Precision Acoustics, Ltd. (PA) is a United Kingdom—based original equipment manufacturing company that designs and manufactures the tools that measure the ultrasonic pressure, intensity, and range of focused ultrasound systems.
It is located in the Hampton Farm Business Park in the Higher Bockhampton neighborhood of the town of Dorchester (Dorset county). According to Wikipedia, “Dorset is a county in southwest England that is known for the Jurassic Coast, a long stretch on the English Channel where the cliffs contain many fossils, and rock formations show millions of years of geological history.” See more about the company's current headquarters >
We interviewed Andrew Hurrell, PhD, to learn about the importance of quality control and safety for the field.
How was the company started?
More than 25 years ago, two hospital staff members started PA to address a measurement need in medical physics.
How did you get involved in starting or joining the company?
I joined as the first graduate recruit when the company started to grow. I am now the staff member with the longest tenure.
Tell us about your company structure: ownership, lead executives, and their roles.
PA is owned and led by a team of three individuals. Gary Livingstone is the company’s managing director. He has a strong engineering and commercialization focus. Paul Morris, PhD, is the Principal Development Engineer who oversees the software and systems team. I (Andrew Hurrell, PhD) serve as the Principal Research Physicist. I oversee the sensors and measurement teams.
Other key figures are David Bell, our Senior Research Physicist who is responsible for acoustic calibration and measurement, Adam Pounder, our production manager, and Tom Kelley, who takes charge of our transducer design and production.
In general, what is the current status of your company?
We are actively involved in manufacturing and supplying of a wide variety of ultrasonic measurement equipment, from single items like hydrophones, transducers, and radiation force balances, to complex integrated systems that are capable of full beam mapping and characterization. We also provide bespoke metrological solutions to a range of customers in the medical and non-destructive testing worlds.
Does PA make a treatment platform?
We don’t have a treatment platform; we supply the appropriate equipment to enable other companies to ensure safe operation and quality assurance (QA) of their products. We have a wide range of products, as described on our website.
For the focused ultrasound industry, our three most useful product categories are hydrophones, radiation force balances, and the systems that allow hydrophones to make automated measurements in water. Our UMS system is an automated scanning system that is designed to provide a cost-effective introduction to automated hydrophone measurement, including the acquisition, display, storage, and computation of two-dimensional data. We produce and sell a lot of transducers, and they came with a range of customization options.
Members of the PA team regularly participate in the International Standards Committee that regulates ultrasound. This enables PA to offer expertise in the development of standards, as well as providing measurement tools to ensure that those standards are being satisfied.
Does PA offer services to its customers?
We offer our customers several services, including training staff, testing devices, and developing short courses. We also provide technical consultancy to assist with the design, manufacture, and refinement of a wide range ultrasonic measurement equipment.
What are some of the technical challenges your group has to overcome?
Measurement technology is an ever-advancing world, so there are always challenges to be overcome in the provision of highly accurate, stable, and increasingly broad frequency bandwidth devices. Many focused ultrasound devices are designed with the specific intent of being destructive, and it should come as little surprise if they achieve that goal. One of the biggest issues we face is being able to develop measurement methods that permit the qualification and quantification of the ultrasonic field that is generated, whilst ensuring that the measurement apparatus survives the encounter.
What challenges do you have to tackle moving forward?
Many of our customers are working at the very edge of measurement technology. Some operate at either very high or very low frequency, others with very high, or very low acoustic pressures. We are therefore always having to find new and innovative ways to accommodate these needs. Sometimes there is no “correct” answer to a problem, and striking the best compromise requires a great deal of care and effort.
Tell us about your clinical studies and the results.
We regularly partner with academic or healthcare institutes/hospitals to support their clinical trial activity. Our role typically involves the provision of an apparatus that permits the in-situ monitoring of treatment, and we’ve won a national award for work with a large NHS Trust and University for the improved targeting of lithotripsy.
What are the benefits of your technology over companies?
In order to seek market approval, regulatory authorities around the world require medical equipment manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with the appropriate safety standards. It is our equipment that permits the measurements that enables compliance to be demonstrated.
Have you learned any lessons for watching the experience of the other companies?
Never stand still. Just when you think that you have cracked a particular problem, there is always at least one (and often several) new challenges coming into view. Keeping a very broad network of potential collaborators has also been invaluable. No single organization can have all the skills to solve every problem it faces, but if you have a wide range of others you can work with, solutions are much easier to achieve.
Do you partner with other companies?
Yes, companies and also academic institutions. We have been involved in multiple collaborative research activities involving both national and international partners. We also have two sister companies that provide mechanical and electro-mechanical components for our measurement equipment.
Are your components approved for commercial use? If so, how are they being used?
Due to the slightly uncommon nature of PA’s business, our products are used to allow others to gain approval for their own systems. Our products can be found the entire way through the measurement hierarchy. If we consider hydrophones, many National Measurement Institutions (NMIs) use our hydrophone to disseminate Primary Standards to a wider audience, such as external calibration laboratories or notified/regulatory bodies. These organizations, and industry laboratories, use our hydrophones to quantify the output of medical ultrasound devices in order to achieve market approval. Prior to that, these devices will have been designed and tested within R&D facilities that use our hydrophones to verify and validate their designs.
Which health conditions or diseases is technology be used for?
As above, none of our products are used directly for treatment of patients. However, our products are used in output quantifications in all aspects of medical ultrasound: diagnostic, lithotropsy, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), and physiotherapy.
Is there anything else we should know about your company?
We really are the best thing since sliced bread. And we have an online shop for our off-the-shelf products.