UK team to develop rapid virtual testing technique for manufactured components

A team led by researchers at Swansea University in Wales has been awarded £1m of EPSRC funding to develop new virtual testing technique for manufactured components.

Increasingly in recent years, researchers have been investigating the use of so-called “virtual qualification” processes as an alternative to physical testing.

These processes typically use 3D X-ray imaging to create micro-accurate digital replicas of components – including any manufacturing flaws – which are then assessed to see how they perform.

virtual testing technique

Picture: micro-scale 3D imaging means that parts can be simulated to ultra-high accuracy, for example to a level which captures individual fibres in a composite material. To achieve this level of detail, over 19 million elements (tetrahedral building blocks) were used in this simulation. Engineering simulations typically only use hundreds of thousands of elements at most.

However, image-based modelling is very time-consuming, as images still need to be processed manually, and can take weeks for each component.

The Swansea-led project – which also involves the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Airbus Defence and Space, Nikon Metrology, TWI, Synopsys and Diamond Light Source – hopes to use new software tools to automate the process and speed it up, making it more viable for the industrial sector.

Dr Llion Evans of Swansea University College of Engineering, who is leading the project, said: “Virtual qualification can be a big boost for manufacturing industry. But to make it worth companies’ while using it on their production lines, it has to be quick enough to work on the large scale they need.”

Evans said that the group hopes to reduce the time needed from weeks to hours.

The project will run for five years, and the team will be testing out their work on a batch of heat exchange components at the UK Atomic Energy Authority.