Pioneering project to harness ultrasonic imaging to revolutionise manufacturing processes

A £1.4m pioneering project examining how ultrasonic imaging can be delivered remotely aims to revolutionise the quality of manufacturing processes.

Professor Paul Wilcox from the Ultrasonics and Non-destructive Testing research group at the University of Bristol is a co-Investigator in the research team, which will be led by the University of Strathclyde. The project partners also include the University of Nottingham, BAE Systems, Sellafield Ltd, Hitachi and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

 Together, the researchers will examine how Laser Induced Phased Arrays (LIPAs), based on principles of laser ultrasonics, can be used to cut the imaging process in manufacturing from half an hour to under a second.

The three-year project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is aiming to develop a new capability for real-time, remote ultrasonic imaging that can be used for non-destructive evaluation in industry.

The remote arrays, made of light, can be applied in extreme environments, such as in process monitoring or inspection, and will be designed to pick up potential issues to enable the process to be stopped or modified if faults are detected. As well as controlling the manufacturing process itself, it could mean the material could be reworked or improved.

Project lead, Dr Theodosia Stratoudaki from Strathclyde’s Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering, said: “The long-term vision behind this project goes beyond inspection, to develop a method for monitoring and control of in-process parameters, in places of extreme environments such as fusion reactors or turbine engines.

“An array has more than one element inside, but up until now it’s had a fixed geometry – like when you are taking a medical scan, you have an instrument which you place and then take a scan.

“What we are proposing is to break that concept completely and instead of the fixed geometry of instrumentation, the array will actually build as it is scanning by taking feedback from whatever is it imaging, so it is being reconfigured according to what the image is inside.

“It saves time and data and by the end of the project we are aiming to have a system that will be able to take ultrasonic images in under a second without having any contact.”

The array could be used in places with extreme temperatures or restricted access such as the inside of a turbine engine, as light can reach through confined spaces. It could also be used in space, and other places where contamination is an issue or radioactive atmospheres.

Dr Stratoudaki added: “If you have a means of looking inside the material as it’s being made, then you can feed that information into the process and change it so that it makes what you want it to.

“An example is with additive manufacturing – metal 3D printing - which is making shapes. Making one larger component instead of several also prevents failures in the joins and reduces the possibility of defects, obviously of huge importance in sectors like aerospace, the nuclear industry and other safety critical applications.”


Main image: Remote ultrasonic arrays made of visible and invisible laser radiation are used to provide ultrasonic images of the interior of solids such a metal parts. Adaptive Laser Induced Phased Arrays are being configured as the array captures data, as seen in the photo, and adapt to the demands of the ultrasonic findings

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