Office
+44 (0) 1954 231 494
Cambridge Ultrasonics
Cambridge, UK
Consultancy service in physics, electronics, maths & ultrasonics

Cambridge Ultrasonics

Commonest questions

  • Is visualization of ultrasound known by any other names? Yes. It is sometimes called schlieren (optical contrast enhancement), sometimes it is called photo-elasticity (looking at waves in transparent solids).
  • Is finite element modelling any good? Yes but you need to be careful about relying on results. It helps enourmously that Cambridge Ultrasonics has an experimental visualization system because we can often validate FE models with experiments - this web-site shows several examples of FE models that are validated in this way.
  • Are all your projects successful? No. Sometimes mother-nature won't allow us to do what we would like. However, we believe that our knowledge and experience will help us to find a solution when others would fail. We also like to structure projects so that we demonstrate feasibility as early as possible in a project, so the client minimizes its financial risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does Cambridge Ultrasonics only work on ultrasonic projects?
A: No. About 60% of our projects over the last 10 years have been ultrasonic applications the others have been medical and microwave.

Q: Do you have any specializations?
A: Finite element modelling has been popular over the last few years. Modelling ultrasonic wave propoagation is challenging and needs experience. Our experimental visualization service remains popular and we have also made key advances in inspecting and monitoring concrete using ultrasound. However, we have worked in many other fields.

Q: Is it cost-effective to use Cambridge Ultrasonics rather than another consultancy business?
A: From information given by some clients we understand that our costs are substantially lower than the cost of some of the large consultancy businesses in Cambridge. We have even been asked to help some of our competitors in the past on their projects.

Q: How does doing R&D at Cambridge Ultrasonics compare with R&D done at a university?
A: A university would generally put a new PhD student to work on a project under the supervision of a lecturer or professor. It can take a PhD student a year to become effective and 4 years to complete the project; the supervisor generally gives ideas but very little time to the project. At Cambridge Ultrasonics we would expect to complete the work for a PhD project in 9 - 12 months because Cambridge Ultrasonics' staff are much more experienced and commercially focused.

Q: How does the cost of doing R&D at Cambridge Ultrasonics compare with R&D done at a university?
A: Because Cambridge Ultrasonics completes the work in about 25% of the time of a university our costs are relatively low - although our engineers are paid more than PhD students. Another factor is overheads; these days universities charge very high overheads for R&D but Cambridge Ultrasonics' overheads are low by industry and university standards. Overall, our costs should be lower or very competitive; don't forget that the project should be finished much more quickly too.

Q: Are there any other commercial factors that prospective clients might want to know when comparing Cambridge Ultrasonics with competitors and universities?
A: Ownership of intellectual property is now very complex when dealing with most universities. They generally want to own a share in the IP even when the client is paying 100% of costs - the reason given is that the professor at the university is providing many years of experience. At Cambridge Ultrasonics we also bring many years of experience to bear and our clients can patent and commercialize without requiring a license from Cambridge Ultrasonics.

Q: What is the profile of a typical client?
A: It varies enormously, all the way from very large multi-national corporations to single persons with an idea. We have also helped projects run by universities - usually brainstorming or doing some special tests. Some clients keep us working on a rolling basis and switch us from one project to another as they want. Other clients, such as new business start-ups, get us to perform tightly defined scopes of work.

Q: What kind of work is done on a R&D project?
A: It generally starts with brainstorming then some kind of feasibility analysis. In this early stage we use our knowledge of physics, maths and ultrasonics. The client gets a report to digest. The next stage of a project generally involves further feasibility, usually experimental, and then our visualization and finite element modelling skills are often used; there might also be experiments using standard laboratory equipment such as oscilloscopes, signal generators and power amplifiers. This stage also ends in a report - usually longer than the first. A first prototype instrument might be appropriate next and then our skills in electronic engineering come to the fore. We like to prepare detailed specifications before making prototypes because that forces us to think through solutions before making circuits. The specification document is often a very valuable document to the client because it is a description of the technology - it can contribute to design files to prove compliance with international standards or it can contribute to patent specifications. Second prototypes and pre-production prototypes are occasionally our responsibility too but most clients want to take-over the project and make it an internal project at that stage. A few clients, for example government agencies, have no interest in manufacturing and they ask us to make small production quantities.

Q: What kind of non-ultrasonic work has Cambridge Ultrasonics done?
A: Technical auditing as part of a due-diligence review is a good example. This could cover many kinds of electronic projects involving digital measurements and signal processing. Medical and life-science applications are probably the commonest we are asked to work on, for example analysis of blood cells, processing of biological samples using microwaves.

Q: What is the profile of a typical employee?
A: From experience we have found that we have to employ only the most able of graduates. A typical employee has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and a very good first degree, often from Cambridge too but we have also employed staff from France, Belgium and Germany. We particularly like to employ physicists with a strong practical interest and experience in electronics but we have also employed mathematicians, electronic engineers and computer scientists. Again from experience, we find that staff already settled in Cambridge with a partner working there perform best. More recently we have been lucky to secure the help of older, very experienced engineers who are looking for a new way to work that avoids commuting and office politics. These engineers are happy to take responsibility for work given to them and to work as consultants.

Q: What is the working environment like?
A: It's quiet on the whole, partly because it is a rural location with no busy roads nearby - in fact the loudest noise is from the nearby church bells. We only drink freshly made tea, coffee and soft drinks - there is no drinks dispensing machine - and we also get home-made cakes. In the summer there is a beautiful garden to sit-out in and admire fields, trees and listen to bird-song.