Measurement challenges

New technologies in high value industries are rapidly advancing, and innovations like replacing traditional silicon devices with nanoelectronics based on organic semiconductors or monitoring drug delivery to cells on a molecule-by-molecule basis are now realities. Generating and benefitting from these advancements hinges on creating advanced materials and developing the ability to determine their chemical and physical properties, on an increasingly small scale.

EMRP research has supported projects that address both of these challenges. Examples are given in the following case studies.

Innovation in 3D analysis

Many industrial sectors need to understand and control the structures, and chemistries of organic materials at the very smallest scale. New materials are expected to find uses in diverse applications, such as replacing silicon in next generation semiconductors, or as coatings to control drug release rates. For nano-structured organic materials to find their way into commercial applications, new techniques for measuring organic properties layer by layer are needed.

The EMRP project Traceable characterisation of nanostructured devices, investigated the use of this new 3D analysis tool for organic materials based on argon cluster sputtering and mass spectrometry. Using reference materials from the EMRP project Surface Chem, the team derived a universal equation which allows an important measurement parameter to be deduced from the ion beam energy, and the number of atoms in the cluster.

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Nano-material properties

Introducing innovative products such as novel optoelectronics based on quantum dots, nanowires and nanorods relies on knowing their behaviour at the nano-scale. For nanomaterial measurements, Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a popular method: properties such as elasticity can be measured by applying loads to a probe tip and determining how much it sinks into the material. Unfortunately tip support structures - the AFM's cantilever - flex and compromise measurement accuracy. Greater accuracy in stiffness measurements of these supports is needed to increase accuracy in determining nanomaterial properties.

The EMRP project Traceable measurement of mechanical properties of nano-objects looked at methods for determining cantilever stiffness. Simplification of cantilever vibration contributions, verification of proposed new corrections and the development of reference nano-objects have produced greater calibration accuracy for AFM measurements at the nano-scale.

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Piezoelectric innovation and its use in installed sensing for power plant

Piezoelectric materials, which convert movement into electrical signals and vice versa, are used in a wide range of applications, such as sensors used for remote, real-time monitoring. To operate in high temperature environments, new piezoelectric reference materials need to be assessed - and accurate test methods developed - before they can be used in commercial products.

The EMRP project Metrology of electrothermal coupling for new functional materials technology, evaluated different piezoelectric compositions with the aim of developing reliable high temperature reference materials. A new reference grade material, supplied by Leeds University, was characterised at temperatures up to 380 ˚C: having demonstrated stable performance, it could therefore be used to develop test methods for the validation of material testing instruments at higher temperatures than previously possible.

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Accuracy for installed flow meters

Monitoring fluid flow through pipes is vital to the efficiency and safety of many systems, from transporting hot water around buildings or in manufacturing processes to the transport of commodities such as oil and gas. The flow meters used are calibrated under "ideal" conditions before installation, but once installed into complex pipe systems containing bends and constrictions non-ideal fluid flow characteristics can affect measurements.

The EMRP project Novel mathematical and statistical approaches to uncertainty evaluation developed new statistical models to better estimate the effect of flow disturbance on meter measurements. Pipe system parameters such as operating pressure, temperature and layout were measured and inputted into fluid flow models and more computationally efficient calculations determined to provide greater accuracy for flow rate estimates in real systems.

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Smart meter reliability

Over 280 million smart meters are being installed in Europe, giving consumers greater control over energy use. Accurate metering is based on testing small numbers from large production batches both pre and post installation. Complex computer modelling is used by regulators to set the re-test frequency, so minimising costs to energy suppliers and customers. Ensuring a fair retest system requires improved and optimised statistical models for these new energy meters.

The EMRP project Novel mathematical and statistical approaches to uncertainty evaluation developed a new probability based approach to model the performance of meter batches. By applying the 'bath-tub reliability curve', named for its similarity to a bath's profile, the project modelled existing meter batch failure rates and developed a statistical model showing how consumer risks increase with measurement errors. This enables energy suppliers to better plan meter replacements.

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Trusting complex software and Validating 3D measurement software

Engineering projects - from the world's tallest skyscrapers to new transport infrastructure - use complex 3D models to assess safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness. Running millions of survey data points through complex computational simulations to create these models introduces opportunity for error. Complex software is also key when analysing huge measurement datasets used to check products, from cars to microchips, have been manufactured correctly. As software become more complex, greater confidence in measurement accuracy and new independent methods to verify its performance are needed.

The EMRP project Traceability for computationally-intensive metrology has developed a validation process to prove the correctness of calculations using complex, numerical algorithms implemented in measurement software. The project's TraCIM SVS system evaluates and compares the results from the software being tested to idealised values, providing a performance certification process to confirm that test software runs properly and does not produce errors.

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Safe airport scanners

Safer air travel relies on smarter security scanning to identify hidden weapons. Terahertz radiation offers high resolution detection, but demonstrating its safety to both operators and passengers is slowing wide spread adoption. Proving terahertz scanners are harmless relies on accurate power measurements and showing scans create minimal heating effects in the body. Reliable calibrations for terahertz detectors are needed to bring accuracy to risk assessments and help ensure travel security.

The EMRP project Microwave and terahertz metrology for homeland security developed a range of complementary methods and facilities for calibrating microwave and terahertz detectors and used a modelling approach to demonstrate that the skin heating induced by microwave and terahertz radiation is not hazardous.

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