Image Credit @Frost & Sullivan
THE FUTURE OF NDT TESTING: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES AND TRENDS
The 21st century has led to the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR. This industrial transition has adopted the use of automation, optimization of processes, improved data management, communication, and connectivity between processes.
The need for human involvement is hence reduced and systems are encouraged to automate maintenance, monitoring, troubleshooting, and general operation using advanced software resources, sensors, embedded systems, the Internet of Things, Artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
The vast data obtained with the aid of the aforementioned resources in making manufacturing processes and factories ‘smart’ provide active control of the process and machinery and can predict potential failures and maintenance requirements.
The automated value chain mapping enables efficient production, operation, and flexibility in systems, which allows customization, and precision. Industry 4.0 also focuses on data transparency by collaborating the operational data of the enterprise with the factory floor analytics.
Non-destructive testing methods have become a focal point with respect to the advent of Industry 4.0. Improvement of existing technology involves the adoption of embedded systems, advanced sensors, cloud computing for ease of data storage and access, artificial intelligence used for improved analytics, error-free inference, coordinated process flow, and efficient troubleshooting.
Advanced techniques help with clearing the obstructions created by complicated non-destructive systems which require a deep understanding of the process, specific training, and significant experience on the operator’s parts. Automation and artificial intelligence generalize processes and analyses trends in the operation to gauge and estimate the most convenient plan of action.
The probability of human error caused due to manual positioning, assembly, and installation is also minimized or eliminated using modern sensors and hence streamlines workflows by reducing iterations required to obtain accurate and standardized readings as per industry standards.
Data interpretation is also streamlined and automated by using modern technologies, hence avoiding the chance of recording and evaluation errors. Procedural data is meticulously documented, hence the workflow and potential deviations from the standard procedure can be detected using these technical upgrades.
Automation and cloud storage provides organizational access to testing data and reduces the time consumed in data processing and communication across the organization. It also provides the option of data encryption for security, inspection of data post-analysis, and quick access to old test results.
ND HAZARDOUS ENVIRONMENTS HAZARDOUS ENVIRONMENTS is a reliable and rapidly growing industry that is beneficial to many industries, for testing a variety of materials and is viable for a variety of working environments, hence the field is subject to extensive research and development.
POTENTIAL USE OF NDTF NDT IN UNINHABITABLE AND HAZARDOUS ENVIRONMENTS
Non-destructive testing provides a myriad of techniques that are relatively simple to automate and integrate with robotic systems. These mobile mechanisms, with advanced movement patterns and sensors, can be used to access structures and machinery in treacherous and hazardous environments. These technologies save human involvement and risk to human life in dangerous situations while maintaining testing standards and ensuring the structural integrity of test subjects.
Non-Destructive testing techniques can be used in the following environments:
Chemically hazardous work environments: Extended exposure to chemicals in a workplace may cause workers long-term and fatal illnesses. Multiple industry standards are set in place regarding chemical exposure limitation, chemical safety protocols, and occupational gear for workers.
Robots and machinery are replaceable, unlike human life and safety, hence chemical-resistant robots can be used, in conjunction with Non-destructive testing apparatus.
Work environments with particulate pollution in the air: Particulate matter suspended in the air can be inhaled and ingested by workers, causing severe organ damage (including lungs, heart, and bones). Dust may include lead, cement, silica, wood, flour, mould, etc.
Robots, on the other hand, maybe fit with sensors (IP65) and be made dustproof and eliminating the need for human workers to be exposed to such hazards.
High-noise work environments: OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) laws and ISO 1999-1990 set strict standards for sound exposure limits for workers (a limit of 85dB for a period of 8 hours and a general upper limit of 140dB) to prevent long term damage to hearing.
Robots can provide remote access to such an environment, and testing can be conducted without causing harm to the operators. The operation of these robots can also be automated to eliminate the need for human presence.
High Altitude work environment: Architectural and civil engineering advancements have led to the construction of increasingly and alarmingly tall structures. These structures are exposed to strong winds and natural elements, which may cause damage and weakening of the structure. Testing such structures at the upper regions which may have low atmospheric oxygen is not feasible for human operators and can cause pulmonary edemas and altitude sickness.
Non-destructive testing robots can prevent these issues and the risk of high-altitude fall-related accidents while maintaining thorough monitoring of the integrity of the structure.
A work environment with exceeding temperatures: As per workplace regulations, standard habitable temperatures should be maintained in a workplace to prevent heat strokes among workers. However, if the temperature of the workplace exceeds 80°C, it is a matter of caution as it can cause excessive fatigue. At temperatures above 90°C, there are risks of heat strokes and organizations need to proceed with extreme caution while engaging workers in those regions.
Robots can be equipped with temperature-resistant suits that can operate in high-temperature regions. IP69K sensors and actuators are installed in such mechanisms to enable the heat and pressure resistance of the testing apparatus.
High radiation exposure environments: The Chernobyl nuclear reactor and the Fukushima nuclear reactor post accidents are some examples of heavy radiation zones that are inaccessible to humans without fatal radiation damage or long-term illnesses. These zones however needed to be accessed to curb damages and ensure safety. Robots such as the Joker were used in Chernobyl to replace humans for carrying out important clearing procedures, whereas the Fukushima plant also employed the use of robots for inspection of the radiation-affected zones.
