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Meet the 3M BIC business – Ionix

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Meet our next 3M BIC business Ionix, set up in 2011 by Professor Andrew Bell and Drs Tim Comyn and Tim Stevenson from the School of Chemical and Process Engineering (SCAPE). Product Director, Will Vickers, talks us through its specialist devices that are designed to operate in high temperatures and used across the globe in the oil, gas and energy industries.

Tell us about Ionix and the team based at the 3M BIC.

Ionix was set up to create high temperature piezoceramics and devices for sectors such as oil, gas, energy, aerospace and automotive. The devices can be used in extreme conditions, in particular at high temperatures, for thickness and crack monitoring, flow measurement and position sensing. They are designed to support inspection programs by enabling stable and reliable remote monitoring solutions that lead to greater productivity and increased safety.

We are a team of 23 that work across our piezoceramics and ultrasonic testing divisions. Over the years we’ve worked closely with academics from the University of Huddersfield on analytics, x-ray diffraction and electron microscopy, as well as the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), another 3M BIC tenant, on coordinate mapping and surface measurement. We have also taken advantage of other technology available on Innovation Avenue at the 3M BIC such as laser engraving and 3D printing (Additive Manufacturing).

What projects are you currently working on?

Our HotSenseTM transducers enable safe and reliable monitoring of critical assets thanks to their exceptionally wide operating temperature range (-40°C up to and beyond 380°C) and resistance to hazardous environments. Corrosion and cracking are major issue for any industry with metal pipes or vessels and we offer the most versatile transducers for remote monitoring of these assets.

The cost savings to our customers of reducing planned and unscheduled shutdowns runs into the millions of pounds. Additionally, our transducers are the only standalone high temperature transducers in the world that have achieved the highest safety certifications for explosive environments, a key requirement for many oil and gas applications.

What made you move to the 3M BIC?

After searching for suitable new incubator premises, we came across the 3M BIC and moved to the Centre in June 2015. The 3M BIC provides businesses with the tools to accelerate growth through a range of commercial, technical and support services, and was able to accommodate Ionix’s diverse and technical requirements.

Since being at the 3M BIC, we’ve doubled our staff, doubled our equipment and grown our ceramics and devices capabilities, which enables us to keep up with growing demand for our products. Long-term we hope to expand into full scale production in larger premises, whilst still maintaining a presence at the 3M BIC for R&D, as well as expanding our sales team.

Why do you like being based at the 3M BIC?

We’re a high-tech company working with high-tech firms, and the 3M BIC fits in with that image – there’s a real buzz about the place.  The building had all the basics we needed to get started and the 3M BIC team went out of their way to ensure that our specific requirements such as 3-phase electrical supplies and extraction systems were ready for when we arrived. Their support and willingness to accommodate our needs continues to be invaluable and has allowed us to expand and develop.

What should we be looking out for in the non-destructive testing industry?

We’ve just launched our high temperature Time-of-Flight-Diffraction probes which enable the energy industry to check for cracks in operational plants. Making measurements while a power plant is running helps to reduce energy production costs and also reduces unplanned shutdowns and restarts, which can significantly reduce carbon emissions.

What are your future plans for Ionix?

The Ionix Ceramics and OEM side of the business is really taking off. We’re now taking the skills, knowledge and processes that we developed for our ultrasonic probes and sharing them with customers to help integrate our HPZ ceramics into their sensors and devices.

More information about Ionix can be found here

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