Monitoring the integrity of engineering infrastructure non-destructively

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


This proposal seeks funding for a five year early career fellowship programme which aims to establish monitoring of engineering infrastructure with permanently installed arrays of NDE sensors as an alternative to conventional inspections. There are clear industrial drivers that motivate the use of permanently installed NDE sensors, however, a range of challenges need to be overcome before these systems can be adopted on a large scale in industry. Key issues are robust transducer hardware, coverage and defect sensitivity, data handling and interpretation, as well as the quantification of uncertainties in detection and sizing of defects. This fellowship has identified 3 industrial applications that span these challenges and 3 research work packages that will seek generally applicable solutions to the associated problems. Use of the industrial applications as examples enables grounding of the generally applicable research work and accelerated knowledge and technology transfer to industry. The research will be carried out by Dr. Frederic Cegla at Imperial College London who has a proven track record in research and technology transfer of ultrasonic monitoring equipment. The vision of the fellowship is aligned with that of the UK Research Centre in Non-destructive Evaluation (RCNDE) and its 16 industrial members.

Planned Impact

The proposed project aims to establish NDE monitoring as a viable alternative to conventional inspection. The obvious target beneficiaries of this are the NDE industrial users and the end users of NDE data such as the structural integrity community. The project addresses key industrial problems but is too speculative to attract immediate direct investment from industry. Successful outcomes of the project will enable safer and more economical plant operation. About 75% of the costs of a conventional inspection are access and setup costs; permanent installation of inexpensive sensor will therefore save 75% of that cost for each additional measurement. An effective monitoring tool will enable more effective planning and scheduling of the replacement of damaged plant components; this can save valuable downtime that is commonly quoted to be in the order of £1M pounds per day (as communicated by RCNDE member companies). Together with the added benefit of keeping the workforce away from dangerous places, the monitoring of NDE data is very attractive to plant operators. The industrial partners of this proposal have already identified potential applications where monitoring will present a clear benefit to their operations. Hence, there is a high probability of transferring successful research into the field. Any intellectual property generated by the research project will be commercially exploited through Imperial Innovations, the Imperial College technology transfer company; this may be by forming a spin-off company or by patenting technology and licensing it to an interested party. Two potential licensees are Guided Ultrasonics Limited and Permasense Ltd., both spin-off companies of the Imperial College NDE group but other companies will also be considered by Imperial Innovations. This arrangement has worked very well for other research funded by EPSRC at Imperial College.


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Description We have explored new sensor technology for NDE (non-destructive evaluation) monitoring applications. We have filed two patent applications to protect this technology. We have also written up the research in form of journal publications. Several of these publications have now been published and others are still in the review process.
Exploitation Route Following patent protection we are seeking to find licensees for the IP or we are looking at other ways of exploiting the value that was created. The findings are also being communicated to the wider world via publications and conference presentations.
Sectors Aerospace

Defence and Marine




Description The impact that has arisen from this fellowship is substantial: The main economic beneficiaries are instrumentation development companies that build ultrasonic monitoring equipment and the end users who employ the technology to make decisions about their engineering plant. The key insights that this project delivered has informed data processing (especially insights into associated uncertainties is important), novel sensor construction and signal processing techniques. The successful completion of the project has inspired follow on research projects (>£M in value), led to the formation of at least one spin out and inspired other research groups to build on the academic achievements.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Chemicals,Education,Energy,Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description ORCA Hub
Amount £14,635,591 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R026173/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 03/2021
Description An echo measurement system transmits a transmitted-signal which is modulated over a period of time corresponding to a modulation duration. The modulation could be, for example, modulation to represent a coded signal. A transducer (2), which may be common between transmission and reception, receives a received-signal which is cross-correlated with the transmitted-signal. The transmitted-signal comprises a plurality of transmission periods separated by a plurality of transmission pauses. The modulation duration extends over two or more of the transmission periods and the duration of the transmission pauses is varied within a range of transmission pause duration. The technique seeks to improve the signal-to-noise ratio without imposing undesirable other constraints. 
IP Reference WO2016207620 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2016
Licensed No
Impact This technology enabled demonstration of simultaneous transmission and reception of data on all channels of an ultrasonic array. Several further publications resulted and demonstrations of novel ultrasonic measurements.
Description An apparatus for guided wave testing of a test object comprises a linear array of receiver electromagnetic acoustic transducers (EMATs), and at least one linear array of transmitter EMATs disposed substantially parallel to the linear array of receiver EMATs and configured to launch guided waves in said test object in a direction substantially perpendicular to the at least one linear array of transmitter EMATs. Either (i) transmitter coils of the at least one linear array of transmitter EMATs have a common winding direction, receiver coils of adjacent receiver EMATs have alternating winding directions, and receiver coils of at least two adjacent receiver EMATs are connected in series, or (ii) transmitter coils of the transmitter EMATs have alternating winding directions, receiver coils of adjacent receiver EMATs have a common winding direction, and receiver coils of at least two adjacent receiver EMATs are connected in series. 
IP Reference WO2017158318 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact We are currently negotiating the licensing to other parties.
Company Name Sonobotics 
Description Sonobotics develops a range of inspection robots for use in industry. 
Year Established 2019 
Impact The company is very young. To date it has sold and rented several systems to development partners and is in the processing of demonstrating the technology application in the field.