2017 Frost & Sullivan Award for the iProbePA
Frost & Sullivan Full Report:
The non-destructive testing (NDT) industry is undergoing a period of difficulty fraught with various challenges; the most threatening of all remains the oil and gas price crisis. Oil and gas has historically been the biggest end-user market segment for the ultrasonic NDT equipment industry, contributing around 30% of the total revenue. Oil prices fell almost 50% from June 2014 to January 2015 and have experienced ups and downs ever since. However, no significant recovery in these prices has occurred, which has put oil producers under extreme pressure and forced them to cut their capital expenses and shave their operations to become ever more lean and efficient. This market situation has affected the NDT equipment and service industries significantly. Frost & Sullivan notes that ultrasonic NDT equipment is typically quite expensive - and the biggest end-user segment is undergoing spending cuts.
Another challenge faced by the NDT industry is the shortage of experienced technicians in the market. Phased array ultrasound equipment are quite complex to operate, and the analysis of the acquired data proves difficult. Phased array ultrasonic NDT systems often involve many components, making it necessary for skilled users to operate them properly.
Considering these challenges, Frost & Sullivan believes that any company looking to disrupt the ultrasonic phased array NDT market and become a product innovation leader must deliver a design that is simple and easy to use, reliable, and - at the same time - low-cost in catering to the current market scenario.
New Product Attributes and Customer Impact
Founded by British entrepreneurs Graham and Angela Allinson, Hi-Spec Systems is an innovative advanced ultrasonic phased array and time-of-flight diffraction (ToFD) company. Its founders have over 40 years of experience in ultrasonic product development and have developed a highly innovative product named iProbePA - the world’s first phased array system in a probe, which is a result of miniaturization of advanced ultrasonics. Hi-Spec Systems started the development of iProbePA in 2012 and introduced the product in June 2016 at the WCNDT in Munich. Hi-Spec Systems aims to truly tackle the NDT industry challenges by offering an affordable, highly integrated, and simple-to-use ultrasonic phased array NDT solution.
When compared to other competitors’ products in which the ultrasonic phased array systems involve separate transducers, pulser/receiver systems, processing units, and human-machine interfaces (HMIs), Frost & Sullivan points out that Hi-Spec Systems’ iProbePA transducers integrate all of the electronics, connect to a laptop or tablet directly via a USB cable, and perform inspections using the powerful UltraPhase software tool. Furthermore, keeping up with the newest trends in HMI, the product has an intuitive touchscreen interface that makes operating the system quite simple.
Using an iProbePA with the UltraPhase software tool empowers customers to perform 3D phased array inspection. iProbePA supports 32 or 64 element probes used for ultrasonic NDT inspection, and with the addition of UltraHub, customers have an option to connect 2 to 4 iProbePAs. While cable lengths of 10 meters are achievable directly using a USB, it can be extended to 100 meters with UltraHub. Further, iProbePA can be used with fiber optic converters to achieve cable lengths of up to 10 kilometers for applications - such as NDT inspection during pipeline pigging.
Overall, iProbePA, along with UltraPhase software, effectively shifts key decision dependence on reliable data, rather than on experts who are in short supply in the market. This greatly helps customers from various industries make their operations more efficient and lean.
The iProbePA transducer is manufactured with thermal epoxy encapsulation to make it rugged. In addition, it has a wide operating temperature range of -40F (-200C) to 1400F (600C). These parameters make it suitable for applications in harsh environments including oil and gas inspection, corrosion monitoring, sub-sea inspection, and aircraft field inspection. All of the connectors on iProbePA are rugged lemo connectors with 4 pins for power and data.
Unlike other ultrasonic NDT probes that use coaxial cables and transfer analog data, the iProbePA transfers digital data via USB, preventing data loss with distance. In addition, the cables can be changed without having to switch out the complete probe. These options make the iProbePA very reliable. Further, unlike other NDT systems that use operating systems (such as WindowsCE) that have file size restrictions, iProbePA systems use full Windows that can handle huge data files, another feature that ensures reliability concerning data.
iProbePA’s design is highly integrated, incorporating all of the elements of a ultrasonic phased array NDT system. Its high level of miniaturization uses cutting-edge technology, yet performs on commercially available laptops and tablets for processing and HMI. It includes dual-axis encoder input, which is essential in phased array systems for accurate and reliable measurements, and the transducer itself is all electronic with 64 elements phased array. iProbePA uses USB 3.0 for high data throughput, and multiple probes can be connected in parallel using the USB hub.
An impressive benefit is the fact that the transducers consume very low power, typically 10 to 20 times lower than other competitors’ probes, which makes the product well suited for remote inspection using battery power. The iProbePA system works along with UltraPhase, which is an intuitive powerful analysis software that remains editable on a touch screen. The design of this software (along with the miniaturization and the highly integrated design of the iProbePA) makes it quite affordable and reduces the need for a high level of expertise to use it effectively.
Traditional products without the transducers offered by major competitors are sold at around $50,000 to $65,000; with 2 or 3 phased array transducers, the system can end up costing around $200,000.
The iProbePA, by contrast, with its miniaturization and integration, is more affordable at around $12,500 per iProbePA system, including the UltraPhase software license. The price of this system is 4 to 5 times less than other competitors’ solutions.
Also, unlike competing solutions that require expensive cabling, iProbePA can use standard Ethernet cables. These attributes make iProbePA more affordable to customers who are not able to invest in traditional ultrasonic flow detector solutions - an option especially attractive in the current market scenario, in which oil and gas customers have reduced spending drastically.
Customer Service Experience
Hi-Spec Systems strives to ensure exceptional customer attention, beginning with the purchase process, by having a distribution network covering the United Kingdom, the United States, and India, while fast expanding to other regions of the world. Hi-Spec Systems provides an agile installation service that has successfully matched the great market response the iProbePA product has had as soon as it was introduced.
As for customer support, the company has implemented an innovative method of Internet-based troubleshooting by pooling NDT experts from around the globe. These experts are given demo iProbePA transducers, which enable them to simulate customer issues (if needed) to support them more thoroughly and efficiently. Furthermore, Hi-Spec Systems plans to add online training materials to help their customers easily learn how to use their systems more effectively.
Hi-Spec System’s founding team has over 40 years of NDT technology expertise that amounts to major credibility for the company’s brand. Within few months of launching the iProbePA, Hi-Spec Systems has seen an impressive market response towards the product, which demonstrates the robust product demand and the brand’s market credibility.
The company has been actively participating in many leading NDT conferences and exhibitions to promote the iProbePA systems. Lastly, the company’s content marketing via various social media platforms helps to increase brand awareness. These activities are targeting an ambitious CAGR of over 50% in the first 3 years of the iProbePA product launch.
With its highly integrated, affordable, and easy-to-use solution, Hi-Spec Systems, with its innovative iProbePA product, ensures that customers receive a high-quality solution at an affordable price; this is impressive during the tough phase that the industry is currently experiencing. The company’s commendable hardware and software design disrupts the industry by reducing dependence on experts and helping companies leverage data more effectively to make critical product inspection and maintenance decisions.
By focusing on NDT applications across industries such as oil and gas, aerospace, and automotive, and by constantly focusing on innovating the product and business models that empathize with customer challenges, Hi-Spec Systems is driven by and invested in ensuring the delivery of the best value and most innovative solutions possible to its customers.
With its strong overall performance, Hi-Spec Systems has earned Frost & Sullivan’s 2017 New Product Innovation Award.