Ultrasonics and Industry
Pitching the latest science to manufacturers
Ultrasound is sound above 20kHz, well beyond the range of human hearing and is used extensively in metrology, testing objects, medical imaging and a range of other applications.
A team led by Professor Steve Dixon has developed ultrasonic sensors that can generate or detect sound on metal samples without even touching them. The research led to the creation of a spin out company, Sonemat, which has worked with many other companies that have now introduced new processes and instruments to improve safety, reduce costs and improve product quality.
Hostile environments from high temperature in power stations to high pressures on the seabed have benefitted from using the ultrasonic technologies that have been developed by Professor Dixon and his colleague Dr Edwards’s team. The group has specialised in developing sensors that can survive and operate in environments that conventional technology can't be used in, often exploiting the non-contacting capability of their sensors to use them for robotic testing in instances where it is not safe for someone to do a test manually.
In collaboration with research partners (including sixteen multinational industrial organisations, more than a dozen universities in the UK and overseas and twenty SMEs), the Warwick team created new sensors and measurement approaches. This had a number of uses:
Inspecting deep sea oil pipes to guard against leaks and environmental disaster.
Testing key components in power stations, to prevent catastrophic failures and power outages.
Ensuring safe operation in manufacturing processes, such as the galvanising industry, where Sonemat's ultrasonic probes are used under molten metal at over 450ºC.
Testing oil levels in electrical sub-station capacitors, preventing explosions.
Working with industry allowed for the team to ensure that the technology would be built around the industrial need and the measurement challenge from the start - using the best approach rather than adapting something that already existed but would not be as effective.
Demand for Sonemat’s product and intellectual property has grown year-on-year since the company was founded. Many ultrasonic systems across a range of industries are underpinned by Sonemat's products and techniques. Inspections using the improved EMAT have kept workers on oil rigs safe by checking the structures’ strength. Corrosion causes a quarter of all pipeline breakages across the world, costing $1.4 billion every year. Improved technology will cut this cost significantly. Boiler tubes, metal cans, engine construction: more and more products are benefiting from better testing and safety thanks to the Department of Physics and Sonemat.