|Spy capsules which can remotely monitor industrial processes and spot potential problems are being developed by a team from the University of Manchester with help from Phoenix Inspection Systems.
Capsules containing sensors would be scattered throughout industrial processing plants or storage sites and would monitor their surroundings, pass the information between themselves by means of a wireless network and report back to a host computer.
They could, for example, be tossed into industrial storage units containing loose materials such as grain. Once inside, they would determine their exact position and raise the alarm if excessive heat or moisture threatened to spoil the contents.
Wireless Sensor Networks for Industrial Processes is a £750,000 project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Phoenix, which manufactures ultrasonic testing equipment, is advising the university on the development of a local positioning system which would use ultrasound signals to determine the exact location of each capsule.
Wireless sensor networks could have applications in the water and gas industry, oil pipelines, mixing vessels, pneumatic conveying systems, fluidised beds, filtration tanks, hydro-cyclone separators which are used to separate coarse and fine particulates, and many other types of equipment.
Dr Chris Gregory, head of the transducer development team at Phoenix, said: The idea is that the capsules could simply be dropped inside storage units or plant and would move around with the flow of contents. Therefore one of the challenges would be to develop a positioning system to identify the location of each. We are currently working with the university on using ultrasound signals in liquids to detect the location of underwater sensors.
Wireless sensor networks could also have applications in our own field of non-destructive testing. Their capacity for remote monitoring makes them ideally suited for hazardous environments such as nuclear power stations, where they could be used to monitor corrosion in metal structures on an ongoing basis.
Professor Trevor York of the University of Manchester said: Wireless sensor networks could bring many benefits including helping industry to reduce the use of raw materials and energy, and minimise environmental impact and waste generation. However there are many technical challenges to overcome. This project aims to give the UK a lead in addressing these challenges and position it at the forefront of developing wireless sensor network technology for industry.
Phoenix Inspection Systems Ltd