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| South Wales Branch
Robotic and advanced NDE

Colin MacFarlane reports

In keeping with tradition, the South Wales Branch was very pleased to welcome BINDT President Elect Ian Cooper for the first meeting of 2022, with a presentation titled: ‘Robotic and advanced NDE’. The presentation was held virtually due to the continuing pandemic and the regulations in Wales at the time, so we were unfortunately unable to enjoy the customary pre-presentation dinner with the President Elect.

The presentation began by posing the question: ‘Who the heck is Ian Cooper?’ In answering that, Ian explained that he has over 30 years’ experience in NDE. In addition, he is a BINDT Fellow, a Member of the Welding Institute, a Chartered Engineer and a Professor of Practice at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), as well as holding an MSc in NDE. He is also a past Chair of BINDT’s NDT Technical Committee and has served on numerous other BINDT committees, including Aerospace, Composites, Croxson (awards and recognition), Business Model Advisory Group (BMAG), Establishment Review Panel (ERP) and Finance. Currently, he is a Technology Fellow and NDE Group Strategy Manager with TWI in Port Talbot.

Moving on, Ian identified four challenges for NDE: additive manufacturing, composites, new welding technology and material degradation. The tools needed to address these challenges were given as:
  • Robotic and automated inspection in combination with NDE methods such as full matrix capture (FMC) and advanced ultrasonic inspection (AUT).
  • Condition monitoring and structural health monitoring.
  • Adaptive techniques that overcome issues of high temperatures, rough surfaces, etc.
  • Non-contact inspections to avoid handling, contamination, etc.
  • Advanced digital radiography.
  • Software and artificial intelligence (AI) to underpin and control the above systems.

In addition, with the adoption of Industry 4.0 and how it relates to automated NDE, Ian described TWI’s digital focus areas as:
  • Automation, including robotic, sensors, feedback and control.
  • Software development.
  • Big data: how to manage and analyse remotely, store securely and how to deal with legacy issues.
  • Modelling and simulation.
  • Connectivity, including cloud, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and networks such as 5G.

Next, the presentation highlighted a typical automated NDE system consisting of the physical aspects, such as the robot, sensors, manipulators and fixtures, etc, and the software and data handling. Ian described work being carried out at TWI on automated systems and initial research using a small robot cell to develop NDE software capable of interfacing with a six-axis robot. Then, Ian moved on to a new robotic cell, Intacom 2, created to accommodate larger items. This comprises two six-axis robots mounted on 10 m-long tracks with a 4 m-diameter turntable. The turntable provides a seventh axis, not only for scanning cylindrical parts, but also to present inspection surfaces in the best possible orientation for scanning. A short video showed the system in use, with a water-jet phased array ultrasonic transducer scanning firstly a large composite panel and then an aircraft engine fan blade. The customised software produces a 3D image of the inspection data, along with the typical A-scan and B-scan data. Ian noted that the next challenge was to be able to take this technology out of the robot cell and apply it to in-service inspection. He stated that to be able to do this, it is important to map positional information, possibly with the use of photogrammetry or laser systems. The presentation then described TWI’s solution, employing eight interconnected waterproof cameras that were initially mounted in the small robot cell. The cameras were able to track the movement of the transducer over six degrees of freedom in 3D space. From that, Ian described how the system was taken to a boat yard and successfully scanned the hull of a lifeboat for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Having had success with the above UT system, TWI looked at what other technology could be attached to the robots. TWI’s IntACoM 3 project began in August 2020, to expand the system to NDE methods such as thermography, laser/air-coupled UT and eddy current array. In addition, the project includes development of automated defect recognition using artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce the time required for data analysis. A further aspect of the project is work on the use of new-generation collaborative robots (cobots) designed to work safely with humans in close proximity and therefore negate the need for a safety cell. A short video showed an example of a cobot operating outside a cell, scanning a composite panel with through-transmission eddy currents. In what Ian described as an ‘evolution to the software’, the inspection data was being displayed as it was being acquired, thereby allowing real-time analysis. A further short video followed, demonstrating the phased array ultrasonic inspection of a large tie bolt end face using a cobot, operating in a scenario where the environment is hostile to humans. The system identified the tie bolt end, which was remotely confirmed by the operator, a die grinder prepared the inspection surface and then the inspection commenced. Again, the operator was able to review the inspection in real-time.

The presentation then highlighted the significant advantages of ultrasonic testing using full matrix capture (FMC) above standard phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT). The advantages include the ability to image the whole area of interest in one go. Also, the capability to combine and display the data from multiple inspection modes at the same time results in, among other things, a considerable improvement in detecting flaws that are normally considered to have an unfavourable orientation. Further to this, a ‘refraction algorithm’ can be used to correct/compensate for the effects of surface undulations.

Examples of NDE solutions for additive technologies followed, showing the inspection of welds in real time as they are being laid down. The first was acoustic emission monitoring of wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) and the real-time monitoring of welding during the manufacture of the tokamak vacuum vessel for the fusion reactor. From that, Ian noted that: “Computer technology (CT) is the ‘go-to’ technology at the moment for additive technology.” He explained how off-set CT, along with an algorithm, enables parts larger than the detectors to be successfully inspected.

Switching to BINDT, Ian noted that the two biggest recent issues have been Brexit and COVID-19. Brexit has resulted in PCN holders no longer being authorised to work on pressurised equipment (PE) for, or in, the EU market. The Institute has established an arrangement with WQiC in Ireland to provide the necessary authorisation. The additional cost of about £40 is being covered by BINDT for existing holders until renewal. With the reduced income resulting from Brexit, the actions put in place have been successful and have resulted in the Institute being in good financial health.

On a final note, Ian listed what he hopes to achieve as BINDT President:
  • To find ways of increasing the benefits of membership;
  • To build BINDT’s reputation and role as a leading light in NDE;
  • To explore new approaches to conferencing and events; and
  • To ensure diversity and inclusivity.

The South Wales Branch would like to express its gratitude to Ian Cooper for a very interesting and enjoyable presentation. In addition, special thanks also go to Karen Cambridge from BINDT for making all the necessary arrangements and facilitating the virtual meeting.