Lancaster collaborates with pioneering company to develop new sensor to improve water treatment

Water ripple

‌Head of Lancaster University’s Chemistry Department collaborated with Process Instruments (UK) Limited to develop new sensors to improve water treatment.

Company profile

Formed in 1998, Process Instruments (Pi) is a pioneering Burnley based manufacturing sales and service company of water quality analysers that provides instrument solutions since through distributors, under private label/OEM agreements and to end users in the water, waste, and related industries. Pi has customers in over 60 countries across 6 continents.

The challenge

Water and wastewater treatment requires the continuous measurement of the amount of solids in a flowing stream. Measuring and detecting solids in water is very important as these can have a huge impact on our sewer system.

In waste water treatment works there are quality and efficiency gains to be made if reliable measurement of the amount of solids in a flowing stream can be made continually online.

Current technologies including using microwaves and ultrasound, are cumbersome, expensive and unreliable; leading to a low take-up in the industry. Pi have already developed an optical sensor capable of measuring lower level solids (0.1NTU→2% Dry Solids) using an optical system. However, these are unsuitable for higher level solids.

Pi wanted to extend their measurement range by evaluating an alternative technology and demonstrate the feasibility of using a different measurement technology to create a low cost sensor capable of measuring percentage solids in aqueous media.

The solution

Head of Lancaster University’s Chemistry Department, Professor Fielden has extensive experience with sensor design, characterisation and implementation. During earlier research, he discovered that capacitive sensors may be able to offer a robust and precise measurement of suspended solids in water, and at a significantly lower cost compared to current technologies.

Professor Fielden and Process Instruments Limited submitted a successful application for £5000 IAA funding for a small scale feasibility lab-based study to develop and test a new prototype sensor that could provide initial data to demonstrate the likely operating range in the field and the precision of the measurement.

The two month project started in July 2013 and was jointly managed by Professor Fielden, Mike Riding, Managing Director, Pi and Dr. Craig Stracey, Technical Director, Pi. Extra support was secured by Professor Fielden from the Royal Society of Chemistry to fund a summer internship PhD student to work on the prototype.‌

Watch a short video about Process Instruments here


Pi successfully applied for £5000 of seed funding from Lancaster University’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). The IAA is £600,000 funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council to finance range of activities designed to foster greater collaboration with industry and bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.


The research has led to an encouraging proof of concept. Working with Lancaster provided Pi with the following benefits:


  • Provided expertise on sensor design, characterisation and implementation
  • Developed and tested a new proof of concept sensor to extend Pi’s measurement range
  • Allowed the company to lead development in this sector

Company feedback

"We chose to work with Lancaster's Chemistry Department because we know Professor Fielden from previous collaborations and we are excited about the team he is putting together. Coupled with Lancaster's proven and on-going commitment to working with SMEs it was an easy choice to make. The collaboration will benefit our business by resulting in a world beating sensor that we can couple with our existing electronics to grow the business to the next stage," Mike Riding, Managing Director, Process Instruments Limited.

Future plans

"Following on from the IAA project, Pi and Lancaster University applied for a Technology Strategy Board funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to continue the research collaboration and realise the potential of the new sensor. This has been awarded and Pi and Lancaster are continuing their collaboration via a three year KTP. The KTP associate Dr. Jeff Prest is in position at Pi and the development is continuing."

"Pi have also identified clients who would be willing to collaborate with the field evaluation of the new prototype. They have also applied for further funding from the IAA," Mike Riding added.