EPSRC Strategic Equipment - High Speed CT

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: WMG

Abstract

X-ray Computed Tomography (XCT) is a scanning technique that enables full 3D visualisation and interrogation of internal and external geometries. It has become popular within industry (particularly manufacturing) and academic research as it enables us to see more than ever before at a variety of length scales and is completely non-destructive. The time taken to obtain this wealth of data is prohibitive to a number of applications with a single scan taking tens of minutes, up to a few hours. The equipment outlined in this proposal will enable high-resolution scans in tens of seconds, and even faster with some fundamental research. This is a UK first that will generate a wealth of scientific advancement.

There have been a small countable number of "dynamic" experiments using lab based XCT scanners where a sample such as a novel material is sequentially loaded (e.g. compression) and scanned at each loading step. Here one can observe the changes in the material through time, identifying failure mechanisms, highlighting potential manufacturing improvements and aids in determining material properties. The reason for so few studies is that the number of scans required can lead to acquisition time of days. The substantial gain in speed with this equipment will reduce the total scan time to a matter of minutes with a continuously acquired dataset. The sample can then be evaluated at discrete points in time, and concentrate around the critical onset of failure observed. Scientific advancement in the development of new polymers, ceramics and metal alloys will be considerably accelerated with this unique characterisation capability.

Manufacturing applications are often limited to a few high-value components because of the time taken to scan. The significant step change in speed will allow for high-throughput scanning that is desirable within the manufacturing line. This is the first step in a major revolution that will require big data analytics powered by machine learning algorithms to deliver accept/reject decisions in a reasonable time scale. Together this will be a driver for change in achieving 100% inspection of large component batches, at high resolution and at relevant cycle times.

Planned Impact

The relatively slow scanning speed of easily accessible lab-based XCT systems vs synchrotrons creates major knowledge gaps across a number of fields, particularly in manufacturing, materials and energy storage. XCT has been used to understand the response to materials under sequential mechanical/ thermal/electrical stresses, but in the lab this takes numerous experiments over day(s). To become the world leader in energy storage development as outlined in the UK industrial strategy characterisation of products using these different applications of high-speed XCT methods is required - from understanding new chemistries, to performance and abuse testing of the final product. The proposed system will enable these competencies of which there is a strong demand both academically and industrially. There will be open dissemination of research outcomes to all academics, industrial leaders and policy makers to enable reaction to developments and for the public to understand the economic, social and environmental benefit created from these innovations.

Manufacturing makes a major contribution to the UK economy and global economy, with the UK currently being the world's ninth largest industrial nation. Manufacturing makes up to 10% of GVA, 45% of UK exports and directly employs 2.7M people (EEF 2018). It also represents 68% of business research and development (Annual Manufacturing Report, 2017, AMR). The research enabled by the proposed equipment will lead to the development of stronger and pioneering materials, a deeper understanding of energy storage and the critical evaluation of manufacturing processes. This new knowledge will be key for the emergence of innovative, disruptive technologies, business innovation and sustainable industries.

The Government's Industrial Strategy (January 2017) sets out a clear vision of the UK to "become the world's most innovative nation by 2030" which requires a transformation in the manufacturing sector. The surrounding investment in this research aims to develop new manufacturing processes to raise productivity and improve the cost competitiveness of UK suppliers. Assessment of the products created with these new processes and materials will be key, with full internal and external inspection only viable if inspection times begin to match cycle times. The high-speed XCT system is a step towards realising this capability, with research enabled contributing towards the aims of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund with respect to "Manufacturing and materials of the future" and "Faraday Battery Challenge". Further, a deeper characterisation of materials through dynamic loading experiments can inform design decisions to reduce cost and waste in the development of said components and assemblies. Another global trend identified by the Government as being important for shaping our rapidly changing future is artificial intelligence and big data analytics. This equipment will generate very large volumes of data supporting the development of smart solutions powered by machine learning algorithms.

The UK's underlying strengths in energy is a driver for the government ambition to be a global leader in battery technology. The green paper cites the huge importance to a range of new technologies, including the automotive sector and consumer electronics. The government has thus invested £65M in creating the Faraday Institute to meet this objective, of which WMG is a key partner in the consortia alongside UCL, Southampton, Cambridge, Imperial, Newcastle and Oxford. WMG is working with partners in Coventry to develop the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, the third element in the Faraday Battery Challenge. The addition of this new XCT scanner at WMG provides a unique methodology to observe and quantify chemical and physical changes in energy storage systems under different loading conditions.

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