Swansea University researchers have been awarded a $1.3 million EPSRC funding to virtually test newly manufactured components.
The process involves using 3D X-ray imaging technology to test newly produced components.
Rigorous testing is essential to make sure that components work as they should, especially in high-value manufacturing (HVM).
The researchers contend that this is particularly true when repairing or replacing a part that would in normal circumstances be difficult, impossible or very expensive to fulfill – like in a nuclear plant or on a satellite.
3D X-ray imaging creates image-based simulations. This has the potential to be used instead of physical experiments, to see if components meet the required standard – a development that researchers call ‘virtual qualification.’
The imaging system creates micro-accurate digital replicas of a component – which include any manufacturing flaws, and are then assessed to see how they perform.
The problem is that image-based modelling is still very time-consuming, as images need to be processed manually. This can take weeks for each component to be assessed and verified.
Now a team led by Dr Llion Evans of Swansea University’s College of Engineering are looking to automate the virtual qualification workflow, using new software tools. This would speed up the testing process considerably – what currently takes weeks could potentially be done in a matter of hours.
An additional benefit according to the researchers is that automated processing of the images reduces the risk of human error.
“Virtual qualification can be a big boost for manufacturing industry. But to make it worth companies’ while using it on their production lines, it has to be quick enough to work on the large scale they need,” asserts Evans.
The professor contends that automatic processing can give better data on how each individual part is performing, not just a simple pass or fail.
In the long term, it could be used across all sectors of high-value manufacturing – aerospace, automotive industry, and the energy generation sector, for example, opines Evans.
The Swansea-led project which will run for five years, involves experts from other organisations, including the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Airbus Defence and Space, Nikon Metrology, TWI, Synopsys and Diamond Light Source.
The team has further announced that it will begin testing its work on a batch of heat exchange components at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
Image credit and content: Swansea University