Innovation Fellowship

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Novel Non-destructive testing method: cheap, remote, simple and portable testing

Many engineering systems and especially those related to safety critical applications, require on-going testing using Non-Destructive Testing (NDT). For example, aircraft turbine blades can develop cracks over time and need regular testing: being able to identify when a blade might be at risk of failing without having to dismantle the engine and ground the aircraft would be of enormous benefit for both safety and cost reasons. However, current ultrasonic testing involves attaching a wired-transducer to the blade before any measurements can be made and this means dismantling the aircraft engine. Another example is testing in radioactive areas: containers with radioactive waste need to be tested regularly to ensure safety. In such hostile environments the testing needs to be remote and the testing component needs to be able to withstand the radiation and/or high temperature.

We have developed a new approach based on ultrasound which, for the first time, enables remote operation. Importantly, it is also inexpensive, simple to use and can be used in hostile environments. Existing methods have none of these advantages. The system is referred to as CHOTs (Cheap Optical Transducers). A fully operational CHOTs NDT system comprises a “pulser”, analogous to the “pulser” in traditional contact ultrasonic NDT, but, instead of connecting to the transducer via a cable it connects to the CHOTs via two laser beams.

The CHOTs technology has been protected by a patent application and has been presented and discussed with various key players within the international NDT market space, including Olympus, GE and Physical Acoustic Corporation, all of whom liked the technology. Valuable feedback has been gained. What they want to see before they take a licence, is system portability and a 10-fold enhancement to sensitivity. We have already resolved the problem of increased sensitivity. The one remaining issue is the development of a portable prototype. Therefore, the objective of this proposal is to construct a self-contained portable device based on our existing lab system which can be used for on-site demonstration of the ease of use and utility of CHOTs to NDT businesses.

The Innovation Fellowship is funded by the East Midlands Development Agency.