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Robotic Ultrasonic Inspection

Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) covers a range of techniques that assess the quality of a component without causing damage to the part.  NDT is used across industries such as aerospace, oil and gas, nuclear, power generation, medical, rail and general manufacturing, to name a few. It is a crucial aspect of quality control and ultimately health and safety. Ultrasonic testing uses high frequency sound to detect discontinuities, such as defects, in components or structures. Historically, parts with high curvature or intricate shape have been inspected manually, which can be time consuming and lead to inconsistent results.

Robotic ultrasonic inspection - see our video for a visualisation of the new system

Intacom

The Intacom programme is a series of projects based on the development of robotic inspection systems that is being led by TWI’s Advanced Non-destructive Testing Centre in Port Talbot, South Wales. The programme’s overall aim is to reduce the cost of inspection of complex geometry components for the aerospace industry. The first phases of the project delivered a prototype automated inspection cell using two 6-axis robot arms to inspect highly curved components in a fraction of the time usually taken by other automated NDT systems. It incorporated custom developed advanced ultrasonic testing technology to provide 3D imaging of parts that, in many cases, could not be inspected in any other way.

TWI’s Advanced Non-destructive Testing Centre in Port Talbot, South Wales.
TWI’s Advanced Non-destructive Testing Centre in Port Talbot, South Wales.

Latest phase of the project

The latest phase of the project incorporates a robot cell containing much larger robots and additional axes such as 14m tracks and a 4m turntable. The combined axes allow the robots to inspect large components such as car chassis, wing spar sections and aircraft engine casings. Each robot can work independently for pulse-echo inspections or in cooperation for through-transmission inspections. To couple the ultrasound to the component, water jets are used which removes the need for the robots to make contact with the part under test. Advanced path planning software is used to generate scan paths and check for collisions, using CAD models to simulate the real environment.

In order to maintain positional accuracy over such a large area, and to cope with variability in part shape and positioning within the cell, a combination of metrology systems is being developed. Laser line scanners are deployed to generate surface profiles of real parts where CAD data is not available (such as for legacy parts) or does not sufficiently match the final part shape. A photogrammetry system using eight waterproof cameras is used to monitor robot position and track movement, enabling any deviation from the intended paths to be identified and providing the option to make real time adjustments to the scan paths.

 

Advantages over conventional ultrasonic testing

The new robotic inspection facility offers a number of significant advantages over conventional ultrasonic testing:

  • 6 degrees of freedom probe movement to inspect complex geometry parts
  • Advanced ultrasonic imaging, visualised in a 3D environment and overlaid on CAD
  • Fast inspection speeds
  • Flexible and adaptable robot cell which can quickly be modified to inspect new parts
  • Off-line path planning for visualisation and collision avoidance
  • Repeatability of up to 0.1mm
  • Ability to use a number of ultrasonic probes, depending on the application

 

This project is part of an initiative known as the Advanced Engineering Materials Research Institute (AEMRI), which is funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) using European Regional Development Funds (ERDF).

This project is part of an initiative known as the Advanced Engineering Materials Research Institute (AEMRI), which is funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) using European Regional Development Funds (ERDF).
This project is part of an initiative known as the Advanced Engineering Materials Research Institute (AEMRI), which is funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) using European Regional Development Funds (ERDF).
Avatar Prof. Ian Cooper Technology Fellow - Advanced NDT

Ian is a Chartered Engineer with over 30 years’ experience in non-destructive testing (NDT). On joining TWI in 2005 as a principle project leader at the specialist NDT Centre in Port Talbot, he specialised in the NDT of composites. More recently his work has concentrated on advanced NDT methods and automated robotic inspection systems, and he was promoted to Technology Fellow in 2015. A recognised expert in the inspection of composites and other difficult materials, he leads the highly successful IntACOM programme, developing rapid automated inspection systems for composites and complex geometries. In 2016, he and his co-authors were awarded the John Grimwade Medal for a paper on this work. He is a Fellow of the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing and is widely published in NDT and aerospace journals. He is a Vice President of the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT) and is active and influential on a number of committees that guide the development, application, training and certification of NDT. In 2016, he was made an Honorary Professor of Practice at the University of Wales, Trinity St David. In 2019, Ian received the BINDT Ann Birt award for NDE research and development and technology strategy development.

Prior to joining TWI, Ian served for 27 years in the RAF as an aircraft engineer, initially responsible for weapons and assisted escape systems, he later moved to non-destructive testing, leading the area team responsible for operations in Europe. His final posting was to the NDT HQ, where he played a significant role in the development of area scanning systems for composites during the introduction to service of new aircraft, including Typhoon, and the adoption of emerging technologies for NDT across all three services.

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