The acceptable radiation dosage for a human being as per the World Health Organization is only 50mSv a year, however, the increase in the use of nuclear energy and nuclear power plants in modern-day technology demands that such heavy radiation zones be created. To ensure safety and stability, without risking human life, radiation-proof robots are employed with non-destructive testing apparatus to ensure the safety and smooth operation of such facilities.
Testing environments in deep water: Deepwater optical cables, petroleum industry rigs, ocean exploration, and nuclear power plants involve the presence of heavy machinery in deep water regions. The pressure in such regions is way above the permissible rate for professional divers.
Human inspection and maintenance are difficult in such setups, hence deep sea robots are utilized. These robots also possess a higher range of motion than humans and can be used for multiple testing procedures.
ROBOTICS IN NON-DESTRUCTIVE TESTING
The use of robots is beneficial for multiple Non-destructive testing procedures like that of radiography. The highly penetrative X-rays and gamma rays pose multiple challenges that may hinder the accuracy of results.
Non-destructive testing has enabled exponential advancement in X-ray systems by using automated X-ray systems that take lesser processing time and rotate around the test subject, which gives a comprehensive analysis and reduces human error.
The use of robots in NDT testing provides repeatability, conformity to testing standards, accessibility to various environments, test subjects of a variety of dimensions and geometry, higher speed of testing, improved data management, and impeccable accuracy.
The set-up time and uniformity of a testing process can be made consistent with the use of robots. Advanced robotic mechanisms called ‘smart’ robots enable independent testing procedures wherein the robot can be used to continuously monitor a system, structure, or process. Robots are not limited by work hours or labour laws and can hence be used for round-the-clock non-destructive testing and analysis.
The discovery and invention of new materials and composites create a need for new testing methodologies to ensure quality and integrity for manufacturing and service industries. Research and use of advanced sensors and embedded systems aid in the efficient analysis of such material so that advancement in its usage can be expedited and the benefits of these newer materials can be thoroughly utilized by newer technologies and structures.
The Terahertz (THz) is a new age non-destructive testing methodology used by NASA to test Space Shuttle tiles for corrosion. This non-destructive technique is no-contact and offers high-resolution results. This device operates between a frequency of 300GHz and 3THz. It can detect corrosion defects of a depth of approximately 0.13mm.
Shuttle tiles are non-conductive and undergo harsh extremities ranging from the vacuum in space to marine landings and can be subject to corrosion which is imperative to be detected and moderated. Terahertz is a heavily researched methodology that can help ensure space shuttle safety.
OIL AND GAS INDUSTRIES
The Total Focusing Method (TFM) is an advanced technique of Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing that aids in the detection of hydrogen damage in test materials. The testing apparatus is portable and provides high-resolution images, accurate readings, simplified characterization of data, greater test zone coverage, slope visualization, and reduction of the dead zone.
The Total focusing method uses the induced ultrasonic energy and divides the test zone into pixels, extracting time of flight diffraction and amplitude data from each pixel. The amplitude data is summated for N(receivers) x N(emitters). This data is extracted for every pixel in the zone, hence providing rich resultant data.
The Big Data industry highly benefits from non-destructive testing as the advancements in the field lead to larger data sets and create the need for better data management. Ready access to old testing records aids in calculating data trends and can increase the sensitivity of the non-destructive testing mechanism.
Companies that utilize High-Value Manufacturing methodologies, utilizing technical, skill and knowledge-based processes to generate significant value and maintain novelty in innovativeness require Non-destructive methodologies in their main capabilities. Some of those capabilities include:
Energy Generation Technologies
Sustainability and through-life design and manufacturing
Lightweight products, vehicle, and structure manufacturing
Processing of biotechnical, biological, and synthetic biology
Process capability in food, chemical, and pharmaceutical production
Small-scale design and manufacturing
Modelling of systems, simulation, and design
Automation, mechanization, and interfaces
Mechanical conversion for process optimization
Design, manufacture, and inference of products
Smart, Hybrid, and composite materials
Smart systems and embedded systems
Advanced coating parameters
Flexible Manufacturing Systems
Additive Manufacturing (SLA manufacturing or 3D printing)
NNS manufacturing (Near Net Shape)
Fragmented chain management to support high-value manufacturing.
Building new business models with flexible arrangements to create and support high-value manufacturing.
Developing and retaining skills to support high-value manufacturing.
Managing risk and resilience to support high-value manufacturing.
Advancements made in technology and their applications have led to headway into an exponential growth of accuracy and data efficiency requirements. The use of non-destructive testing methodologies alone is limited by the data resolution of the equipment or range and speed of testing, which creates the need for improvement in efficient application and operation in the industry.
The integration of advanced technology and better data management aids in fulfilling these rapidly growing industry needs. Combined application of such technologies has proven to be useful along with data integration using satellite remote testing and regular ground-based non-destructive testing methodologies.
Efficiency losses created by loss in productivity, human error, and accessibility issues have increased the demand for non-destructive technologies. A thorough analysis of the integrity of materials, structures, and products along with meticulous quality control is imperative and better forms of recording interpreted information and sharing of data within the organization and among personnel help with improving traceability.
New technologies like sensors, embedded systems, wireless connectivity, IoT, etc. help upgrade non-destructive testing methodologies and push these techniques into a new era of engineering and operational growth.
Improvement and workability is the goal of upgraded technologies and non-destructive testing is an ideal methodology for integration into the future of engineering.