Sensors Of The Future: Quantum Technology In Industrial Manufacturing

Quantum systems can be used to measure physical quantities such as temperature, speed, electric and magnetic fields or positions with much higher precision than any other existing sensors. A quantum optical sensor that can be used for mass production would therefore already be a real leap into the future of manufacturing a whole range of products. "Quantum technology is the next step for sensor technology because it pushes technical boundaries that have been firmly anchored up to now," confirms Dr Robert Bauer, CEO of Sick, the southern German sensor specialist.

Previous sensors mainly used the methods of classical physics – and if no specific signals could be measured, the possibilities were exhausted. Now, quantum effects can be used to make additional details perceptible within the signal noise. One is tempted to say that this new precision represents a "quantum leap" in development. In fact, quantum sensors can measure up to a million times more accurately than conventional technology in magnetic or gravitational field measurements. Such high-precision measurements and discoveries can lead to completely new applications in industry.

Lightning-Fast Measurement – Versatile Applications

Quantum sensors are designed to enable ultra-fast measurement of the motion and size distribution of particles. But how do they work? Laser light is used to generate a polarisation superposition pattern that is already known. The different polarisation states are superimposed, which makes it possible – compared to the measurement with a simple laser beam – to read out three pieces of information about a particle in the measuring beam. And all this simultaneously. This includes the size of the particle, its speed and the direction of its movement.

Thanks to digitalisation and algorithms, the result is "to enable a significantly greater performance promise with regard to process control in the industry", according to the developers in the February 2021 issue of the trade journal "Produktion". The quantum sensor should then be able to measure particles that are a fifth of a micrometre small. This makes it possible to analyse particle contamination sources within the manufacturing process, which in turn helps to avoid production downtimes. In addition, continuous real-time measurement of even the smallest particles is possible, for example in powder production – and the data can be retrieved online at any time for quality assurance.

In the case of the powder example cited, the bandwidth ranges from the pharmaceutical industry to cement production and only just hints at the range of possible applications. With the industrialisation of these processes, the market for quantum sensor technology should undoubtedly grow very quickly.