By Einar Karlsen, Elektronikk

The company had a turnover of NOK 100 million in 2013 and is experiencing rapid growth. Most of the solutions are exported, and despite the success, the company is relatively little known in Norway. – NEO Monitors is simply an industrial adventure – but it is almost an unknown success story, says CEO Ketil Gorm Paulsen.

Tunable diode laser

NEO Monitors was established in 2003 and is a subsidiary of Norwegian Electro Optics AS (NEO), which has been active in the development of laser-based gas analysis tools since the late 80s. Core products are gas analyzers and dust-monitoring equipment based on tunable diode laser (TDL) technology, and the solutions covers a wide range of applications within process and emission control.

Gas Measurement Technology

– NEO and founder Tycho Jaeger was an early mover within laser technology and the products we manufacture today is the result of long-term research, says Paulsen. NEO Monitors was founded to commercialize technology for gas measurement. The industrial adventure started with HF analyzers (HF – hydrofluoric acid) for the aluminum industry. Later, the company has developed a whole range of products.

Sensitive

– The challenge – and what is our competitive advantage – is that we can measure gas in very low concentrations, typically in the ppm range (parts per million). With this significant resolution, the system is obviously sensitive to noise. Through well-functioning collaboration between the disciplines spectroscopy, optics, electronics and software, we have solved these challenges, he says. There are not many companies in the world within our sector, but some of them are great. – This underlines the fact that we can develop competitive technology in Norway, says Paulsen.

Controlling emissions

NEO Monitors solutions are mainly used for measuring emission, monitor emission or control cleansing processes, or process control. The latter is typically driven by demands for lower costs. A small improvement in percentage can mean better profits. Nevertheless, the solutions have also been used in research projects, like in the lab to car manufacturers that research NO emissions, among others.

Investing in research

Much of the profit from sales are invested in new research. Besides research on gas analyzers, NEO is involved in several other advanced research projects, including underwater optics and hyperspectral imaging. – These are all aspects that require deep technical knowledge and the ability to combine different expertise, explains Paulsen.

Norwegian sub suppliers

The gas analyzers are assembled and tested in Loerenskog. – We have mainly chosen to purchase subsystems from Norwegian subcontractors, says Paulsen. The majority of instruments provided are tailored to a particular use. – Different customers have challenges that we have to adapt our analyzers to, like temperature, pressure and gases. We have highly skilled engineers doing this, says Paulsen, underlining Norway’s advantage in technology: – Norwegian companies are highly adaptable and competitive in advanced products. I think we need to utilize this.

Function

The analyzers can measure gas in channels in two ways: either by welding a flange on the channel or pipe and mount the meter across (“in-situ”), or by extracting a sample volume from the tube and measure in a separate chamber. The analyzer then sends a near-infrared laser beam through the gas. Typical distance can be 1 – 5 meters. The light captured by the receiving unit is analyzed to measure the absorption from sender to receiver. – We have about 50 different wavelengths that we fine-tune to the appropriate applications. For example, temperature and type of gas determines which laser to use, says Paulsen. Technical terms are TDLAS – Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy. The technical basis for diode lasers came with the telecom industry: They developed diode lasers with low power for fiber optics and durability. NEO Monitors is using the same type of diode lasers, tailored to the measured gases.

All data on the table!

– Before we get involved in a project, we demand to get access to all process data. It is essential for us to know whether it is possible to use our technology in the project. Secondly, we need the data to determine the wavelength of the diodes. The key is to see the connection in the customer’s process, then ensure good signal treatment, not least in terms of optical and electrical noise, and processing the data, explains Paulsen.

The processing of the signal is a mixture of analog and digital processing, says Paulsen without going into details. Based on the system, data is processed by either Ethernet or the most common 4-20 mA signal, which shows the gas concentration.

Some solutions can also do measurements in open-air paths – like under the ceiling in processing plants. Here NEO Monitors have developed solutions that even compensates movement in building masses.

A new Ex-version is coming

In the latest product development, NEO can showcase an Ex-proof (explosion proof) version with Safety Integrity Level 2 – SIL 2 – approval. The analyzer continuously checks its own “health” and report back on any discrepancies. This is the first laser-based gas analyzer with SIL 2 certification and the product has generated great interest among owners of critical systems, according to Paulsen.

– I believe there is several potential markets out there, says Paulsen. – We will continue to innovate and develop new products in the forefront of technology.