Public Release: 

Virtual testing of parts could replace physical tests

£1 million award for research on 3-D X-ray imaging

Swansea University

IMAGE

IMAGE: Virtual qualification captures geometries on the micro-scale, enabling bespoke modelling which accounts for minor imperfections that are usually disregarded, e.g. in this fusion energy heat exchange component. view more 

Credit: Llion Evans, Swansea University

Virtual testing of newly manufactured components, using 3D X-ray imaging, could be on the horizon, thanks to research led by Swansea University, which has just been awarded £1 million in funding. Virtual tests could provide a big boost to the manufacturing sector.

Rigorous testing is essential to make sure that components work as they should, especially in high-value manufacturing (HVM). This is particularly true when repairing or replacing a part would be difficult, impossible or very expensive, for example in a nuclear plant or a satellite.

Or a racing car: not knowing about a weakness in a £52 spark plug in his multi-million pound Ferrari arguably cost Sebastian Vettel the Formula 1 Championship.

Increasingly, 3D X-ray imaging is being used to create image-based simulations. This has the potential to be used instead of physical experiments, to see if components meet the required standard - a development known as "virtual qualification". Micro-accurate digital replicas of a component are created, which include any manufacturing flaws, and then assessed to see how they perform.

The problem is that image-based modelling is still very time-consuming, as images still need to be processed manually. This can take weeks for each component.

This is where the new research project comes in. Led by Dr Llion Evans of Swansea University's College of Engineering, the project will look at automating the virtual qualification workflow, using new software tools.

This would speed up the testing process considerably - what currently takes weeks could potentially be done in a matter of hours. As a result, it becomes more viable for the industrial sector to use the technique.

An additional benefit is that automated processing of the images reduces the risk of human error.

The £1 million funding for the five-year project comes from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Virtual qualification is seen as strategically vital to the UK manufacturing sector.

Dr Llion Evans of Swansea University College of Engineering, who is leading the project, explained:

"Virtual qualification can be a big boost for manufacturing industry. But to make it worth companies' while using it on their production lines, it has to be quick enough to work on the large scale they need.

At the moment, image-based modelling is very labour-intensive. Our aim is to reduce the time needed from weeks to hours.

As well as saving time, automatic processing can give better data on how each individual part is performing, not just a simple pass or fail.

In the long term, it could be used across all sectors of high-value manufacturing - aerospace, automotive industry, and the energy generation sector, for example."

The Swansea-led project will run for five years, involving experts from other organisations, including the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Airbus Defence and Space, Nikon Metrology, TWI, Synopsys and Diamond Light Source.

As a case study, the team will be testing out their work on a batch of heat exchange components at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Swansea University is a leading research centre in this field. It is the birthplace of finite element analysis, which is vital to this technique, thanks to the pioneering work of Professor Olek Zienkiewicz.

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Notes to editors:

The project is "Inline virtual qualification from 3D X-ray imaging for high-value manufacturing". It is led by Dr Llion Evans of the College of Engineering at Swansea University and has been awarded funding of £1,025,110 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Swansea University is a world-class, research-led, dual campus university. The University was established in 1920 and was the first campus university in the UK. It currently offers around 350 undergraduate courses and 350 postgraduate courses to circa 20,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The University's 46-acre Singleton Park Campus is located in beautiful parkland with views across Swansea Bay. The University's 65-acre science and innovation Bay Campus, which opened in September 2015, is located a few miles away on the eastern approach to the city. It has the distinction of having direct access to a beach and its own seafront promenade. Both campuses are close to the Gower Peninsula, the UK's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Swansea is ranked the top university in Wales and is currently The Times and The Sunday Times 'Welsh University of the Year' for 2017. It is also ranked within the top 350 best universities in the world in the Times Higher Education World University rankings.

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 showed the University has achieved its ambition to be a top 30 research University, soaring up the league table to 26th in the UK, with the 'biggest leap among research-intensive institutions' (Times Higher Education, December 2014) in the UK.

The University has ambitious expansion plans as it moves towards its centenary in 2020, as it continues to extend its global reach and realising its domestic and international ambitions.

Swansea University is a registered charity. No.1138342. Visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk.

For more information, please contact:

Kevin Sullivan, Swansea University Public Relations Office

Tel: 01792 513245 or email: k.g.sullivan@swansea.ac.uk

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