Bronkhorst with MEMS sensor development team at Kennispark

Bronkhorst with MEMS sensor development team at Kennispark

Bronkhorst High-Tech develops and manufactures smart, durable and accurate customer-specific low flow meters and controllers for liquids and gases. They do this for laboratories, pilot plants and industrial machinery, among other things. Bronkhorst started in 1981 in Vorden and since 1983 the head office has been located in Ruurlo. There are now eight hundred employees worldwide, over six hundred of whom work in Ruurlo. Since last month, the MEMS sensor development team consisting of nine employees has been based at Kennispark.

Bronkhorst is the market leader in Europe and is in the top three worldwide when it comes to sales of low flow meters and controllers and has branches for sales and support in Great Britain, France, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, China, Taiwan (ROC), South Korea, India, Singapore (for APAC countries) and the US. They have also built an extensive complementary network of distributors and service offices in Europe and around the world, offering local expertise and service.

Development team at Kennispark

Wouter Sparreboom, engineer at Bronkhorst: “The fact that we moved our development team to Kennispark is a very logical step. We have been using the Nanolab at MESA+ for years, have been collaborating with various research groups at the University of Twente since the late 1990s, and one of our employees works as a part-time professor at the UT. In addition, there are a lot of great companies here that we have also worked with for a long time, such as LioniX, Micronit, PHIX and Demcon, and we are affiliated with the ChipTech Twente cluster. Many of our employees come from around here or have studied here. We are now a lot closer to the ROC of Twente, Saxion and the UT and that ensures that as a certified training company we can offer even more students of all levels an internship or graduation place. At Kennispark we are also much easier to reach by public transport, which is still a lot more difficult in Ruurlo.”

The fact that the Achterhoek and Twente are similar regions and that Ruurlo and Enschede are not so crazy far apart is also a plus. Wouter: “The mentality is pretty much the same in both regions and our corporate culture matches this as well, so that makes the difference between working in Ruurlo or Enschede a lot smaller.”

Meters and controllers focused on low flow rates

The thermal mass flow meters and controllers developed by Bronkhorst have a measurement range between 0-0.7 mln/min and 0-11000 m3n/h for gases and 0-100 mg/h to 0-1 kg/h for liquids. The Coriolis mass flow meters and controllers for gases and liquids are available with ranges from 0-5 g/h to 0-600 kg/h and the electronic pressure meters and controllers have a minimum range of 0-100 mbar and a maximum range of 0-400 bar. The most recent development in the fluid field is a series of ultrasonic flow meters for a flow range from 2-100 ml/min to about 1500 ml/min.

Various fields of application

The gas and liquid flow meters and controllers are both standard and custom developed for various applications in healthcare, chemical laboratories, solar panel production and many other application areas.

Wouter: “Our meters and controllers are often not visible, yet they are essential for the products you and I use every day. The meters and controllers are used in the development of a car’s catalytic converter, but also, for example, in the evaporation process of the protective coating on eyeglass lenses and in testing a control valve in a coffee maker. We do develop customized products for our customers, but never lose sight of broad applicability in the process.”

Wout van ‘t Wel, communications manager at Bronkhorst adds: “A product that can only do one trick becomes very expensive, but if you develop a sensor right at the start that can measure multiple gases as well as temperatures, then the same sensor can be used for multiple applications. The heart remains the same, so to speak, but you adjust it in details. Our products are actually Lego blocks that we configure into a final product based on the customer’s requirements.”

Small team

“There are a total of nine people here now, four of whom still have desks at UT. Our development process is very phased and we are constantly improving and refining. As a small team, we all participate in the various development phases. Everything is intertwined and changing something small can have major consequences. By keeping everyone involved, a designer sees, for example, when what he has designed goes well, but also when it goes wrong. The engineer helps in production, so that he too can experience for himself whether what he has thought up works and can also make immediate adjustments if it turns out not to work. We are still working on setting up a room with lab facilities, so that we can do part of what we are currently doing in labs at the UT and in Ruurlo here on location and we can switch even faster as a team at one location.”

From idea to product can take years

“The initial idea of the sensor of which several thousand have now been produced and production of which will be scaled up considerably from next year in Germany, originated around 2009. Initially, there were high expectations for this MEMS-based sensor, but the market turned out to be not yet ready for it. It wasn’t until 2020 that the idea was taken off the shelf again and we started developing it further, and only now is the market ready for it as well. So we need a long breath to actually develop all of our ideas into a product, but fortunately that space is available at Bronkhorst.

Future plans

“Microtechnology is becoming increasingly interesting because you can perform several different measurements with the same device, such as two pressure measurements, four temperature measurements and two flow measurements, for example, without sacrificing the compactness of a standard measuring instrument. We are now focusing on reducing the physical dimensions even further, so that in machines also the most compact and lightweight housing can be used, while our measuring instruments can do more and more.”


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