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Automated Inspection for Aerospace via CT

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of the world’s aviation fleet was grounded at the peak meaning that fewer than 7,500 aircraft remained airborne. Some estimates state are that it will take a minimum of two-and-a-half years post the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic for the grounded75% to take to the skies once more. As the virus spread is controlled, aviation’s globally essential nature means that the  sector will continue its pre-COVID-19 growth, and realize a fleet of more than 35,000 by 2030. Passengers will again take vacations, the demand for freight will resume, and the number of aircraft produced for military and research purposes will scale back up. It is likely that the industry will still represent a decade of growth, despite a worldwide catastrophe.

Amidst Upheaval Arises Opportunity

As the initial impacts of the pandemic begin to subside, the aerospace industry will turn its attention towards the increased usage of next-generation technologies to increase efficiency amid the ‘new normal’.

One such technology is Inline Computed Tomography (CT): revolutionary scanning which will empower increased capability in the next generation of aviation manufacturing. We will likely see businesses investing in transformative high-end technologies, in readiness for subsequent decades and changing markets. It is, however, unlikely that there will be a one method fits all approach to post-pandemic recovery – with each organization being unique in terms of its revenue model, some will be less economically impacted than others. A snapshot analysis of aerospace, rocket manufacturers, and governments tell us that profits from frontrunners in these sectors are not always consumer-driven.

In the case of the rocket industry, a vast proportion of wealth is funded by private industry and billionaires. As for government sectors, whether it be rocket systems, munitions, or propellant equipment, we are noticing world governments upfronting large sums of money for their future development.

As aircraft production resumes, and as manufacturing escalates to meet an ever-growing demand, the ongoing need for automated inspection will again arise. Advanced CT that detects structural damage and manufacturing flaws across both internal and external aerospace components will help redefine the aircraft of our future. Advancements in Non Destructive Testing (NDT) mean that we are seeing unceasing developments in the tools used for Automated Defect Recognition (ADR) and high resolution imaging. These mechanics examine engineering complexities through the analysis of flight-critical mechanisms, enabling improvement and aeronautical safety.

Maturities in NDT equipment have addressed some of the most significant challenges faced by handlers of CT for aerospace – from scanning speed to image accuracy, and from labor intensity to operational efficiency. As users of revolutionary scanning equipment, we can feel confident that the technology of the last decade has evolved at a pace that has enabled automated CT to secure its place in the market, with consumers at its hub.

Where technological development is concerned, the fourth industrial revolution, more commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, teases the ‘consumer at its core’ approach for all scientific improvement. The tactic uses forward thinking innovations to combine conventional manufacturing and industrial platforms with state-of-the-art technology. This helps organizations and professionals to reformulate the design, engineering, and manufacturing of not just CT Imaging, but across a variety of products and services.

Industry 4.0 plays a critical role in fueling operational effectiveness and worldwide growth, with research from Accenture suggesting that the optimum fusion of technologies could save business giants up to $16 billion. It quickly becomes apparent that the advantages of automated inspection are vast, and the utilization of ADR-led, repeatable, dependable CT precision scanning, may well be the evolution catalyst for aerospace.

What is Automated Inspection for Aerospace via CT?

Put simply, automated inspection for aerospace is a process that eliminates manual activities from a user. Hardware and software work in harmony to automate the execution of an inspection. Together, they collect and analyze image data, determining whether the inspected product is good or bad, and, ultimately, whether it passes or fails the inspection.

An inspected product might be die-cast-made or produced using additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing for aerospace is an
innovative way of producing components – it could be considered as a transformative method of industrial engineering. It facilitates the instantaneous building of machine parts, comprising minute particles of internal detail. This makes it a high-class approach to component construction compared to that of traditional die-casting methods, which can force design limitations due to the pouring of hot metal and reliance on molds. It empowers consumers to design and build components with a high degree of internal complexity like never before.

