Due to be installed at the NCC this autumn, the new Composite Integrity and Verification Cell (CIVC) will use state-of-the-art ultrasonic testing techniques to quickly assess a wide range of composite structures, in a fast, repeatable and non-invasive way.
Designed and built by Aldershot-based Ultrasonic Sciences, the highly flexible system will initially deploy ultrasonic testing technology, but with the aim that other capabilities will be deployed on the platform over time. The NCC’s goal to incorporate multiple non-destructive testing (NDT) methods in one inspection cell, will enable customers from different industry sectors to test and validate the integrity of a vast range of composite parts.
The CIVC works by building up a map of the quality of a composite throughout a component using ultrasonic scanning. This detailed mapping is made possible by two robot arms, one mounted on a rail about 4m high and one mounted at floor level. Working together each robotic arm passes ultrasound waves via two jet streams of water pointing directly at each other either side of the component. These water jets carry the sound from the end of the robot to the surface of the component and the system then listens for defects. Whilst the linear scanning length is 10m, the software technology can double this by scanning two halves of a component and stitching the data together.
Tailored to the design specifications of the NCC, moving forward the CIVC will be able to accept other scanning technologies. Starting with ultrasound, the NCC team intend to add thermography and shearography capabilities with the goal to combine these data layers to create a 3D model of the scanned component. This digital capability will step-change the future of combined scanning for composites, overcoming current challenges of having to compare individual 2D scans to determine component quality.
The new robotic inspection cell forms part of the NCC’s iCAP Programme, a £36.7m investment in ten digital manufacturing technologies being installed at the centre to increase production rates and the quality of composites whilst improving efficiency and reducing cost.
Phil Slack, advanced technology programme manager iCAP, National Composites Centre said: “The unique ability of the NCC’s inspection cell to build up detailed scans of a component, overlaying multiple capabilities to validate integrity, marks a significant step forward in our ability to deliver Industry 4.0 technology and techniques. The CIVC will help build trust and confidence in UK composites and we will be able to support a range of industries from aerospace and automotive to construction, marine and renewable energy.”
Paul Hillman, sales manager, Ultrasonic Sciences said: “We are pleased to be working with the NCC in bringing USL’s advanced automated scanning technology to the centre. The system will offer the latest capabilities in automated ultrasonic testing and will come equipped with an array of tools and techniques to suit a wide range of components. With future addition to the machine of complementary technologies, the NCC will have a uniquely capable inspection platform with which to support industry challenges and lead the way in ‘inspection 4.0’.”