BEEAs Winners: Precision Acoustics

The winner of the Design Team of the Year Award was Precision Acoustics for its ReDRESS project.

Category Sponsor: New Electronics

Headline Sponsor: Distrupol

Judges' Quote: "As part of the ReDRESS project, Precision Acoustics brought together different scientific disciplines to deliver an outstanding and innovative product."

Precision Acoustics is a rapidly developing, dynamic company based in Dorchester. The ReDRESS project was a cross-company collaboration, involving Precision Acoustics Ltd, Ionix Advanced Technologies Ltd, TWI Ltd and the University of Sheffield.

The product is an ultrasonic sensor (or transducer) for use in nuclear or high-radiation environments. The sensor had to be reliable and capable of operating at high temperatures of 350ºC for set periods of time, whilst also being exposed to high levels of radiation. It would be used for ultrasonic inspections close to the core of nuclear reactors which have extremes of both temperature and levels of radiation.

The need for the product was to offer an alternative to commercially-available ultrasonic sensors, which have limitations in terms of temperature and radiation exposure. High radiation, in particular, can cause failure of such sensors. Their replacement is time consuming, expensive and results in an interruption of the nuclear reactors’ productivity.

Some uses of ultrasonic sensors include non-destructive testing (NDT), where components or systems are tested without causing damage, or condition monitoring of materials, components or systems, such as a nuclear reactor. They are also used in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

To give an example of an effective high temperature / high radiation ultrasonic sensor in use: it is necessary to gauge the corrosion on the inside of critical pipes that carry gasses or fluids within a nuclear environment in order to prevent damage or failure. If corrosion levels reach a pre-set threshold or dangerous level, a system could detect this using the ultrasonic sensor and a replacement pipe could be installed.

Alternatively, the sensor could help extend the lifetime of working assets. If, for example, the design lifetime of a pipe was 20 years, without NDT this pipe would need to be replaced after 20 years (even if it was still good), since no evidence of the pipe’s integrity may be available. With a condition monitoring sensor, the pipe could be measured and found to be still very good after 20 years, so its lifetime could be extended.

The ultrasonic sensor formed part of a project (ReDRESS project) undertaken by a consortium of industry and academic partners to develop a suite of ultrasonic measuring devices for high radiation environments. It was enabled by a research grant from Innovate-UK.

The project was split into seven package sections and the Precision Acoustics team were involved in every stage, including research into and review of piezopolymer and fibreoptic materials and their thermal properties; assessing ultrasonic response of prototypes manufactured by project partners; review and optimisation of the ultrasonic sensor’s properties, manufacture of ultrasonic sensor prototypes and assessment of their performance after exposure to high temperatures and radiation; review of existing available commercial sensors and manufacture of fibreoptic prototypes based on that review; maintenance of an intellectual property (IP) register and to protect developments for commercialisation of the product; and project management to facilitate smooth running of the whole project.