What Challenges are Users of Automated CT Facing?

CT systems are complex, scientific instruments. CT imaging typically requires well educated, highly trained specialists to correctly operate,  maintain, modify and troubleshoot the machines.

One of the biggest challenges with automated CT today is the need to simplify the operation so that less specialist users can operate machines effectively for mechanical inspection.

Inline CT Inspection

Non-Destructive Testing at the speed of production remains one of the most significant blockages in 3D CT scanning today. This is mainly because CT analysis itself comprises sets of complex software algorithms that process large amounts of data collected by X-ray detectors. CT systems link directly to software that supports the need to inspect machine parts in real-time, at the same time as the production line is producing the machine part. This is often referred to as Inline CT.

This Inline production and inspection process means that critical components with complex material structures or internal geometries are inspected at the same rate they are being produced. No time-lag occurs, maximizing production and product sign-off efficiency. So, if a production line is making a part every 30 seconds, maximum efficiency would require an automated inspection to take place within that same 30 seconds. Further technologies that enhance both speed and function at that the development of automated inspection is, in some ways, still in its infancy.

What are the Likely Impacts and Benefits of Automated Inspection for Aerospace via CT?

Amid the industries that NDT serves, aerospace is likely the most stringent in terms of its quality requirements and stipulations of accuracy.

Automated CT Inspection

The automotive industry, uses NDT for inspecting operationally critical machine parts that include rotors and control arms, but the risk of automotive part failure is relatively small compared to a component failure on an airplane at 35,000 feet. There is a distinct set of requirements in the aerospace industry geared at improving quality and ensuring safety.

Many emerging businesses in the aerospace sector will adopt additive manufacturing as their primary tool for engineering design, and will subsequently need to carry out NDT via 3D CT for the inspection of manufactured parts. Employing 3D-CT systems will be critical to the reputational success of these startups, and will encourage them to account for costs, labor, and manufacturing accuracy. For leaders in aerospace and the commercial rocket sector such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Orbits, additive manufacturing has become second nature. They are regular designers of large-scale machine parts using additive manufacturing that, post-production, leverage 3D CT Inspection.

We have observed too, how long-established organizations that use traditional manufacturing, methods such as die-casting, are seeking improved diagnostics that support quality build and enhanced performance of their components. We have witnessed how the revelation of NDT through 3D CT urges manufacturers – pre-NDT scrutiny – to analyze components and build them more prudently at the outset.

How to Take Advantage of Automated Inspection

When looking at 3D CT performance, CT machine frameworks made of granite offer superior temperature and vibration stability, compared to that of metal structures. Metal fares well in a typical lab environment where the temperature is relatively controlled, and where there is no large-scale equipment that generates vibration. But 3D CT scans can take hours or days to run depending on the component that is being inspected, with extended machine-operating lengths causing temperature gradients or vibrational impacts during the acquisition that can affect data quality. Granite and steel are similar in price, and most vendors of 3D CT provide both.

As we look a little deeper into achieving the best possible performance, it is crucial to recognize that without automation, manual loading becomes the bottleneck of the inspection process. In some parts of the world, where labor is still relatively cheap, it is more financially viable to use manual labor over Artificial Intelligence (AI) – we have seen instances where some organizations choose to assign ten people to a problem instead of designating AI. Still, regardless of who or what fulfills this role, there will always be a requirement for machine-parts to be loaded and unloaded at a relatively high volume.

In time, 3D CT inspection for aerospace will operate with 2D inspection sophistication. However, to maximize opportunity for the continuous evolution of automated CT inspection and align the speed of CT scanning analysis with production rates, the industry must continue to see improvements in the sophistication of 3D automated software analysis technologies. These are supplemented with faster computing know how – advancements that will enable experts in 2D scanning equipment to move their solutions into the 3D arena.

The above is an extract from a white paper titled ‘Automated Inspection for Aerospace via CT’ The full paper can be downloaded.

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