Inductosense is a scale-up company specialising in novel battery-free wireless sensors, systems and analytics for industry. CEO Dr. Matt Butcher joined Anna Fleming to discuss the science behind their sensors, the shift towards automation and what makes their technologies stand out from the crowd.
Can you give me some background on Inductosense? What’s your key technology?
We make sensors which monitor for non-visible damage, such as corrosion on the inside of pipes. Our technology is being used across a range of industries including Oil & Gas, Nuclear Power and Renewables. We are also developing the technology to be used in monitoring of defects in composite structures like aircraft components. We spun out of the University of Bristol in 2015, from the ultrasonics and non-destructive testing group, so our founders are all experts in non-destructive testing, and we’ve been developing our ultrasonic technology over a number of years both at the university and later within Inductosense.
Our sensors do not have any batteries or wires, and they’re ultra-thin. This means they can be integrated into a structure for through-life monitoring. They are also low in cost, which enables deployments in volumes. When you want to take a reading from a sensor, you activate it with a handheld data collector, called the WAND. The WAND also collects the signal and analyses it, so in the case of the corrosion monitoring sensors the thickness of the pipe wall is calculated. Using our software trends of the data can be performed to enable customers to undertake predictive maintenance on their structures.
If the sensors can be integrated into structures they must be very small?
They’re very thin; about 50mm across but only about 1mm thick . The advantage with that is that they can be go underneath coatings or in between layers of a structure. One application in the oil and gas industry is our sensors can be installed on pipes underneath layers of material; such as paint or lagging, and we take the measurement on the underlying pipe through it. The benefits to the customer are that they do not need to strip the material back to inspect for internal corrosion on the pipe and a measurement can be taken in a few seconds – all saving time and costs.
What competition is there in the market?
Currently there are networked solutions available for monitoring internal corrosion, these are a lot more expensive, and quite bulky in size, meaning they can’t go in some of the places where our sensors go. Our key advantages are our size and cost. If you’re monitoring structures at a refinery, there might be several thousands of points where you want to measure the integrity of the structure over time. With our competitors’ technologies, our sensors offer a cost effective solution for wider scale deployment.
We also compete against the traditional methods of undertaking ultrasonic non destructive testing – manual inspectors. This requires a lot of skill and it also has the potential for human errors and inaccuracies. Our technology takes out the sources of human error to get accurate, repeatable measurements from the same locations each time and enables trending of the data.
Did the group at the University develop the technology with this application in mind?
Yes, originally it was developed to try and overcome that issue of human error in non-destructive testing. They wanted to develop a system which would give consistent measurements from a point over time. And along with that development came the other features, like how thin the sensors can be.
So after that initial discovery, what’s the story of Inductosense?
Our CTO, Dr. Cheng-Huan Zhong (known as Bamboo), along with Prof Paul Wilcox and Prof Anthony Croxford developed the technology for a number of years at the university. I was also working at the university at the time in the commercialisation team – patenting, licensing and spinning out companies. I worked with the founders from the start to protect IP, get proof of concept funding, undertake marketing and put together the business plan. In late 2015 we got going as a company on the back of the Setsquared iCURe programme and some investment from our chairman and founders. I was managing everything and after a while the board asked me to jump ship and join them full time, which I have now been doing for 2 years now. We’ve also been involved with SetSquared from the start, which has been great for us, and when we were at the stage that we needed lab facilities at the start of this year, we moved in to Unit DX.
Where do you plan to go next?
We’re currently a team of 10 at the moment and our revenue has been increasing 3-fold each year. We had some investment in the middle of last year and we can continue to grow as we are, however we are now planning to raise another round. There is a big opportunity for us around further automation of our technology to integrate it with digital strategies of our customers, and we could also do with additional engineering and business development resource to take advantage of what we have in the pipeline.
On the technology side we plan to have a range of wireless, battery free sensors and methods of acquiring the data from the sensors – this could be with the handheld probe, or a remote (Internet of Things) collection device, or with our electronics attached to a robotic vehicle – such as a drone. Alongside that we are focusing on developing our software expertise in terms of pooling all the data together and being able to do some analytics on the back of that. Our planned developments fit in nicely with the current shifts towards automation and digitisation in the oil and gas industry, as well as in other industries.
For more information on Inductosense please visit their website.