A group of New Zealand scientists has developed a portable X-ray scanning device that can differentiate between good wood and rotten wood, providing a safety test for structures such as power poles and bridges.
Called PortaScan, the technology has been designed specifically to check the health of wooden power poles but could, ultimately, test any wooden structure.
The basic device is about the size of a lunchbox, weighs just 3kg and gives an instant reading on the stability of wood at the base of a power pole, using wireless technology to relay the test results to a hand-held monitor.
A power company in Queensland, Australia, will begin trials of the device later this year to see how it performs in the field.
The innovation is built on a platform of more than a decade of X-ray scanning research at crown research institute GNS Science, and has been readied for commercialisation with investment through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
In addition, the team of scientists has adapted the software underpinning PortaScan to create another similar device to test the stability of bigger wooden structures such as bridges. Called PortaScan XBS, it features a “hot stick” suitable for testing high and hard-to-reach wooden objects.
The breakthrough technology comes from the GNS Science Isoscan team where it is claimed the device is quick and easy to use. Being non-invasive, it eliminates the problem of weakening the power pole by drilling holes in it.
An early version of PortaScan was developed in the mid 1990s but never sold commercially, despite being judged the most accurate testing technology at electricity association trials in New South Wales in 1998.
An original solution worked but needed to be simplified and repackaged so it was suitable for being thrown on the back of a truck. Wireless communications has also helped, and it seems the company now has an idea whose time has come.
While the first field trials will be run in Australia, the team at GNS Science is also promoting the scanning technology to New Zealand power companies and asset management organisations, and has had early expressions of interest from the United States.
“Ultimately it can be used to test any wooden structure,” Isoscan business manager Joe Manning says.
“It’s at an early stage but we believe PortaScan has all the right elements to replace the existing technology and become the industry norm.”