23 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

MEMS-based force sensor is ‘world’s smallest’

The Japanese sensor-maker Alps Electric has developed what it claims is the world’s smallest force sensor, with potential applications for position control in industrial equipment and robots. The HSFPAR sensor uses MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) technology to achieve its tiny size (2 × 1.6 × 0.66mm).

Force sensors are usually based either on semiconductor or metallic strain gauges, but both types have limitations. Semiconductor sensors offer high precision, but are bulky. Metallic sensors can be made small, but this comes at the cost of reduced sensitivity.

Alps developed its new sensor by applying MEMS and packaging technologies to a semiconductor strain gauge. As well as being tiny, the sensor can detect stresses as low as 0.01N, enabling high-precision sensing of, for example, load shifts in robots. Other potential applications include touch panels and pen-shaped input devices (styli).

Alps foresees a growing demand for compact, sensitive force sensors for applications such as load detection on touch or contact, load balancing and robotic grip strength control.

The new sensors are claimed to have operating lives of more than 1 million cycles. They are optionally available in a flexible printed circuit format for easy integration into products.