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Short design cycle time wins award

15 October 2008

Pulsar Process Measurement Limited have been honoured in the latest iDEA (Innovation and Design Excellence Awards). Pulsar's non-contacting ultrasonic level control unit went from initial identification of market need through a full design, prototyping and test sequence to launch in only eight months, netting them the iDEA award for Design Cycle Time Reduction.

Blackbox CSO wins Design Cycle Time Reduction award
Blackbox CSO wins Design Cycle Time Reduction award

The iDEA awards are supported by Cranfield School of Management together with Eureka and New Electronics magazines. They aren’t simply a form filling exercise or a case of making a good case in a letter, either: a panel of judges visits each entrant, spending several hours touring the factory, interviewing engineers and other senior staff, looking for evidence of commitment to innovation and to good engineering practice before making their decision.

In Pulsar’s case, the judges picked up on the development of the Blackbox CSO controller. Water companies are required, not unreasonably, to avoid spilling sewage wherever possible. However, certain overflows are permissible, for example when rainfall is especially heavy and sewage treatment works would be in danger of being overwhelmed and the overflow is managed through a structure called a CSO (Combined Sewage Overflow). Under recent regulation changes, the water company is required to monitor the CSO and record how many times the CSO releases waste water to the environment. The CSO structures are usually in remote areas without a mains electricity supply, and an overflow event may not occur for many months. Pulsar’s innovation was to develop a device that would automatically hibernate, periodically waking up very quickly to take a measurement via an ultrasonic transducer, recording the measurement and then going back to ‘sleep’. If the level of the sewage is rising, the Blackbox CSO wakes more and more often until it has recorded an overflow event and its duration. In this way, a battery can last for many months or even years, and measurements are only made when necessary.

Staff at Pulsar spotted the gap in the market and moved very quickly to fill it, developing the software, low power consumption technology and wake-up routine, and also adapting data-logging equipment for the application, within a very short period. Prototypes were built and customer tests were conducted before the product was officially launched only eight months after the idea was proposed.

Pulsar has an extremely active R&D function, driven by customer and market requirements. Most large companies have very elaborate and formal R&D procedures where developments have to get over many hurdles before they reach the market. As Keith Beard, Pulsar’s Managing Director, put it: “We don’t need a stage gate process, because we are not a big company. Instead, we bring in people whose opinions we trust”.

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