Sensing technology ‘could transform UK industry’

Sensing technology that assesses the quality of components used in sectors including aerospace could transform UK industry, its developers claim.


In a study published in Waves in Random and Complex Media, researchers from Bristol University said they have developed a formula that can inform the design boundaries for a given component’s geometry and material microstructure.

According to the team, there could be ‘significant commercial advantages in the manufacturing sector’ through the development of sensing technology and associated imaging algorithms to assess the safety and quality of additively manufactured metallic parts.

The University said the key breakthrough is the use of ultrasonic array sensors, which are effectively the same as those used in medical imaging. However, these new laser-based versions would not require the sensor to be in contact with the material.

In a statement, author Professor Anthony Mulholland, head of the School of Engineering Maths and Technology, said: “There is a potential sensing method using a laser based ultrasonic array and we are using mathematical modelling to inform the design of the equipment ahead of its in situ deployment.”

The team built a mathematical model that incorporated the physics of ultrasonic waves propagating through a layered metallic material, which considered the variability between each manufactured component. 


The mathematical formula is made up of the design parameters associated with the ultrasonic laser and the nature of the material. The output is a measure of how much information will be produced by the sensor to enable the mechanical integrity of the component to be assessed. The input parameters can then be varied to maximise this information content.

It is hoped their discovery will accelerate the design and deployment of this proposed solution to this manufacturing opportunity. 

Professor Mulholland said: “We can then work with our industry partners to produce a means of assessing the mechanical integrity of these safety critical components at the manufacturing stage. 

“This could then lead to radically new designs, quicker and more cost-effective production processes, and significant commercial and economic advantage to UK manufacturing.”

The team now plan to use the findings to help their experimental collaborators who are designing and building the laser based ultrasonic arrays.

These sensors will then be deployed in situ by robotic arms in a controlled additive manufacturing environment. They will maximise the information content in the data produced by the sensor and create bespoke imaging algorithms to generate tomographic images of the interior of components supplied by their industry partners. Destructive means will then be employed to assess the quality of the tomographic images produced.

Professor Mulholland said: “Opening up 3D printing in the manufacture of safety critical components, such as those found in the aerospace industry, would provide significant commercial advantage to UK industry. 

“The lack of a means of assessing the mechanical integrity of such components is the major blockage in taking this exciting opportunity forward. This study has built a mathematical model that simulates the use of a new laser-based sensor, that could provide the solution to this problem, and this study will accelerate the sensor’s design and deployment.”