Ionix eyes global opportunities for novel ultrasonic sensor technology

Pipework with sensor device attached.

© Gareth Newstead Photography.

An innovative company in Huddersfield manufacturing ultrasonic sensor technology for corrosion monitoring in oil and gas and other industries has had vital support from Innovate UK EDGE as it develops an advanced prototype with global market potential.

Innovate UK EDGE was providing bespoke support from an innovation and growth specialist to accelerate Ionix Advanced Technologies on its growth journey when Covid-19 struck. 

That prompted wider involvement, focusing on new business-critical areas, as well as helping Ionix to identify and secure Innovate UK grants worth £232,000 to support the sustainable recovery of UK and global energy infrastructure.

This combined investment of support and funding has already prompted the company to recruit an extra engineer and a business development manager, allowing the business to build a new sensor platform despite the headwinds.

Sensor technology for real-time remote monitoring

Ionix Advanced Technologies has previously developed the HotSense™ transducer sensing platform to continuously measure corrosion and erosion in extreme environments such as downstream oil and gas. The unique technology has now been adapted for the detection and monitoring of cracks or defects. This is especially useful in power generation facilities that cannot easily be shut down for integrity checks.

The high-performance piezoelectric devices offer stable, cost-effective volumetric ultrasonic measurement at temperatures from -40°C up to +550°C and in the presence of ionizing radiation. 

From strategy to support with funding

Over a year ago, Glen Wainwright, one of our innovation and growth specialist in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, began helping the firm to clarify its business model, branding and strategic road-mapping to maximise the commercial potential of its innovations.

Suddenly as the pandemic struck the priority was then to react to the increased demand for real-time power infrastructure inspections while maintaining commercial production of the core sensor product line.

Tim Stevenson, development director, said: “We took the opportunity to focus the support on core points of the business. Meanwhile, a continuity grant of £93,000 from Innovate UK kept us on schedule with a separate Innovate UK-funded aerospace project.”

Glen and colleagues in Innovate UK EDGE acted as a fast-reacting sounding board on Zoom and email, also casting a critical eye over the continuity grant application.

That role was even more important as Ionix prioritised prototype development of its exciting new product. In a Covid world it promises to be even more appealing as customers demand real-time, remote monitoring capability rather than sending engineers jetting around the world to carry out inspections on increasingly socially distanced sites.

Innovate UK Sustainable Innovation Fund award

Innovate UK had also moved quickly to open a new funding programme for Sustainable Innovation post-Covid but the deadlines were tighter than usual. 

Tim added: “Innovate UK EDGE provided invaluable feedback on both the continuity and sustainable innovation applications, all in extremely short timescales, as dictated by the grant deadlines. They provided critical evaluation and suggested ideas for improvement – speaking openly and frankly throughout the whole process.”

Glen said: “A lot of this was all ‘11th hour’ work as our knowledge of the funding process came to the fore. We advised the company on language and phrasing and how to demonstrate that the grants would contribute to business growth, so that it maximised the chances of a successful application.”

Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund awarded the prototype project £139,000.

Ongoing support from Innovate UK EDGE

Innovate UK EDGE will continue to support Ionix, particularly in helping the new business development manager to identify opportunities for the new technology in nuclear, aerospace and automotive sectors. 

Renewable industries using geo-thermal energy could also benefit where plants are susceptible to corrosion from sulphides and chlorides.

Innovate UK EDGE provided invaluable feedback on both the continuity and sustainable innovation applications, all in extremely short timescales.'

Tim Stevenson, development director, Ionix Advanced Technologies.