Under the microscope

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Mechanical engineering consultants PME were investigating why a client’s plumbing pipework was corroding prematurely, but they couldn’t find an obvious cause. As such, PME wanted to investigate the material of the pipe to see what was causing the problem. They came to the Aura Innovation Centre to see if our InventX innovation space could help solve the mystery through the power of the scanning electron microscope.

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Pipe dream

Professional Mechanical Engineering (PME) are an industry-leading mechanical engineering consultancy, based in Hull, who specialise in pipework engineering.

They were doing some work for a client when they found some plumbing pipes which were corroding much quicker than expected, leading to failures in the product. It was unclear what was causing this, as the pipes were newly installed, and shouldn’t have been subject to so much corrosion in so short a space of time.

Simply replacing the pipes frequently is not sustainable or practical, and PME wanted to get to the route cause of the problem.

They wanted to investigate the material of the pipes to find out what was causing the issue, and came to the Aura Innovation Centre to see if our InventX innovation space had the state-of-the-art kit they needed to analyse the pipe and its coating.

Of course, we were happy to help!



Brian Houston, Knowledge Exchange Lecturer / InventX Manager
University of Hull

Seeing is believing

It was clear that there was some kind of problem with the pipe, causing it to corrode quicker than expected. PME wanted to use scanning electron microscopy combined with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy on a sample of pipe – this provides a sharp, highly magnified picture of the microscopic surface structures of the pipe, and a cross section of the surface topography. This shows accurately what the structure of the pipe and its coatings looks like, magnified so that tiny differences in the surface can be seen.

We were also able to provide accurate information about the elemental composition of the pipe and its coatings – revealing exactly what it was made of. The corroded pipe could then be compared with a non-corroded length of pipe to see how they differed.


Under the microscope

Although the two types of pipe looked exactly the same to the naked eye, once our scanning electron microscope got to work, the differences became clear.

The report we were able to deliver to PME showed exactly what the problem was – although the outside of the pipe was resisting corrosion correctly, the anti-corrosion coating on the inside of the pipe was applied too thinly, meaning it wasn’t able to protect the inside of the pipe from starting to decay.

PME were able to go back to their clients with a simple, yet perfectly effective solution – increase the thickness of the anti-corrosion coating inside all their pipes, and their corrosion problems would be solved immediately.

The client business could now ensure all their pipes were coated to the required thickness inside and out, meaning reliable pipes, less waste and dependable products.

Projects such as these demonstrate how the advanced technologies and equipment of InventX help businesses see beyond the surface, and enable small businesses to dig deeper so they can go the extra mile to help their clients.

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