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New Technology to Find Defects in Aging Aircraft Engines

UD Research Institute, Air Force Unveil New Technology to Find Defects in Aging Aircraft

The country's first automated ultrasonic inspection system designed to find defects in the engines of military aircraft is ready to take a flight of its own.

The first model of the federally funded Turbine Engine Sustainment Initiative system, designed and developed at the University of Dayton Research Institute, will be delivered to the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla., in January 2005.

The system could help save more than $750 million in taxpayer dollars by 2014 and bring new, high-technology commercial inspection services and system manufacturing business to the Dayton area.

“The partnership between UDRI, the Air Force Research Laboratory and industry worked successfully to develop new equipment capable of inspecting jet engine parts in a way that didn't exist before,” said Mickey McCabe, director of UDRI. “The lack of this kind of system resulted in significant costs to the Air Force as new parts were being purchased instead of re-using old parts after inspecting them for safety.”

The TESI system modifies a standard industrial robot to achieve high positional accuracy to inspect an engine component placed in a rotating 200-gallon water tank. The system automatically identifies the component, checks whether it’s centered through a digital camera, then picks up an ultrasonic probe that will allow it to find miniscule defects hidden inside the engine component metal.

According to David Stubbs, principal investigator of UDRI's TESI program, the technology works the same way as a sonogram does in the medical community.

“High-frequency sound is directed into the thick metal regions of the jet engine components and reflects off things in the test object that are different from the surrounding material,” Stubbs said. Other equipment records the reflected sound in the test object, and computer algorithms turn the signals into images that show where the defects are in the engine components.”

Congress allocated $19.3 million in fiscal years 2001-04 for the TESI program, and the Air Force awarded UDRI $15.4 million to conduct the research. U. S. Reps. Dave Hobson and Mike Turner from Ohio secured approximately $16 million of the federal funds.

UDRI’s TESI team consists of nine companies from six states. Five team members are located in the region: UDRI, General Dynamics AIS, U.S. Inspection Services, GE Aircraft Engines and Cincinnati Aerospace Consulting. One of the other team members, American Robot Corporation, located in Pennsylvania, has helped secure over $3 million in federal funding for the TESI program. UDRI has contracted almost 40 percent of its awarded funds to its team members. Many other local companies, such as machine shops, conference halls and computer parts supply houses, have been vendors for the program.

U.S. Inspection Services, with headquarters in Dayton, will install the new inspection equipment at its Dayton facility. General Dynamics AIS will manufacture the new inspection systems.

August 19, 2004

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