The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - December 13, 2015
Technology
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Portable CT Scanner for Industry
   
Polish scientists and engineers have developed a portable computed tomography (CT) scanner for use in industry that makes it possible to ensure that products leaving a factory are free from defects. The device is capable of taking several hundred measurements per second.

If a product is defective, the costs of withdrawing the entire batch from the market and improving the producer’s tarnished image are far greater than the price of a quality control device. The portable CT scanner built by engineers from the Netrix company in the eastern Polish city of Lublin, with the help of scientists from the Warsaw University of Technology, can take a peek into industrial pipelines and transmit the image and measurement results to the computers of quality control staff.

The scanner was developed under a project called “Electrical Capacitance Tomography for Optimized Production and Quality Control.” To handle the research, Netrix received zl.2.2 million in co-financing from the National Center for Research and Development (NCBR). The total cost of the project, which ended earlier this November, was zl.3.2 million.

CT scanners are rarely seen industry—as part of one-off research programs in specific companies, if at all. Portable CT scanners were not available on the market. The scanner produced by Netrix will be available to all manufacturers.

Netrix is a provider of information technology and electronic systems. Computed tomography is one of the company’s specialties.

“Medical CT scanners could be used in industry, but they are expensive, non-portable and based on X-rays, which is harmful,” says Tomasz Rymarczyk, Ph.D., CEO of Netrix. “In addition, in the case of X-ray tomography, measurements would take so long that it would be impossible to observe certain processes.” What Netrix offers is a small portable scanner similar in size to a desktop computer, he says.

Building such a device requires more effort than with standard CT scanners used in medicine, and the algorithms involved are far more complicated, according to Rymarczyk. The biggest challenge for the team was to make sure their device is based on the latest achievements of electrical engineering, electronics and computer science.

In sectors such as chemicals, food and pharmaceuticals, producers often rely on complex networks of pipelines and other hardware. They must make sure that this is free from blockages, air locks and other irregularities.

“Our device supports the process of quality control in production processes, for example during the production of yogurts, beverages, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals,” says Rymarczyk. He adds that the scanner can be used by petrochemical companies and those transporting natural gas and crude oil. The CT scanner will come in handy in the power industry, aerospace, the automotive sector and process engineering in the broad sense, according to Rymarczyk. Factories that need to keep track of carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions will also benefit, he says; the same goes for companies that transport and handle various bulk materials as well as coal mines, which need to monitor water pipelines to make sure they do not get clogged up.

The scanner makes it possible to keep tabs on processes taking place inside pipelines. Special algorithms are used to watch and analyze chemical processes on the computer screen. Information from the scanner helps select the best method to mix ingredients, optimize efficiency and measure the quality of a product. This is particularly important for dairy producers, who use foaming materials in their production processes as well as for producers of beer, in which foam is as a natural part of the brewing process.

There are many types of computed tomography, including X-ray, impedance, resistance, ultrasonic and optical tomography. Electrical capacitance tomography makes it possible to measure certain physical phenomena. One of its key advantages is that the scanner does not have to be in direct physical contact with the measured object, so it does not disturb the production process. Many industrial processes run at high speed and measurements must be fast as well.

Netrix’s scanner can be tailored to the needs of specific companies and sectors. It works fast and can be configured to measure various dynamic processes where high speed of image registration and high spatial resolution are essential.

The scanner can help control the quality of products in automated production lines through the identification of shapes, detection of cracks and other damage and the presentation of three-dimensional images of processes.

Netrix has been in operation since 2002. The company says it developed the scanner in response to concrete demand from customers. Previously no other device of this kind was available on a commercial basis to customers at home and abroad, according to Rymarczyk; industrial CT scanners were only used by large fuel corporations such as Statoil. With these companies in mind, research centers constructed and assembled such devices, but there was no mass production to benefit all those interested.

Rymarczyk says prototype scanners designed in previous R&D projects worldwide were too slow. “Our solution ensures several hundred measurements per second on a continuous basis,” he says.

The prototype device created as a result of the Lublin project will be produced on a large scale and sold to a variety of customers. Those interested will also be able to rent the device from Netrix.

For now, the prototype is still being tested. Netrix has built a model production line for testing its scanner. The company plans to go commercial with the productlate this year or in early 2016. It has already signed letters of intent with business partners and prospective customers in sectors including the food industry.

Karolina Olszewska