Sagem's MEMS micro-sensors big winners at Safran Innovation Awards

A promising new technology from Sagem was a double winner at this year's Safran Innovation Awards prize ceremony on April 13. Sagem's inertial micro-sensors based on MEMS (micro electromechanical systems) technology, won both the Grand Prize and the Patented Innovation award in this annual competition, which spotlights creativity and innovation at Safran.

Smaller, lighter and much less expensive to produce than today's sensors, MEMS are in the process of revolutionizing the aerospace and defense industry. The technology itself isn't all that new: these tiny electromechanical systems, just a few millimeters in size, were invented back in the 1970s, and are already used as sensors on aircraft. They are also used in a number of other sectors, including the automotive and rail industries, robotics, healthcare, telecommunications and more.

At the crossroads of two areas of expertise

By combining its expertise in inertial sensors with MEMS, Sagem has gone a step further. Over the last few decades, Sagem has built up unrivaled experience in the development of inertial sensors for a wide range of applications. Its subsidiary Colibrys is specialized in silicon MEMS technology, which allows the low-cost volume production of very small MEMS, capable of measuring tiny movements precisely, repeatably and reliably. The combination of these two areas of expertise led to a patent on a method for improving the electronics in an accelerometer. Likewise, applying the principles behind hemispherical resonator gyros (HRG) to MEMS technology led to a patent on a new design for a vibrating gyro resonator, which was tested by the experts at the Safran Tech research & technology center and the CEA's LETI lab. These were the two patents, harboring considerable potential for performance and miniaturization, that won Safran Innovation Awards.

Unrivaled performance-to-weight ratio

Their main feature is undoubtedly their miniscule size and weight: a MEMS gyro chip, concentrating high-tech capabilities in just two grams, offers exceptional weight savings in relation to the 50-gram vibrating gyro from Sagem, and a 500-gram laser gyro. The performance is equally impressive, since Sagem's MEMS-based accelerometer and gyro offer ten times the precision of current state-of-the-art MEMS inertial sensors. In addition, they offer low power consumption and very competitive production costs.

Sagem affirms its leadership

With this four-pronged reduction – in size, weight, power consumption and cost – Sagem's MEMS micro-sensors meet major objectives in today's aerospace and defense industry, including both commercial and military aircraft. These developments should allow Sagem to maintain its technological and industrial leadership in the inertial guidance and navigation market. At the same time, a smaller range of sensors will cover the whole spectrum of applications. And the technologies developed for these devices could also be transposed to other types of sensors. For instance, Sagem has filed for a patent on a Fabry-Pérot type optical sensor, used to measure light interference.

Growth markets for the future

The high performance and small size of the MEMS micro-sensors will also pave the way for new applications that require these characteristics, including mini-drones, portable optronics and navigation systems, autonomous vehicles, etc., alongside the traditional civil aviation market, for flight controls, instruments, etc. Sagem's development of this MEMS technology also represents a major step forward for Safran, since it will help meet burgeoning demand from all Safran companies for small yet powerful sensors. 

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