TECHNOLOGY is being developed in the region that will change the face of the global steelmaking industry.

Corus Research Development and Technology, on Teesside, is testing a laser technique which can detect defects in steel at the earliest-ever point in the manufacturing process.

The Laser-Emats (electromagnetic acoustic transducers) process will be the first of its kind in the world to test for surface and internal defects on steel above 800C.

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Dr Adrian Normanton, a leading figure in the field, had been developing the technique and adapting it for steelmaking but recently died, aged 63.

Corus will develop the final stages of Laser-Emats, a project in the pilot stage, and introduce it into the global industry in Dr Normanton's memory.

Ian Baillie, project manager and physicist at Corus, who has worked on Laser-Emats since joining the firm as a graduate, paid tribute to Dr Normanton's work.

"Adrian was the first to identify this technology as being suitable for the steel industry, and I'm incredibly privileged and grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to be part of a fantastic innovative project," he said.

"The results on the preliminary testing we have done so far have been very pleasing, but it's a challenging environment to work in and there's still much to be done to ensure the technology will do what we need it to do."

The Laser-Emats technique is being tested at the Teesside Technology Centre, in Middlesbrough, and Corus has been commended by Teesside University and the Cleveland Institution of Engineers for its pioneering work on the project.

The technique involves firing laser pulses at steel to turn a small area of the surface into plasma. That generates an ultrasonic wave, which can be reflected by defects such as cracks.

It could take technologists up to two years to test and improve the design, before it is tested at a Corus steelmaking plant.

Dr Paul Shelton, assistant dean from the School of Science and Technology at Teesside University, said: "It was encouraging that such high-quality research was taking place in the Tees Valley, a region with a huge historical reputation for innovation in steel-making.

"It is becoming increasingly important that steel users can rely on the cleanliness of very thin sheet, increasingly used for lightweight structures.

"Significantly, I can see application for this technology outside the close confines of steelmaking in other foundries manufacturing critical defect free castings."