Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS)
Measuring up to the challenge …
Profile: Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS)
ADMIN HUB: University of Glasgow
FUNDING: £10 million (initial investment)
Measuring up to the challenge
Custard and carbon dioxide, diagnostic tools for blood pressure, oil and gas pipelines, engines and intelligent buildings, laser beams and new algorithms from research into detecting gravitational waves – all are part of a normal day's work for the CEO of the Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems CENSIS, Ian Reid.
Sensor and imaging systems (SIS) are amongst the most rapidly evolving fields in science and technology, reaching into virtually every aspect of business and everyday life. They help drive safety, quality, efficiency and system performance in a wide range of industries, from aerospace to aquaculture, and provide the foundation for a diverse range of products and services. Sensors and optics have been around for centuries, but what is driving innovation in the industry today is not just recent breakthroughs in the basic technology (the tools we use to measure and detect things) but also a dramatic acceleration in computing power, as well as data analysis methods and how we present the information collected from networked sensors.
To understand the underlying science is also a challenge for industry and academics, and this is reflected in the fact that CENSIS supports a number of studentships in new industry-focused joint research degrees, as well as securing additional funding from the SFC for up to 20 MSc students from September 2014, focusing on SIS as well as learning how to be entrepreneurs.
For Reid, the major theme for CENSIS is to meet the needs of industry and make a contribution to the national economy. “Our major customer is industry, and that means we will focus on demand-led innovation rather than technology push.” That doesn’t mean that CENSIS will ignore what's going on in the country’s research labs – far from it – but if it wants to make an economic impact, its target will have to be business results, by cutting costs, reducing energy consumption and increasing profitability, as well as boosting Scotland’s earnings from exports in terms of SIS technology itself and products which have benefited from SIS in their manufacturing process.
Another example of how economic value could be created using SIS might be to extend the life of assets deployed in the North Sea by condition monitoring, potentially adding billions of dollars to company profits – and also government tax revenues. According to Reid, the world market for oil and gas exploration is worth an estimated £57 billion a year, and this could also be a huge market for Scottish companies exporting SIS solutions.
The key to success will be bringing the different stakeholders together to share their concerns and explore the potential for working together. For example, industry will talk about the need to improve manufacturing processes or develop new tools which could cut costs and make better use of resources. And researchers will report what they are doing in their labs and describe the kind of breakthroughs they expect in the future. The idea is to build relationships between the relevant parties, to develop new solutions or adapt existing solutions – for example, using sensors first developed for the oil and gas industry to monitor the density of fluids in a food manufacturing plant (see Case Study 3).
Ultimately, says Reid, the objective is to change the culture – how universities and business work together, building mutual trust and respect, and trying to understand each other's needs and concerns, “bridging the gap between concepts and commercial solutions.”
CENSIS will also help business articulate what it requires. “Creating economic value may be a black art in many respects,” says Reid, “but if more people understand the art of the possible, they will express their needs better and get better results from researchers.”
The SIS industry is changing so fast it is hard to keep track of the most recent breakthroughs and the latest applications, and understand the changing industrial landscape. “Every time you look at it,” says Reid, “it seems to get more complex.” SIS is also becoming increasingly inter-disciplinary, no longer focusing “just on the sensor and data but on the system and information and how this is managed, collected and presented back in usable and useful formats.”
Scotland, says Reid, is an excellent environment for SIS because it has a world-class research base, as well as many industries which have a strategic requirement for innovative SIS solutions, including oil and gas, utilities, renewables, defence and security, transport, life sciences, the built environment, subsea (including unmanned vehicles), robotics, aquaculture and food processing. And CENSIS will investigate what SIS solutions are needed by industry and explore how researchers can meet those requirements.
The funding structure
CENSIS was set up last year with £10 million from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), and will use the money to support new R&D projects, longer-term research tackling common challenges and needs, and employee training and development, including secondment – organising industry events, workshops and clinics, etc.
