Weld inspection is an essential activity of high value manufacturing and maintenance activities such as for ships, aircraft and nuclear reactors. Weld radiography is a mainstay of weld inspection, but has two considerable drawbacks when deployed in-situ: it is potentially hazardous, making it obstructive and dangerous, and it does not reliably detect certain types of defect.
Mike Ames, Head of Technical, TSB Engineering (Project Partner)
We have developed a concept that combines 3D position sensing techniques, with autonomous robotics to make an in-situ radiography system which is safer, less obstructive and has higher performance by achieving in-situ Computed Tomography (CT) for generic welds or other industrial inspection.
Matt Mellor, CEO, Createc
One of the key innovations is the ability to achieve the accuracy required for CT with independent robotic systems either side of the weld. This would allow the system to be used in a wide range of applications, not limited by having to physically co-locate the two robotic systems.
To build a CT image from multiple x-ray images requires the relative positions of the source and imager for each image to be known. Robot arms typically have a repeatability of around 100 microns, which is not quite good enough; ideally the repeatability would be better than 5 microns to detect small defects. We believe that this can be achieved using the x-ray beam itself.
Our solution requires the robots to first take a 3d scan of the environment so that they can avoid collisions. The robots then self-calibrate with each to other to enable synchronised motion. This ensures the x-ray is always aligned. Once calibrated the robots orbit the weld taking images as they go. This results in a 3D representation of the weld. The robots constantly check their alignment with one another to ensure X-rays are not lost to the environment. This means the process is safe to be performed in situ and without welding bays.
Lower cost radiography
Radiography can be achieved along side workers without needing to pause manufacture. Defects can be detected earlier.
The way the robots can adapt to the part they are scanning enables better detail in the radiography images.
No shielding bays
The technology does not require shielding bays as there are no lost X-Rays.
We hope to take this project further by integrating this technology with welding operations do defects can detected early on and increase manufacture efficiency.
Matt Mellor, Managing Director
Matt Mellor started his career as an academic working in research and development at Oxford University where his specialist field was in computer vision and robotics with medical application. But in writing papers, which he says were mainly “read by other academics so they could cite it in their research”, Matt could see there was a vital component missing.
“To turn that research into a product I learned that you have got to make that happen yourself to ensure others recognise the value of it,” said Matt. “That started me on an odyssey to learn about the full process of technological development. That means not just learning about technology, but also about business, people, finance – all the parts you need to make something happen which is going to make a positive change in the world.”
With that in mind, Matt moved to Cumbria and joined REACT Engineering. “REACT put the emphasis on entrepreneurship and I joined the company to apply what I had learned in nuclear medicine to nuclear engineering.” In particular, Matt was able to apply his knowledge in medical imaging to provide smart, technological solutions to the nuclear clean-up industry.
In 2007, Matt was the technical lead in setting up REACT’s own spin-out – aerial surveying company, Hi-Def, which gave him valuable experience of the process involved in setting up a spin-out business. Hi-Def went on to be a sustainable, successful business in its own right and in 2016 became part of the BioConsult SH group. Meanwhile, Matt set up Createc in June 2010, and as CEO has led the company to achieve impressive growth ever since.
Createc started out with just three members of staff – Matt, Alan Shippen and Pete Rodgers. The company’s mission was to create a profitable business out of computer vision and robotics research and development, demonstrating the value such a service adds to industry. Building on technological expertise in the nuclear sector learned from REACT Engineering, Createc developed its N-Visage® technology which went on to be used in the clean-up following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.
Closer to home, Createc used its intellectual property in computer vision to build a business opportunity and set up spin-out company, Sportlight. Earlier this year, it launched a second spin-out from its robotics expertise creating Createc Robotics.
Looking ahead, as society and industry move out of a Covid-19 lockdown, Matt sees robotics playing an ever more important role – but warns those who think it will be an overnight change, to be more patient. “Society has always overestimated what technological development will take place over a two to five-year period. But it has always underestimated what development will take place over 20 years,” said Matt.
“Technological development is an accumulation of small goals which build on top of each other. It creeps forward so that over a 20-year period people then look back and are amazed at how much the world has changed. In 20 years’ time we are going to have a lot more robots, and we will have improved collaboration between human and machine. In some areas that might involve helping to remove people from having to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. In other areas it might be giving people more senses and more capabilities.”
Createc applies its thinking and technologies to any problem to find a solution, and takes a flexible approach when doing so. This means that it can adapt for a range of industries and a range of situations. “We look at the way we can do something, not where we can do it,” said Matt. It’s an approach which has seen its solutions applied in a range of industries and settings, including nuclear and defence, rail and security. Among future growth areas for Createc are heavy engineering, major industrial and general construction.
Createc has received two Queen’s Awards in recent years, one for International Trade and one for Innovation, recognising the company’s success in developing technology. The company is also proud to have won awards for innovation from The Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET), The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
Createc’s strategy as it moves beyond its 10-year anniversary is to concentrate on research and development to launch a series of further spin-out companies. Two things Matt is keen to influence in the wider economy to help support the company’s ambitions are funding and leadership. “We need to make sure that the UK is more start-up friendly. And we need more entrepreneurs who want to come and run these businesses,” said Matt. “To me an entrepreneur takes complete ownership and picks their way forward and proceeds confidently in the face of doubt.”
“We have had a sustained growth rate of 40 per cent, and we are focused on continuing to grow at this rate. In the first ten years we have grown from a company with three people turning over £180,000 to 30 people turning over £3.5m. To sustain that level of growth by the end of the next ten years we would have 300 people turning over more than £60m.”
Matt has a clear vision of how the company will keep driving forward, and his motivation and appetite to lead the company to further success is clear. “My motivation comes from bringing something completely new to life which results in the world being a better place,” he said. “Seeing all the pieces come together and creating this thing which creates an economic benefit and also has a positive impact on the world is really satisfying.”