Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council - 1422294 - The Design and Development of a Dry-Coupled Acoustic Wheel Probe For Automated NDE

  • Gillies, Adam (Principal Investigator)

Project: Research - Studentship

Project Details


The overall aim of the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) project is to design, develop and manufacture a range of novel non-destructive evaluation (NDE), dry-coupled acoustic wheel probes for integration with robotic platforms for Alba Ultrasonic Ltd. (Alba), in partnership with the University of Strathclyde. The EngD candidate will then use this product line to further develop Alba's current NDE market position. NDE equipment and services are used for a wide range of applications across a multitude of industries such as: manufacturing; nuclear and fossil fuel power generation; aerospace; oil and gas installations; and underwater pipe inspections; among others. NDE techniques can be used to detect and evaluate defects, material discontinuities, as well as providing other structurally important information, without adversely altering the specimen under test. Ideally inspections are carried out in-situ and while the plant under test is still operational. NDE equipment and services market growth and investment has been promoted by the cost implications and commercial challenges of investing in new infrastructure. NDE is increasingly utilised to extend asset operation life, determine asset running capacity and capability, reduce asset repair down-time and most importantly minimise any potential health and safety risks. The requirement for such inspection is increasing and in turn is driving novel and cost effective NDE inspections and ancillary equipment in order to meet industry need. The current NDE equipment market is highly saturated, resulting in challenges for Alba's successful entry into the NDE equipment supplier market. The reason is that the current business model adopted by Alba focuses on low volume, high quality, bespoke ultrasonic arrays, which suits Alba's primary underwater SONAR business. This model generally makes Alba more expensive than competitors providing off the shelf NDE ultrasonic arrays, opposing the trending market research on currently available equipment becoming less expensive. Therefore if Alba is to successfully break into the NDE market, the company must provide technology that is a step-change improvement on the current technology and/or capture part of the market of a new or emerging technology. A market that the candidate has identified as a niche market for Alba to exploit is in automation of NDE equipment. In particular, a range of novel transduction front-end devices for integration with autonomous robotic platforms - linking with the robotics/automation EPSRC funded research call. To meet the current need of the NDE industry while adhering to Alba's business model, the candidate will create a range of high value dry-coupled acoustic wheel probe devices to address NDE inspection of circumferential butt, and girth welds. The investigation will also focus on the integration of the wheel probe devices with different robotic platforms, such as small form factor mobile platforms and fixed arm robots. The design of such dry-coupled wheel probe devices will require investigations into probe design, acoustic materials suitable for dry-coupling, wheel probe mechanical design, acoustic damping materials and structures, high frequency piezoelectric 1-3 composite ultrasonic transducer array design (both shear and longitudinal probes), data visualisation, and both fixed-arm and mobile robotic platform system integration. The project will realise fully characterised array designs for integration with both fixed arm and mobile robotic platforms. This product will then be used to further development the NDE business within Alba by expanding the portfolio of acoustic solutions offered by Alba. The initial potential applications areas, which will be targeted, are: inspection of nuclear, and oil/gas installations and on-line grading systems.

Key findings

The project aimed to design and develop a novel front end ultrasonic phased array transducer capability of continual inspection across a stainless steel surface. The transducer was to allow the inspection of welds through the use of acoustic shear waves.

The research carried out in this grant has improved the manufacturing techniques and processes of the sponsor company through the development of a novel front end ultrasonic transducer.

The novel transducer design is capable of meeting the requirements set out in the research proposal; however limitations to the manufacturing and drive capabilities for the initial specification resulted in higher levels of risk that extended the project.

The final prototype requires a further design iteration before deployment into industry.
Effective start/end date1/10/1130/09/15


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