Engineer and entrepreneur Dr Ian McEwan, the inventor of a unique solution to pipeline leakage problems, has been awarded The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal for his outstanding contribution to British engineering and commercial development.

An expert in particle-fluid transport problems, Dr McEwan is the founder of Brinker Technology, a spinout from the University of Aberdeen. Brinker Technology uses mechanical Platelets™ to locate and seal costly pipeline leaks in the oil and water industries – a concept inspired by the human body’s own healing mechanism in sealing small wounds.

Brinker’s Platelets™ are introduced into a pipeline and carried in the fluid flow to the vicinity of a leak, where the differential pressure pulls the Platelets™ into the defect to seal it. The pressure difference keeps the plug in place against the pipe wall until repair work is carried out and gives pipeline operators valuable time to plan a shut-down, ensuring minimal loss of production. Embedded with a remote tagging device, Platelets™ also enable the location of the leak to be accurately determined by either externally or internally surveying the line.

The design methodology for Platelets™ includes numerical modelling (computational fluid dynamics and finite element analysis of seal behaviour), a raft of physical testing requirements and consideration of infrastructure and system performance risks. Applying the technology to different leakage problems requires a complete understanding of operational technology and regulatory issues in each case. Dr McEwan has formed, trained and leads an engineering team demonstrably equipped to carry out such work within complex and crucial contexts.

“Platelet technology is conceptually simple and strikingly elegant, yet the engineering and commercial challenges of implementing the concept in practice have been immense,” says nominating Fellow Professor Roger Falconer FREng. “In the last seven years, Ian has taken the original concept, driven it through an R&D phase, and recruited and inspired a team of key engineering and business people. Of particular note is his outstanding ability to successfully lead and engineering team within the intensity of an emergency response operation, when critically important decisions have to be made in quick time.

“As a newcomer to the oil and gas industry, Ian has drawn on the full range of engineering skills - technical, managerial commercial and personal - to create an environment where an excellent technology concept can thrive and become a major contributor across a range of pipeline industries,” says Falconer.

With just thirteen employees, Brinker’s turnover has risen to £600k in 2005 and works with major players in the oil and gas industry. Strategic goals are now market expansion, diversification and internationalization. Current projects reflect this shift, initiating a new phase in the company’s development. Says Falconer: “In this environment it is impossible to isolate technology development from business strategy and McEwan has provided the crucial entrepreneurial skills in bringing these elements together to create a commercial success story.”

Dr McEwan will receive his Silver Medal, which is only awarded to engineers aged under 50, at the Academy’s Awards Dinner in London on 05 June 2006. The evening may become a double celebration for Dr McEwan: Brinker Technology has also been shortlisted for The Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious MacRobert Award, the winner of which will also be announced at the Awards Dinner.

Notes for editors

  1. The Academy’s Silver Medals, instigated in 1995, are awarded annually to engineers aged 50 or under who have made outstanding contributions to British engineering. Up to four awards may be given each year.
  2. This year’s other Silver Medals go to: Professor Andrew Blake, Senior Research Scientist, Microsoft Research; Professor Lionel Tarassenko, University of Oxford, and Dr Simon Gallimore, Rolls-Royce plc.
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Amy Abbott, Manager, Events and Awards, The Royal Academy of Engineering