Sensor Networks Inc.
In-field Data Collection
A Primer On Non-Destructive Testing
Most people are familiar with ultrasonic imaging as it relates to medical ultrasounds. Industrial ultrasonic testing is based on the same principles of physics: sound waves traveling through a material will reflect back from any boundary between two materials of different acoustic impedances. Reflections from an area inside a test piece where there should be no impedance differences is an indication that something unexpected and most likely unwanted (a crack or void, etc.) is located inside the test piece. This type of inspection is referred to as flaw detection. It’s also referred to as non-destructive testing (or NDT) because the integrity of a test piece can be verified from the outside without the need to cut into the component.
In parallel with our software development efforts, Sensor Networks focused on the electronics. In order to facilitate parallel development, our team created a simulator that we could configure and then use to read back ultrasonic waveforms that mimicked real-world test signals. We were able to test our tablet application and subsequent Web app from end to end without having to rely on fully functioning hardware.
SNI wanted their customers to be able to connect to any provisioned DSI and acquire data measurements from any tablet in their pool of devices. In order to achieve that goal, all configuration information for the Data Sensor Interface (DSI) hardware had to be completely contained inside the DSI unit itself. Similarly, webPIMS® had to be able to accept data directly uploaded from any cellular version of the DSI without any prior knowledge of the DSI.
An open, documented data exchange format was created to transmit data between the smartPIMS® and the webPIMS® applications. This format was designed to be easily parsable by any software developer so that customers wanting to ingest these measurements into their own analysis software would be able to do so without difficulty. By applying this level of foresight and extra effort early on in the project, as SNI developed additional hardware sensor platforms — such as an automated DSI that periodically uploads data using cellular networks and a platform that uses Internet-of-Things-style connectivity to upload data — little or no new development effort was required on the Web application.
Operating Environment & Users
smartPIMS® had to be designed for usability along three important axes:
- The training and skill-level of personnel sent to acquire measurements from the network of DSIs couldn’t be guaranteed; a series of visual prompts demonstrating the required connection and acquisition techniques walk the user through the process of gathering data.
- Because the data access points are likely to be in locations that are environmentally hostile (whether inside an oil or chemical plant or along miles of exposed pipelines), the application had to be designed for users in those environments. The app has to be functional despite factors ranging from poor lighting to bulky gloves to beating sleet or blazing sun.
- Data access points could be isolated in remote locations. The data collection process and the data upload process had to work independently. An indeterminate amount of data could be collected in the field and then, at some later time, uploaded to webPIMS® when a network connection could be established.