26 March 2016 09:29:29 IST

Pumped up about Gumps

The team from IIT Madras that worked on Noctua, a drone that spots leakages in boilers

IIT Madras' Detect Technologies wants to make ultrasonic monitoring for pipe leakages world-class

It was a hot Friday afternoon when I entered the IIT-M campus, where I was to meet Daniel Raj David, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and co-founder of Detect Technologies. “You can meet me in the machine design section,” his text message said. .

After entering the campus and looking absolutely clueless about my surroundings (with its long, winding, wooded avenues, it is a world in itself, the IIT-M campus!), I finally reached the machine design section. Low murmurs of students and the drone of a machine greeted me.

“Hi, I’m Daniel,” said the 20-something student, wearing geek glasses, a black tee and camouflage shorts. “Let’s go to the third floor, where we have our office.” And off we went, me trying to understand the newly set-up company that was registered only a couple of weeks ago.

At the recently held Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, Detect Technologies came second, after Pune-based Fizzible Tech, where Daniel explained the nascent company’s product, Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems, or Gumps.

About gumps

“The project started with Tarun Mishra and Prof Krishnan Balasubramanian. They worked with a specific material that could maintain its ultrasonic waves, and send signals through pipes. So, if there is any crack in the pipe and subsequent leakage, the signal will reflect this back to us,” explains Daniel.

There are things like this that exist in the world, he admits, “But the special thing about this is the sensors the team built maintains its properties of ultrasonics even at temperatures of 350 degrees!”

Now, that seems simple enough (I mentally nod at this), but the breakthrough, he explains, is in the point that if you have any high temperature fluids flowing through pipes, like they do in the oil and gas industry, it becomes easy to detect leaks.

Now, why the fuss around detecting leaks, you might ask. Considering how long these plants have been around, surely some system must be in place to detect the leaks and plug them. There are. But the systems aren’t state-of-the-art — in some cases, they are plain primitive.

Explaining the drill that takes place during a leakage in plants, he says, “When leaks take place, you can’t just shut down one pipeline — you have to shut the whole plant. And when you do that, you lose crores of rupees, especially in big plants. Third parties cannot install their sensors on the pipes because they work only up to temperatures of 100 degrees. So, first the shutdown happens, then the maintenance company searches for the leak (because you can’t immediately see where the leak happening), and fixes it. It’s a very tedious, time-consuming process. They usually waste about five days on this.”

Plugging leakages

While the duo was pondering over the question of how to scale up their innovation, Daniel joined the team. “The aim of the company was to make the entire process automated — we install the sensors once and, sitting here in this room, I should be able to see the state of the pipe that’s lying in, say, Jamnagar. So now, while the sensor is installed there, it will keep sending signals. The interesting bit here is that cracks don’t appear all of a sudden. It takes time — the surface corrodes. While it is corroding, my signals will also change, sending it to the cloud, alerting both me and the client.

“So, not only will we able to tell them exactly where the leakage is, we can also predict the leakage. It saves a lot of money,” explains the mechanical engineering student.

Reliance, which obviously wants to save money from leakages in its oil refinery, was very interested in the project, and funded the team with about ₹65 lakh for research and development.

And Daniel is quite pumped up about Gumps. “We haven’t launched it yet, but when we do, it will be a breakthrough. Today, there are continuous monitoring systems and high temperature systems that already exist. But there are no continuous high temperature monitoring systems right now, which is required in plants.” While the existing technology is imported from the US, Detect Technologies is all about Make in India, that cuts down the cost to a fraction of what it would be otherwise.

Other projects

Apart from Gumps, the team has also come up with Noctua (which means owl in Latin) and ScopeI.

While the former is a drone that detects leakages in 80-metre high boilers (where leaks are otherwise fixed by building scaffoldings inside the boilers), the latter is a robot that is used in super-heaters within thermal power plants (consider 66 pipes stacked horizontally in 24 rows. To check a leak the usual way, each pipe would be removed, one by one. ScopeI, the robot, can, however, move sideways on the pipes, and an arm can extend up to eight feet below. The camera attached at the end of the machine's arm can then see where the leakage is coming from).


When the Operations and Energy Group (OEG) approached them with the boiler problem, Detect Technologies came up with the drone. “But we decided we had to build a team for it, we can’t do it ourselves. We built a team from IIT and have several students working with us. Then we realised we also need a marketing team. We have two IIM-A students working with us. Our sales team, which was put together recently, is in Gujarat, because that is the State which has the most power plants.”

Apart from Krishnan and Daniel, the team consists of Harikrishnan AS and Karthik R. On the whole, there are about 25 employees and interns.


While Noctua will be launched in a month or two, Detect’s team is holding back on launching Gumps commercially. “We are offering trials to companies that we know. Once they see that it works, we will go in for a full market push,” Daniel explains.

They even had a round table conference in IIT’s Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research (IC&SR) centre, with Reliance, BPCL, Kochi Refinery, and two other companies, when Gumps was in its nascent stages. “We had just put forth the idea to them, trying to understand if the product would have demand in the market. They loved the idea, and told us to do the trials at their plants,” he says, with not a hint of pride.

In fact, they were also invited to Vibrant Gujarat, where they met a lot of people from refineries. “Later, when we got back, we got mails from British Petroleum, and other West Asian oil and gas companies.”

But despite the ready market available for Gumps, Detect Technologies is in no hurry to bring out a product that’s not the best.

“This isn’t a software company, where we can quickly do things and send it off to our clients. This is a hardware start-up where we have to follow safety compliances and do several things before we launch it. We like the attention, it’s good to know the product is awaited by the industry, but we are trying to perfect it before we launch on that scale,” he adds.


The only investor right now is the IITM incubation cell, which put in about ₹10 lakh. “We did not want to go to investors too soon. We’re waiting until we create so much valuation that we negotiate right with the investors. Until then, we’re bootstrapping like crazy,” smiles Daniel.

But he is under no illusion that getting investors on board for a niche product like theirs will be easy. “It’s going to be tough getting in investors because right now, most investors I meet are willing to fund for software. Hardware investors are tough to find. I’m in talks with a few people. Chennai Angels is helping us as well.”

The future

Their aim is is to be an innovation hub for technology. “All three products you see here do not exist anywhere else in the world. So the idea is we’re going to choose to build products that have not been built before.

“Apple is the centre of innovation when it comes to tablets and phones. We want to be like that with respect to technology. And what better place to do it than in IIT-M?” signs off Daniel.