been long known that the quality of air that we breathe has a direct impact on our health, and in the workplace and recent studies suggest that the air quality around schoolchildren can have a direct impact on their ability to learn. For many years, employers have been concerned about ‘sick building syndrome’ or SBS, an outcome of poor air quality in the workplace.

There is therefore considerable interest in improving the air quality wherever humans may be breathing – to improve it, one must first measure it and that is where SGX comes in.

What is used to monitor indoor air quality?

There are a range of technologies used to measure air quality and the choice of technology depends on what needs to be measured. The three main components of air quality are Particulate Materials (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

PMs are produced typically by combustion processes – either industrial processes such as power generation through the burning of fossil fuels or car combustion processes. The human body is well equipped to deal with the larger PMs (say, greater than 10 microns), but smaller particles can bypass the natural protection systems and cause damage to lung and respiratory tissue.  They are normally measured using an optical technique.

CO2 is also produced by combustion, but it typically occurs in the office or home as a result of respiration by humans. While not usually hazardous to humans at the levels found in the home or office, it is a good sign that a room is ‘stuffy’. CO2 is also measured using optical techniques such as non-dispersive infra-red.

Volatile Organic Compounds constitute a wide range of low boiling point hydrocarbons and there are many potential sources for these species. They are emitted by humans but can also be generated by paints, upholstery, cigarette smoke, heating systems, rotting food or many other sources. They are typically monitored using a metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) technology.

What is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and how do they affect air quality?

As described above, VOCs are any number of small hydrocarbons which can enter the atmosphere from a number of sources. There is a high level of research ongoing as to the effects of VOCs on humans; some have been linked with types of cancer, many respiratory disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are associated with VOCs and there is recent evidence to suggest poor air quality can affect the efficiency of workers, and can impact the effectiveness of learning in school environments.

How can SGX Sensortech help to monitor and improve air quality in an office space?

For more than 10 years, SGX Sensortech has been a major supplier of air quality sensors into the automotive market place and we have an enviable reputation for quality performance and on-time delivery.

For example, we have recently been awarded a Supplier Award from General Motors for the third year running, a feat only achieved by fourteen other GM suppliers worldwide.

We have adapted our innovative automotive technology based on MEMS (micro-electro-machined system) MOS sensors for use in indoor air quality applications and we now have a suite of products available for use at different integration levels.

For example, if a customer wishes to be up and running very quickly with our sensors, we have a high performance module that comprises a MOS sensor and an on-board microprocessor which analyses the raw output from our sensor and provides a digital (or analog) output which can be easily used in existing equipment.

We provide stripped down versions of this module with more specific functionality, developed for customers who have a high volume application where cost is critical. Furthermore, if complete control of the sensor is required by our customer, we can supply bare sensors and provide advice on how to drive the sensor for best performance.

It is now very easy for a customer to quickly measure the levels of VOC in an environment, furthermore our modules have an advanced algorithm build in which allows them to produce a CO2 equivalent signal.

What are the main differences between the solutions to bad air quality that SGX Sensortech can offer compared to other available alternatives?

SGX Sensortech is focused on gas sensors – we do not make detectors or final equipment. Therefore we are able to concentrate on helping our customers solve their air quality detection problems without distraction.

Our technologies are state of the art; our sensors are produced in high volume using semiconductor manufacturing processes and given our long heritage in the automotive sector, we have very tight control of quality and variation.

We have a very wide network of sales people and channel partners so that wherever the customer may be in the world, we can provide commercial and technical support in their own time zone.

Finally, we believe that to truly measure air quality, one must look at the levels of volatile organic compounds rather than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. CO2 primarily gives a measurement of how many humans are present in a space – it the source of air pollution is waste rotting in a bin or cigarette smoke or cleaning products or cooking gases, only a VOC sensor will detect it.

What industries will usually use sensors to monitor indoor air quality?

Air quality is already being measured as a part of intelligent heating and building controls in commercial buildings. Sensors are already being introduced in air purifiers. Going forward, we believe the sky is the limit in terms of the potential applications for our products; whether they are used in mobile devices, within schools, in the home or outside, to determine environmental pollution.

How do you see the indoor air quality monitoring sector progressing over the next decade and how will SGX Sensortech be a part of this change?

We anticipate exponential growth in the air quality sector as the level of awareness of the consumer regarding the impact of poor air quality increases. We know for example that the poor environmental air quality in China is receiving considerable focus both from the government and from the general public.

This will drive considerable growth in the air quality sector. We also know that most of the major mobile device manufacturers are seeking ways to include air quality sensing in their next generation devices.

With SGX at the forefront of the technology curve for air quality sensing devices, we believe the future is very bright.

Rob White

About Rob White

Rob has a background in catalytic science with undergraduate and masters degrees in Chemistry, as well as qualifications in Marketing.

Throughout his career, he has worked in the gas sensor arena, holding R&D, marketing and sales roles for a number of leading sensor manufacturers.

At SGX Sensortech, as Sales and Marketing Director, he is responsible for the sale and support of a wide range of innovative industrial and air quality sensors sold to instrument and detector OEMs worldwide.

SGX have a unique focus on delivering high performance solutions to the challenges of measuring toxic, flammable and harmful gases and offer the next generation in technology for gas sensing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.


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