The projects are designed “to accelerate research outcomes into new products or services.” They will be partnerships between academics and business, and will either be “short and sharp” collaborative research and development projects lasting 6–18 months or strategic research projects lasting 2–3 years, authenticated by industry partners to ensure they have commercial potential and relevance to real-world problems.
Some projects are already advanced, including a collaboration between Dunfermline-based Optos and the University of Glasgow to develop new eyecare solutions (to correct optical aberrations and improve image quality in scanning laser ophthalmoscopes), and another to develop a new sports medicine device which brings together the University of the West of Scotland with Cumbernauld-based Gas Sensing Solutions. Other projects include the use of Hyperspectral Imaging (HSI) in the water environment (AECOM and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre), and the development of low-cost magnetic transducers (Renishaw and Heriot-Watt University). As time goes by, CENSIS itself will get more involved and “be part of the delivery process” by providing in-house technical resources for projects, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which may not have enough of the key engineering resources available – for example, people with experience in new product development or introduction, system design, fast prototyping and project management. (The Ellipsoidal mirror used by Glasgow University in the Optos project is pictured above).
“Our job is to identify the industrial challenge and scope the proposals,” says Reid, “then explore the solution space to identify the best researchers to develop the solutions and rise to the challenge.”
Another role which CENSIS will perform is the sourcing of funds, helping researchers or business partners present the best case for support – for example, from Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), or European funds such as Horizon 2020.
The MSc degree in SIS will include modules to develop the entrepreneurial skills of the students and prepare them for the business world, whilst the other new programmes will include EngD (Engineering Doctorate) and CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) post-graduate research degrees.
Reid believes it will be vital for the industry in Scotland to provide input into these courses, so the technical challenges it faces will help shape the programme. Placements in industry will also play a key role in training the next generation of SIS experts, who will need to be up to speed in a rapidly changing environment.
In terms of outreach, CENSIS has already organised a series of special events and is considering the idea of getting involved in a conference on SIS, where Scottish researchers and businesses could showcase their talents.
CENSIS aims to become “the predominant source of expertise in SIS industrial R&D in Scotland,” setting its sights on the UK and international markets. It is a partnership between the universities and industry, set up “to create opportunities for the exchange of talent and market growth, stimulate inward investment and showcase Scotland’s SIS capabilities.”
Its mission is to deliver sustainable growth in Scotland’s SIS industry by focusing on the following aims and objectives:
1 Accelerate the transfer of SIS technology from the science base to industry through collaborative R&D, knowledge transfer, and commercialising academic IP to meet industry needs.
2 Be a beacon for economic development and wealth creation through the development of a strong innovation ecosystem, combining the skills, knowledge and expertise of all the partners and working across traditional supply chains.
3 Align university research with longer-term, strategic opportunities for innovation, creating economic impact by funding applied research to meet needs identified in collaboration with industry partners.
4 Stimulate a more entrepreneurial and innovation-driven culture amongst the research and industrial base to increase the absorptive capacity of indigenous companies.
5 Integrate communities of researchers and innovators across the supply chain with networking activities designed to encourage collaboration.
The initial target was to launch about 150 SIS projects over the first five years, but according to Reid, there is also flexibility to look at a smaller number of higher-value projects – depending on industry drivers.
The major themes will be:
> System Engineering & Integration
> Advanced Devices & Fabrication
> Advanced Analysis & Visualisation
> Imaging & Optics
> Signal Processing, Communications & Networking
> Remote & Distributed Sensing Applications
For Reid, the new job is a challenge he welcomes, following a career which spans GEC-Marconi, Pulse Engineering, Rood Technology and QinetiQ, “the world's biggest sensor company.” Scotland is also a logical next step for someone who can see its potential in terms of research and industrial uses. “The SIS business in Scotland is valued at about £2.5 billion a year, but that's just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. The value added could be enormous, from extending the lifespan of oilfields to improving the efficiency of wind farms – or even more efficient ways of making mayonnaise (see Case Study 3).
