Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS), designer and manufacturer of low power, high speed Non-Dispersive Infrared (NDIR) carbon dioxide (CO2) gas sensors, appointed a new CEO back in August 2016, with the aim of scaling the business, building on the platform of technology and products to drive its global expansion.
GSS was founded in 2006 by Alan Henderson. Henderson was then joined immediately by Calum MacGregor, the current Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
The first five years of operation were spent developing the technology and creating GSS’s first products. During these primary years, the company was surviving through external investors, many of whom were acquaintances of the well-networked Alan Henderson.
Through the second half of the decade, GSS began experiencing commercial success with the original CozIR CO2 sensor, a real breakthrough product for the industry due to its low power consumption capabilities. However, despite this innovation, the company was still struggling with internationalisation and lacked the experience and knowledge to grow the commercial side of the business.
In 2016, GSS shareholders decided it was time to focus on overseas growth. Subsequently, in August 2016, Ralph Weir was appointed as the new CEO to work alongside Henderson, building on the platform of technology and products to drive global expansion.
gasworld spoke with Gas Sensing Solutions CEO, Ralph Weir, to gain an overview of the new direction that the company is taking under his leadership.
“The technology we have at GSS is great, but we’re one of the small players. We want to become a big player. That’s the change we’re going through at the moment,” Weir explained.
Weir started his career within the semiconductor business, working for some of the big blue-chip American corporates – Texas Instruments and Motorola. From this experience Weir realised that, for him, life outside of the big corporates was much more fun. He went on to manage the marketing of a start-up company that builds computing systems, driving them forward into the communications industry. The company became the leading light in the 3G wireless base station market with some of the programmes it produced, and was eventually sold to Motorola.
“After doing one start-up business you start to get a bit of a taste for it. It’s something of a drug. We grew from 20 to 350 people. A very exciting time. From there I ended up in another start-up company involved in the licensing of semiconductor technology. Again, that grew from small beginnings to quite a big operation which we eventually sold to Panasonic.”
After spending a considerable amount of time in the mobile phone industry, Weir moved into metrology systems for automotive and aerospace production lines, before eventually moving away from the commercial side of technology businesses into his current CEO role at GSS.
“I don’t have a background in gas sensing as such, I have a background in metrology and instrumentation. A lot of my background is developing strategies to build businesses and deliver the potential of their fantastic products.”
Weir believes that GSS has the ability to run a very efficient operation in terms of manufacturing. He says that the company has some key technology and products which are world beating, and, when put in front of the right audience, sell themselves.
“The key to many technology markets is providing focus. With NDIR technology, it is clear that you can address any number of different gases and sell any number of different products. But you shouldn’t try to offer all things to all men. That’s why at this stage we are completely focusing on the CO2 market, because we want to deliver the best CO2 sensors in the world.”
GSS’ CO2 sensors are based on LEDs that use massively less power – often between 10x and 100x less than alternatives. These sensors boast power consumption of only 35mW at 20 measurements per second, or can operate on a very low duty cycle – enabling a battery life of 10 years in lower-speed applications, and measurement ranges from 0 to 100%. In addition, the sensors can take measurements up to 20 times a second, or more with custom designs. So, what does this new LED approach to CO2 measuring make possible?
“You shouldn’t try to offer all things to all men.”
Ralph Weir, CEO Gas Sensing Solutions
The HVAC market:
By volume currently, the biggest market for gas sensing is the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) market. Traditionally, this market has used mains-powered sensors monitoring a combination of CO2, temperature and sometimes humidity. As these devices were typically mains powered, power consumption wasn’t a big issue at the time. Lowering the cost was the main objective. However, recently there has been a move to simpler, more cost-effective installation, thanks to the development of wireless, battery operated CO2 sensors. This enables the device to be installed in buildings that are in the process of being refitted, without the significant costs of cabling and redecoration – even for new builds the overall system cost can be less as cable and installation costs are eliminated.
“It’s a huge market and it’s in the process of transitioning from using wired power to battery power. Of course, you don’t want to be changing the batteries every week. So, our focus changed from driving costs down to working out how on earth we can get this thing to run for 10 years on one battery. At that point, at GSS, we thought, of course we can and have produced the ultra-low power CozIRLP!”
“We want to deliver the best CO2 sensors in the world.”
Ralph Weir, CEO Gas Sensing Solutions
These divide into two distinct parts. First high concentration monitoring to detect that enough CO2 is present and the second, at low levels, checking that safe levels of CO2 have not been exceeded.
For example, a fast sensor is needed in the food industry because high levels of CO2 are used to keep food, including sealed packages of meat and bagged salads, fresher for longer. On the production line, a very fast sensor is needed to measure that the bags are being properly sealed with the right level of CO2 that can be up to 100% concentration. Waiting minutes for a reading can result in many bags being processed incorrectly before the fault is noticed and corrective measures instigated.
On the other hand, a CO2 leak in any of these facilities can rapidly take a normal level of around 400 parts per million up to levels where dizziness and disorientation can happen. So, having CO2 sensors in the 0 to 1% range provides a vital Health and Safety warning.
“Let’s look at our battery operated personal alarms. Let’s say for instance, someone’s delivering CO2 to a pub cellar for use in carbonating drinks. They need their alarm to sound pretty quickly if there has been a CO2 leak. If there was a relatively high sampling rate, a response of a few seconds at the very most is essential. Traditional NDIR sensors use a lot of power and are typically very slow. GSS has essentially crashed through both of these barriers opening up so many applications for people.”
GSS’s SprintIR6S high-speed CO2 sensor is another example of how the company is ‘breaking the mould’.
Breath analysis or capnography can reveal a number of medical issues such as heart and lung problems by analysing the rapidly changing CO2 content of exhaled air. However, until now, this has required expensive, mains-powered machines which effectively limits the use to laboratories, hospitals etc.
Many readings per second are needed to monitor how the CO2 levels are changing. LEDs are virtually instant on/off, unlike traditional IR sources that can take seconds or minutes to heat up and stabilise, and thus can be pulsed to give up to 20 readings per second. Speed and accuracy are akin to the previous generation, mains-powered machines.
Additionally, the sample size for breath analysis has to be very small. GSS has engineered this into its new SprintIR6S that only needs 2ml per sample in its dome-shaped, gas detection chamber so that the breathing pattern of the patient is not affected. It also requires so little power that it can be battery powered.
This opens up a whole new field of application solutions that was not possible before as handheld breath analysis devices can be made at a fraction of the cost of the previous generation of mains-powered, breath analysis machines.
“Traditionally, high-speed breath analysis has been performed in university medical facilities and has slowly started to move out into hospitals. GSS has designed a breath sensor that can be put into a hand-held unit and then given to every patient. In five years time, we hope to see applications in personal healthcare.”
Weir strongly believes that the company’s leadership in semi-conductor technology, as well as its capabilities and understanding of gas and gas systems, means it is able to constantly develop technologies, opening up many new application areas which will improve the market.
GSS is currently in the process of developing some specific markets in relation to the environment, however at this stage, the company is unable to disclose any details.
“There’s a few things we’ve got up our sleeve that we will come back to talk about later in the year.”
GSS has already delivered hundreds of thousands of sensors globally. In addition to being a national winner of the Institute of Physics award for Innovation in July 2014, GSS won first prize in the Shell Springboard awards in 2012, John Logie Baird Innovation award in 2008 and five TSB Awards.