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‘Spy capsules’ that 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.

Wireless Sensor Networks for Industrial Processes is a GBP750,000 project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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.

Phoenix, which manufactures ultrasonic testing equipment, is advising the university on the development of a local positioning system that 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 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 plants 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,’ he added.

Phoenix Inspection Systems

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