Process & Production Shortlist

Corus, Manchester University, UMIP, Birmingham University and Organised Technology

Steel is a complex mixture of elements, a ‘solid solution’ of iron with small amounts of carbon and other metals dispersed in it.

During the production process, these mixtures can form into a variety of stable phases, depending on how the steel cools down. These phases can have very different physical properties and the final characteristics of the steel depend on which phases are present and in what proportions. However, the steel industry has no way of monitoring phase transformations during hot rolling, meaning that batches must be tested after production.

A consortium led by Tony Peyton at Manchester University has now devised a system to analyse the microstructure of steel using a technique called induction spectroscopy. This uses the fact that the various phases of steel have different, characteristic magnetic properties, so multifrequency electromagnetic signals can be used to monitor phase transformations.

The system depends on modelling the effects of the microstructure of steel, along with advanced signal processing and finite-element modelling. Corus, the industrial partner in the team, contributed its expertise in protecting the monitoring equipment from the harsh
conditions of the rolling mill. The result was a trial system set up along a steel rod rolling line that can monitor the transformations
of steel phases from the surface to the centre as the rod cools.

WATER SUPPLY INDUSTRY Bristol University and Bristol Water

One of the biggest problems in the food industry is cleaning pipes and other processing equipment. Starting from this point, a team from Bristol University developed a method of using a thick slurry of ice particles as a cleaning agent, which has now been developed for use in cleaning the pipes that supply drinking water.

The technique has an elegant simplicity about it. The cleaning agent is a readily available, non-hazardous, abrasive solid — crushed ice — which is easy to pump and process. Small ice particles are self lubricating and can flow through the most complex of pipework architecture, scraping out debris as they go. Once they have done their work, they turn into water. Known as ‘ice pigging’ (pigs are devices used to clean pipework), the technique attracted the interest of Bristol Water, the local water utility.

The university team worked with Bristol Water to integrate the system into a complete engineering package, including ice-making units, delivery vehicles and monitoring equipment. Tests included the ice pigging of long stretches of the city piping network in the middle of the night, as well as simulation and lab-scale work.

The upshot, according to the researchers, enables users to clean drinking-water pipes more efficiently, using less water, with less disruption and at lower cost than existing methods. The technique is useful for solving the problem of discoloured water, which can currently only be tackled by the costly, disruptive procedure of lining the pipes.

The Square Kilometre Array


Manchester University, SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems

The Square Kilometre Array is the most ambitious project in the field of international Earth-based astronomy: an array of electronic telescopes with a combined square-kilometre detecting area, 100 times as sensitive as the most powerful current radio telescopes and 10,000 times faster.

Such an instrument needs advanced electronics and Mohamed Missous, professor of semiconductor materials and devices at Manchester University, has been looking into this subject with an industrial partner: sensor specialist SELEX Galileo. The team’s focus is on components used for lownoise signal amplification and analogue-to-digital conversion, known as microwave monolithic integrated circuits (MMICs).

Based around two different types of transistor, these MMICs are made using the semiconductor material indium phosphide.

Missous’s team drew upon Manchester University’s strength in semiconductor materials and devices, while SELEX, one of Europe’s largest producers of MMICs, has been designing and producing this type of high-speed digital circuit since 1993, when it was part of GEC-Marconi.

The result of the collaboration was a new type of indium phosphide component that can amplify frequencies that were difficult to access with previous amplifiers, while also keeping noise levels to a minimum.

It has also developed a highspeed, low-power-consumption analogue-digital converter that is capable of digitising along the entire radio-frequency electromagnetic spectrum. The final array in the SKA will be the largest of its type ever made, incorporating up to 20 million of these components.