At the end of 2008, while searching for career continuation opportunities after my PhD and postdoc at Materials Institute, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland, INETEC approached me and proposed a collaboration with a clear goal – to create, from scratch, a sustainable research and development laboratory for ultrasound transducers and probes that will cover all current and future company R&D and production needs for NDE ultrasound applications. Having a PhD in piezoelectric materials, that are in the core of most of the ultrasound transducers, and overwhelmed by INETEC’s optimism and ambition, it was an easy choice to start working on this exciting program.
The smartest way of building a laboratory infrastructure, educating own people, and performing proof of concept experiments on ultrasound sensorics and transducers was through optimized use of external funding schemes and collaboration with academic and public research institutions. It started with the Unity through Knowledge Fund (UKF) started by the Croatian Government and the collaboration of the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing and my alma mater, EPFL in Lausanne. Having won the first grant, the essential laboratory equipment started arriving and first transducer prototypes were designed, assembled and characterized. By the end of the first project, a small series of NDE ultrasound probes for safety inspections in a nuclear power plant was ready to be commercially exploited. We reached the basic control of the needed technology and know-how.
The next step was to further broaden and deepen our knowledge, so we turned to international R&D partners and consortia and international funding schemes, calls and development projects. The most important one was the Framework Programme 7 funded by the European Commission. Our most valuable European R&D consortia partners became TWI Cambridge (UK), Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania), Vermon (France), National Technical University of Athens (Greece), Lulea University of Technology (Sweden), Atkins (UK), Brunel Innovation Centre (UK), Center for Technology Research & Innovation Nicosia (Cyprus), Tecnitest (Spain). At the same time, we had a national R&D project collaboration with the University of Split, Faculty of Science, in which we provided ourselves with remote research facilities in Split, including the “yellow room”. The overall span of the R&D subjects and activities in this period was genuinely very broad and exciting and brought us a critical amount of knowledge and experience for future endeavors and possibilities to implement it into our own in-house ultrasound NDE solutions.
After our laboratory matured well enough – we became ready for bigger development tasks – we started a project within the European Commission Horizon 2020 funding scheme in which we were the consortium coordinators and one within the European Commission Operational Programme Competitiveness and Cohesion 2014 – 2020, where we introduced piezoelectric film technology and artificial intelligence / machine learning into our laboratory.
The future of the INETEC ultrasound laboratory now seems very bright! At the time of writing this blog, the news arrived about winning another R&D grant – this time from the European Space Agency. Therefore, it is not wrong to state – the sky is the limit.