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CT Data Analysis Enhances Aerospace Digital Collaboration

Julian Goelz
By Julian Goelz Global Key Account Manager, Volume Graphics

Computed tomography (CT) scan data analysis is already widely used in aerospace production. This advanced software methodology is present at the final inspection of everything from critical engine turbine blades to foam structures inside cabin environments. It plays a large role in non-destructive testing as the only technology well suited for exploring interior spaces for defects and even post-assembly, real-world tolerances between parts. Its broader value, however, is its insight (and quantification) into otherwise impossible-to-measure material conditions related to manufacturing outcomes—and the design and process reasons for those outcomes.

Advanced CT-data analysis software can help trace failures and performance shortcomings back to their design roots. It can often provide the only explanation into process variations that lead to wavering results in end quality. With these extensive capabilities come the advantage of reduced total costs in product development. R&D times can be slashed, material, labor, and overhead costs reduced by eliminating errors, throughput is increased, and customer satisfaction improved based on consistent and high product functionality.

How is CT analysis being used? It’s deployed in manual reviews of routine, known defect patterns that can be quickly identified and addressed. In fully automated in-line and at-line inspections, part geometry is checked, ranging from simple measurements to geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), and the material is analyzed. This can be for porosity, inclusions, fiber orientation, delamination, plus a combination of both fields, for example, in testing for residual wall thickness. This is an excellent way to consistently compare the CAD model against the as-manufactured part for GD&T and assembly fit. Also, the software can work with CAD, STL, simulation meshes, and point clouds. Lastly, there is full end-to-end automated analysis that allows for design and simulation feedback, manufacturing process review, and final part inspection. This is where substantial economies can be realized in total costs.

Casting and injection molding are broad, conventional areas for CT analysis. Additive manufacturing (AM) is the next frontier, be it laser-powder-bed fusion, metal binder jetting (MBJ), or other approaches. The challenge for AM is to produce breakthrough functionality in parts. Yet, these can be more sensitive to defects due to the newness of the metallurgical process and the opportunity to create thin-wall passageways and unusual, high-stress, single-part geometries.

As is also the case with traditional processes, CT analysis can look deeply into every stage of AM manufacture (from powder size to heat treating to CNC) to provide root-cause analysis. For MBJ, CT scanning has, in one instance, revealed a tendency for segregation of fine powder particles in the bottom layers of a print, leading to higher porosity. Root-cause investigations can then use CT to focus on original powder sizes in combination with layering methods and binder mixes.

All this is done in a purely digital environment where information can be looped back to interdisciplinary teams for 3D design, simulation, quality, and material and manufacturing engineering. Such collaboration is possible from the use of CT data. The scan provides a digital thread rich in information about the status of design and manufacturing processes. It can inform the digital simulation twin, process twin, or quality twin.

With AM, companies can perform virtual metrology ahead of the print to anticipate wall thicknesses, warpage, and the need for supports. Post-build analysis informs fatigue studies and guides print settings—validating models and build parameters—reducing many print iterations to as few as one. With automation and machine learning, CT analysis offers aerospace a powerful toolset for quality, collaboration, and savings.

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