Non Destructive Evaluation (NDE) describes a suite of sensing, imaging and analysis techniques that are used to assess the quality of materials, components and structures. Typically, the information obtained from NDE is used to assess fitness for purpose, and hence ensure safe future use. This key technology area underpins the safe and sustainable future of a broad cross-section of UK industry including power generation, oil & gas, aerospace, defence and high value manufacturing. In particular NDE has had a huge impact on medical imaging, including on echocardiography, medical ultrasonography, and digital radiography.
Where NDE Can Be Found
At manufacture NDE is used to ensure the quality of raw products such as castings or sheet metal and elementary components such as bearing raceways or pipes. The value of these products is linked directly to the quality of the NDE and NDE technology. More complex finished components are also inspected at manufacture, for example, turbine blades in a commercial jet engine or the welds in primary pressure vessels in the nuclear power industry are required to pass rigorous inspections prior to operation. Here the emphasis is on ensuring safe and reliable operation as quickly as possible with NDE an in-line part of the manufacturing processes.
Through-life NDE is used to monitor many structures, either continuously or periodically, to ensure structural integrity: for example, commercial aircraft are inspected in detail every year of operation. Again, the key requirements are to ensure safety and reliability, but there are also strong economic drivers especially because of lost operation time, for example, unscheduled maintenance to a commercial aircraft costs between £15-40k per hour [Source: Airbus]. A Senior Engineer from Airbus commented “NDE represents a significant cost for Airbus…and doctoral level graduates are required, both to understand current processes and future developments”. Lost operation costs are even higher in the power generation sector: for example, every day a turbine in a power station is out of service costs c. £1M [Source: EDF Energy]. NDE is also used to extend the life of structures beyond their design-life.
The Future of NDE
There have been significant advances in NDE technology in recent years – including major contributions from the UK Research Centre in NDE and previous research engineers within the CDT. However radical new approaches to NDE will be needed to provide the inspection and quality control capabilities needed to meet the future ambitions of UK industry. These capabilities will range from the inspection and validation of complex new materials used in manufacture, eg aerospace and power applications, through to inspection in hazardous and remote locations such as for deep water oil exploration. This is the aim of the CDT in Future Innovations in NDE.