Plastometrex, a science and technology company based in Cambridge UK, has secured an Innovate UK SMART grant. The funds will be used to develop new industry-changing products that will enable rapid and accurate testing of metal components ‘in the field’. The testing data produced by Plastometrex’s portable testing equipment will be used to ensure the safe operation of critical infrastructure and high-value assets to support improvements in safety and to reduce catastrophic failures that can lead to massive environmental damage.
Each year, millions of tonnes of structural metal is produced to support our ever-increasing need for modern infrastructure. From the bridges we drive across, rails we ride along, and energy systems we rely on, large-scale metal structures form a critical part of our modern society. When these structures fail, the consequences can be disastrous. In 2018, for example, pipeline failures accounted for nine deaths almost $2 billion in damages in the US alone.
Given the consequences of failure, the testing and inspection of in-field assets is big business, with a global market valued at over $24 billion. Current technologies include ultrasonic systems for crack detection, corrosion monitoring solutions, and chemical composition analysis. However, there is no widely accepted method for testing underlying strength of the metal from which the assets are made. Conventional ‘destructive’ methods rely on shutting down assets and extracting material in order to run laboratory-based tensile tests – a practice that is often unviable due to the structural damage this creates and the costs that are incurred. This can leave operators with limited material property data, making it difficult to reliably predict the useful remaining life of their components.
Plastometrex has now launched a program to tackle this in-field testing problem. The company leads a consortium that also includes global asset inspection company ROSEN, leading testing service provider Element Materials Technology, and The National Physical Laboratory (NPL). The programme will focus on applying Plastometrex’s novel platform testing technology (called PIP) to the inspection of high-value metal assets whilst in the field.
Plastometrex’s PIP technology extracts accurate material strength data (stress-strain curves) in a way that is non-destructive, accurate, and very fast. The technology leverages a unique combination of automated indentation testing and advanced numerical methods in order to do this. The company successfully launched a bench-top testing device in Q4 2020, which is now being used by leading universities and companies across the world. The newly funded program will support the company in developing a portable version of this system, moving the technology out of the laboratory and into the field.
Plastometrex will release this portable testing system in 2023. The system will be applicable to all metallic materials and will be used to test the strength of a variety of critical metal assets. The data from Plastometrex’s machines will provide operators with a key piece of information needed to increase the safety and operating efficiency of these systems.
Dr. James Dean, CEO of Plastometrex has this to say about the development: “We are delighted to have secured funding from Innovate UK on what turned out to be a highly competitive call. With this funding secured, and with our multinational partners in place, we are now extremely well resourced to develop our in-field metal testing technologies.”
The ROSEN Group is one of the consortium’s lead partners and will support both the technology development and commercial roll-out. The company is a globally leading provider of cutting-edge services in all areas of the asset integrity process chain with a team of more than 4,000 employees operating in 120 countries.
Neil Gallon, Principal Metallurgist at ROSEN Group UK, had this to say: “The Plastometrex technology has the potential to bring a powerful tool to the asset integrity monitoring sector. The rapid, reliable, and accurate measurement of metal strength characteristics in the field is needed now more than ever in order to support the safe management and repurposing of critical metal infrastructure.”
For more information: www.plastometrex.com