Revolutionising industrial safety

Advancements in ultrasonic technology help businesses extend the service life of valuable assets


Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) is critical for the operation of machinery used by the world’s most safety-critical engineering sectors, such as nuclear power and aerospace. Ultrasonic array technology was first introduced to engineering for NDT via the medical sector.  However, as engineering objects are very different to the human body, this technique has limitations in terms of resolution and the size of defects that can be seen.

Solution and benefits

Professors Bruce Drinkwater and Paul Wilcox from the Department of Mechanical Engineering worked on this issue to develop a new generation of ultrasonic array technology for NDT. They focussed on a single, yet significant, advancement in array technology: Full Matrix Capture (FMC). This allows for superior imaging and the potential to permanently store inspection data.

By working as part of the Engineering Doctorate NDE Centre, Bristol has enabled the major-end users of NDT in the UK to be intimately involved throughout the further development of this new array technology. This included Rolls-Royce Aerospace who detect cracks in gas turbine blade roots in situ; this is critical for the efficient operation of aircraft fleets and blade failure can cost £5m per incident.

A special 2D array system using FMC and a modified algorithm was created through the doctoral work of a former Bristol EngD Research Engineer, now a Rolls-Royce employee, to support crack-detection. Prior to using arrays for blade root inspection, Rolls-Royce suffered about three blade failures per year; however, since the introduction of FMC and a new design of blade there have been none.

Read the revolutionising industrial safety case study.

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