As only one week remains before IDTechEx's Energy Harvesting and Storage conference and exhibition in Boston, MA, technology analyst Dr Harry Zervos interviewed KCF Technologies, a company who will be announcing the launch of their newest product offering at the event: The Smart Diagnostics Solution Suite, a family of energy harvesting powered wireless sensors. Jeremy Frank, founder and President of KCF, David Shannon, VP of Business Development & Marketing and Richard Geiger, VP of Product Development, gave Dr Zervos insight into the companies beginnings and the route that lead to the imminent launch of this new family of devices, a complete and affordable harvester-powered wireless sensor system that can be deployed out of the box in harsh industrial environments.
"The company was formed 11 years ago, as a spin-off from the Penn State University's Centre for Acoustics and Vibration," says Jeremy Frank. "Our work on energy harvesting started around 2003-2004, with funding from the Department of Energy towards research into industrial applications, followed by Department of Defense funding for applications such as sensors for helicopters ships, even energy harvesting for prosthetic limbs".
A lot of the company's work went into the balancing and optimization of the entire harvester and sensor system, bearing in mind that these devices and components were being used in applications where they would encounter a variety of harsh environments. "We eventually focused on the more challenging and more power-hungry applications in high-bandwidth vibration environments," concludes Jeremy.
Providing solutions: a priority
KCF focused on providing complete solutions for its customers' problems from the outset. "The energy harvesting space is not a mature enough industry that would allow for a company to operate successfully as a provider of discrete components" says Jeremy. Around 2008, having energy harvesters ready and available, KCF partnered with companies such as GE and Emerson, but didn't continue down that route as it could have potentially led to the company being commoditized as just another provider of an alternative "battery".
Instead, taking the developments of recent years, KCF's efforts went into the development of a complete energy harvester/sensor/wireless protocol solution for condition monitoring through measuring vibration.
The Smart Diagnostics Solution Suite
"The Smart Diagnostics Solution Suite initially comprises three harvesters to choose from: a thermal harvester providing the necessary amount of power from a 15⁰ temperature gradient, a photovoltaic harvester working at a minimum of 2000 lumens and a piezoelectric energy harvester" says David Shannon.
"Depending on the environment the device is going to be operating at, any of the three can be chosen to harvest ambient energy" says Richard Geiger. "The thermoelectric generator (bismuth telluride based, approximately, 3.9 sq. inches in area) and the solar cell (a-Si cell, 4.4 sq inch surface area) have been bought by KCF from partnering companies but the power management circuitry and integration have all been done in-house. The piezoelectric harvester, a C-cell sized rectangular device has been fully developed at KCF," continues Richard and he concludes, "Work continues within KCF to develop other forms of energy harvesters."
Clients and distribution
"The device is already in the hands of customers in beta testing: in power plants, paper mills, chiller facilities and a brewery" says David Shannon. David also points out that KCF is not aiming to compete with, or replace, huge monitoring systems made available by companies such as Bentley Nevada that represent a large investment on behalf of adopters: Instead, KCF is looking to provide a simpler, lower cost solution for people who cannot afford that type of investment. The company is already leveraging relationships with equipment providers too, making sure that they make the Smart Diagnostics Suite available as part of their maintenance kit.
As for production volumes: "We are anticipating having thousands of the devices available in 2012" states David.
For more information on KCF and the product launch of the Smart Diagnostics Solutions Suite, as well as live demonstrations, attend IDTechEx's Energy Harvesting and Storage conference and exhibition in Boston on the 15 and 16 of November. For more information, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Boston or contact Corinne Jennings at c.jennings@IDTechEx.com
And attend Energy Harvesting & Storage and Wireless Networks & RTLS, November 15-16 2011, Boston, USA