Distran is a technology start-up specializing in ultrasonic inspection solutions that was founded in 2013 as a spin-off of the Swiss Polytechnic School ETH based in Zurich. Distran developed the ultrasound camera, that allows to reduce industrial risks, decrease downtime of industrial installations and minimize environmental impact. Distran’s innovative solutions are currently in use in refineries and thermal power plants in France, Switzerland, Germany and the Middle East. Among Distran’s customers there are General Electric, Total, Air Liquide and RUAG.

The Distran team currently consists of 10 people and is growing continuously. For further development, Distran can also count on its two largest current investors, Energie 360°, the main energy supplier in Switzerland and the Zurich Cantonal Bank (ZKB).

A safe, real-time detection method

The detection of a gas leak is usually a complex issue in a refinery or thermal power plant. Invisible and usually odorless gas can escape for days before the leaks are detected. Searching for industrial leaks in suspicious areas with standard detectors can take up to several days, during which personnel are exposed to potentially dangerous emissions.

Distran ultrasound cameras are based on the well-known principle of acoustic cameras, whose ancestors were already in use in the 1930s to locate the enemy artillery. Thanks to its 128 inbuilt microphones, Distran ultrasound cameras can detect the emission of sounds produced by the leaks within a twenty-meter radius zone and an accuracy of less than a degree. As a result, Distran customers are able to limit contacts with toxic or explosive gases and save considerable inspection time.

After a brief initial training, every single operator can efficiently detect leaks through the “acoustic images” displayed in real-time on the other side of the camera sensor. The resulting image is overlapped with a standard optical image so that the user can easily locate malfunctions before the situation turns into a danger.

A contribution to environmental protection

Distran cameras not only prevent unplanned downtime and preserve the health and safety of the workers in industrial plants, they also reduce the environmental air pollution by providing a fast and practical detection means of leaks.

All gas emissions affect human beings in the short or medium term. Distran is in particular detecting leaks of greenhouse gases such as natural gas, known for its global warming potential (GWP), which is almost 25 times higher than CO2, and refrigerant gases, such as CFCs or HCFCs, whose GWP can reach 12400 times that of CO2. To provide greater safety to a larger range of customers, Distran is planning a new ATmosphere Explosive (ATEX) version of its cameras for companies dealing with explosive gases. At the same time Distran is constantly improving its current sensors with software updates. In 2018, Distran released an update that allows to estimate the flow of spotted leaks in real-time thanks to a patented method.

In its primary role in environmental defence, the Swiss start-up is supported by the Swiss Climate Foundation and the Federal Office for the Environment.