As someone who describes himself as “an industrialist at heart,” with a first degree in physics and experience in dealing with the academic sector, plus a knowledge of company start-ups and new product launches, Reid also understands the different worlds of business and research and the need for return on investment. He recently told the newspaper Scotland on Sunday: “We need to begin solving real industry problems – and make money.”
If you can measure it, says Reid, you have the foundation for a new kind of business. And CENSIS will measure its own success not just in terms of economic impact – and money – but also by how much it changes the culture by getting industry to work in closer partnership with Scotland's universities.
“It's an interesting challenge,” says Reid, “because it will involve so many disciplines. But for me the real excitement lies in the reconfiguration of these disciplines, creating a viable ecosystem for SIS in Scotland and ensuring that CENSIS has a role in the industry's future, as well as a broader agenda in reaching out to international markets.”
Researcher Dr Sumanth Pavaluri at Macphie of Glenbervie – where sensors have revolutionised production
SIS: The Facts
Scotland has a total of about 140 companies working in SIS technologies, and together they contribute £2.5 billion per year to the Scottish economy. The global sensor systems technology market is expected to grow to an estimated US$605 billion by 2015, with wireless solutions expected to grow by over 48 per cent a year.
SIS: The technology
Sensor and imaging systems (SIS) are built on a broad technological base, and the sensors are becoming increasingly intelligent in terms of how they measure things (detecting changes in temperature, vibration, density, pressure, etc.), collect and analyse data, and communicate with other devices, converting raw data into information that can be used to make decisions – by human beings or automatically. The initial challenge is to turn the data into a usable signal, and in many cases link up distributed systems. Some sensors also store and process the data locally. But the ultimate challenge is to turn that data into useful information for visualisation and presentation, to improve performance or help design better new products or systems.
CASE STUDY 1
Eyeing the future
CENSIS has contributed £50,000 out of a total investment of £200,000 to a joint project between the University of Glasgow’s specialist Imaging Concepts Group and Optos of Dunfermline, a leading provider of diagnostic eyecare solutions including retinal imaging devices. The partners aim to improve the image quality of the scanning opthalmoscopes developed by Optos – to correct image warping and “make complex eye exams more accessible to remote locations and the developing world.”
“Our aim is to remain the market leader in laser scanning opthalmoscopes for eye health care,” says Alex Warnock, chief operating officer of Optos, “and to continually push the boundaries of what is possible with our technology, and this research partnership will enable us to do that.”
Another Optos project will involve the company working with the University of Glasgow’s gravitational waves research group, which has developed an algorithm for detecting patterns in gravitational waves that could be adapted for retinal scanning to improve image quality.
CASE STUDY 2
A sporting chance
Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) has established itself as a leader in the development of innovative carbon dioxide sensors for use in different environments from buildings to engines, and helped by £15,000-worth of support, the company is now working with the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) to test and develop a new solution for sports medicine – a lightweight device to monitor breathing. The research involved ten people wearing special respiratory masks and running on a treadmill while the equipment did 27,000 simultaneous measurements for evaluation.
“We knew the SprintIR device was just as accurate in measuring carbon dioxide production as existing lab-based equipment, but we needed scientific tests to prove it,” says Des Gibson, CEO of GSS. “Our partnership with CENSIS and UWS has helped produce the hard evidence required, paving the way for a device that could change the market and open up significant commercial opportunities for GSS in a multi-million pound industry.”
CASE STUDY 3
A saucy business
Oil and gas may seem a million miles away from food production, but a device originally developed to monitor the density of fluids in oil pipes is being adapted for use in a factory turning out bechamel, custard and hollandaise sauce, thanks to funding from CENSIS. Macphie of Glenbervie makes the different products using the same basic equipment, switching from one product to another as demand requires. The problem it faced was that flushing the pipes out with water and waiting for the water to run clear, then waiting until there was only sauce in the pipes, was wasting valuable time and resources, so the challenge was to make the process more cost efficient by using a new type of non-invasive, microwave-based sensor, now being developed in partnership with Heriot-Watt University’s MISEC Research Group.