4D CT Enabled By Software Versatility

A unique feature of Nikon Metrology’s Inspect-X software is that, along with its easy-to-use user interface, it also has a programmable interface. This provides the flexibility to develop bespoke CT solutions integrating third party analysis software and controlling external hardware. Researchers at the Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility at the UK’s University of Manchester have used this feature to implement 4D CT for laboratory experiments. Could this open new doors for industrial environments?

Parmesh Gajjar, a Research Associate at the Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility, has been discovering the possibilities of IPC and how it can be harnessed to perform temporal CT for scientific experiments on samples that change structure over time. Andrew Ramsey, a CT Consultant at Nikon Metrology, with extensive experience of developing special CT applications in industrial environments together with, Parmesh and colleagues have recently published the scientific paper ‘New software protocols for enabling laboratory based temporal CT’. In this article, Andrew and Parmesh offer an insight into how temporal CT can also be used to great effect in industrial environments. Nikon Metrology takes a look at how temporal CT can contribute to manufacturers, production plants and QA departments in achieving a digital, automated and connected production line – Industry 4.0.

The IPC (inter-process communication) programmable interface to Nikon’s X-ray control software allows the user to call individual functions in Inspect-X, from as low level as turning the X-rays on and off, to as high level as initiating a CT scan with previously stored acquisition parameters, automatically reconstructing a CT volume using stored settings, and running an automatic analysis using stored macros, while providing progress feedback throughout. The resulting IPC program can be used to implement novel acquisition techniques, increase productivity or create highly simplified user interfaces for previously cumbersome tasks.

CT is unique in allowing a non-destructive 3D examination of a material. However, there are many things that change over time. By collecting a series of measurements of the sample object at different times, we can observe changes in the additional dimension of time. This creates the powerful technique of ‘temporal CT’ that is four-dimensional in nature (3D + time), hence why it is also known as 4D CT.

IPC allows CT measurements to be collected automatically over a period of time, with the data reconstruction also fully automated. By scheduling scans to take place at intervals or at predetermined times, the growth or change of a specimen over time can be documented in 3D, with no further human interaction or intervention required.

Overcoming the restrictions of lab-based machines

Parmesh’s experiments highlight the wide flexibility of laboratory based CT systems, and how they can be adapted to achieve greater goals than the standard practices. Parmesh describes the programmable Nikon Metrology CT systems as a ‘gold mine’ for researchers and manufacturers alike, as it gives users the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

Although temporal CT acquisition could be performed manually by an operator using the system, IPC allows all of the processes to be fully automated, and integrated into larger industrial setups. The fully programmable interface of Nikon CT systems allows users to write their own software and tailor their system for their own specific challenges and projects.

What impact can 4D CT have in a manufacturing environment?

The impact temporal CT could have on the manufacturing industry and QA departments now and in the future is very significant. The principles of temporal CT, and the different methods of implementation can make an enormous difference in the industrial environment. The possibility of synchronized in-situ CT scanning opens the door to tests that could never before be achieved.

Andrew Ramsey explains “for aerospace and automotive industries, the introduction of temporal CT could prove to be a very beneficial tool. For automotive and aerospace OEMs, failure is not an option. Due to the demand of unwavering quality, components, assemblies and mechanisms are subjected to extensive and vigorous in-situ environment and condition tests. Introducing time-lapse CT to these tests is very beneficial. It is vital for components and assemblies in these industries to be built well enough with to withstand substantial and consistent usage over a prolonged period of time. To incorporate 4D CT into these tests gives manufacturers the ultimate inspection tool to obtain fast, accurate and insightful results of their products. Complete confidence in products is what manufacturers and customers demand, and this is what 4D CT enables.”

For smart factories, this technique could soon be the one-stop inspection solution of life-critical components, meeting the demands of Industry 4.0. QA departments often use CT to see inside components without slicing or destroying them. They also use various, in-situ simulations and tests of materials, components, parts and assemblies. However, the introduction of temporal CT can bring these two procedures together, to gain an unparalleled insight into the smallest details of critical components and parts under test with the tightest tolerances. 4D CT can show where, why, when and how a component has failed, providing a complete understanding, which is vital for product development, and priceless in terms of quality control. 4D CT introduces a whole new dimension of test results that can be scrutinized, taking quality control to the next level.

Consumers expect the utmost quality when investing in market leading brands and goods, and these tests guarantee that only the best items are produced. However, 4D CT excels and takes this to the next level, introducing a whole new aspect of testing and new heights for detail, accuracy and speed of in-situ testing. Manufacturers gain unparalleled insight into the conformity of every aspect, of every assembly or component.

The introduction of temporal CT is a very important revelation and soon, it will be an integral part of the manufacturing process. As manufacturers develop smart factories, in keeping with the demands of Industry 4.0, temporal CT will soon establish itself as a valuable quality assurance tool in production plants, worldwide.

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