Identifying small problems before they turn big

10/11/2022

By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger

(Left to right) Bruce Pellegrino, VP Marketing; Jim Barshinger, CTO; and Jeff Anderson, President/GM; Photo: Provided.

Happy Valley-based Sensor Networks Inc. is helping companies protect their assets by equipping them with products that identify small problems before they turn into large ones.

The company was born from a relationship between two coworkers, Dr. Jim Barshinger and Bruce Pellegrino. They were struggling with a corrosion-monitoring product that used decades-old technology. They knew there had to be a better way of doing things and so they set out to solve the problem. Their solution: to modernize their electronics to connect directly to the internet. Soon, the two realized there was a niche there that they could fill, and this idea led them to create a company that they predicted would succeed — and it did.

In 2014, Sensor Networks Inc. launched with a small office building with three employees in Boalsburg. The team’s roster of employees soon grew to 50 and, just a few short years later, the company moved to a 45,000-square-foot space in State College, over half of which is occupied by Sensor Networks. Today, Sensor Networks sells to Fortune 1000 companies around the world and employs a total of 80 workers, with international offices in Hong Kong, Germany and Japan.

Simple, remote monitoring

You can’t talk about Sensor Networks without addressing the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. IoT refers to physical objects with sensors and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. Sensor Networks president and general manager Jeffrey Anderson further explained that there are three components to the company: monitoring assets for optimal performance, ultrasonic transducers and retrieval tools.

“Our monitoring business allows customers to take readings every hour,” he said, citing nuclear power stations as an example of where the monitoring products are used. He goes on to explain that nuclear plants need to know when air bubbles exist in their piping circuits.

“In this case, you would activate the emergency cooling pump and, if there’s air in that line, you could have issues with the pump failing,” he said, explaining that Sensor Networks’ solutions help prohibit that from happening with close IoT monitoring. “We take readings and send reports to a cloud-based back end and all our customers need is a smart phone to view the condition of their piping.”

“Aviation companies need to inspect aircraft many times during manufacturing to ensure they’re safe and, if the structural integrity is in question after the fact, it could cost up to $10 million to disassemble an aircraft.”

In the past, Anderson noted, these same clients would need to send their employees out to do this checking manually and even have to erect scaffolding to do so, all of which is extremely costly, whereas now they can monitor pipes remotely, simply.

Jaws2.0 retrieval tool; Photo: Provided.

Preventing catastrophe

Bruce Pellegrino, Sensor Networks’ vice president of marketing, offers yet another example where the company contributes to the safety of the general public, this time using the railroad. He says that issues can occur in the rail industry with axles or rails, or there can be a degradation in wheels due to rim delamination, which can cause failure through buckling. Sensor Networks’ rail clients need a way to watch for these issues.

“At 200 miles-per-hour, if anything breaks at that speed, you have a major issue."

“One of the major ways to inspect the integrity of the rail is to do it ultrasonically with transducers,” said Pellegrino, adding that Sensor Networks sells hundreds of models of its transducers, ranging from a cost of $300 to $5,000. The transducers, according to Pellegrino, can’t be underestimated when it comes to cost savings. He added that the aviation industry could save millions just through the use of transducers.

“The commercial airline industry is moving towards composite manufacturing because it’s lighter and stronger. Our product allows the manufacturer to inspect the airplane so that it’s flawless,” said Pellegrino, mentioning that a small crack alone could be catastrophic. “Aviation companies need to inspect aircraft many times during manufacturing to ensure they’re safe and, if the structural integrity is in question after the fact, it could cost up to $10 million to disassemble an aircraft.”

Along these lines, Sensor Networks technology also helps ensure the safety of high-speed rail. “At 200 miles-per-hour, if anything breaks at that speed, you have a major issue,” said Pellegrino.

Beyond transducers and monitoring services, though, Sensor Networks also sells its small retrieval tools.

"The market mandates that we continue to provide new solutions that are better, faster and more cost-effective to deploy."

“We just had a case in Singapore where they used our industrial cameras and retrieval tools to quickly and efficiently retrieve a tool that fell in a refinery, saving the customer a lot of money in downtime and the price it would cost to cut the pipe,” explained Anderson.

Future plans

Anderson and Pellegrino said Sensor Networks is doing brisk business and, as infrastructure ages, there will be even more opportunities to serve communities and industries around the world. What Sensor Networks doesn’t intend to do, however, is become complacent, no matter how many state-of-the-art products are in their arsenal.

“We realize that we have to continue to evolve as technology improves. The market mandates that we continue to provide new solutions that are better, faster and more cost-effective to deploy,” said Pellegrino.

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