The current method of monitoring is can be inefficient, as production is halted while disposable probes are immersed into the molten metal to measure temperature and take samples. This costs valuable time, money, and productivity.
In contrast, production need not stop with the new laser technology, as it is simply projected into the furnaces to monitor continuously and could save £4.5m a year. The technology is being developed by Swansea University spin-out company Kubal-Wraith Ltd, who have won the Materials Science Venture Prize awarded by The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, and worth £25,000, for their innovation.
Dr Szymon Kubal of Tata Steel, research fellow at Swansea University, said:
“Our new technology allows a laser beam to be projected into a molten furnace through a channel called a tuyère in the furnace wall.We exploit the latest gas injection techniques to protect the data channel.
One difficulty was testing our innovations in an operational steel plant under production conditions.However, by working with Tata Steel UK we are able to undertake full-scale trials.”
The technology isn’t just limited to steel, but can also be used with aluminium, copper and nickel. According to the World Steel Association, there are over 1000 molten metal furnaces worldwide that can benefit from this technology.
Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel, said:
“This project shows how research and innovation has the potential to transform long-established manufacturing processes.
Our prize looks to encourage scientific entrepreneurship in the UK and provide funding to help innovative developments like this realise their potential.”
Dr Adrian Walters, Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at Swansea University, concluded:
“Swansea University also won the Venture Prize in 2016 with a pioneering method of tackling corrosion, improving steel-based products, whereas this year’s winner improves the first stage of the steel manufacturing process.It shows that Swansea University is delivering innovation right across the steel industry.”