There are many applications in the industry that neutron imaging is well suited for. Neutrons can penetrate high density material in a way that X-rays cannot. Exploiting this property allows one to take neutron images of critical aerospace components such as turbine blades and various fuses. Neutrons can also be used to image biological specimens high in hydrogen content and archeological specimens that might be encapsulated in material that X-rays cannot penetrate. Neutron imaging is truly a unique modality that offers a new method in the NDT industry.
Opening in 2019, our state of the art neutron imaging center will be the first facility of its kind to offer commercial neutron imaging services by utilizing Phoenix high-intensity neutron technology.
Commercially, some of the largest users of neutron imaging facilities are manufacturers of aerospace components, namely fabricators of turbine blades. The turbine blades that are inspected are those that are formed around ceramic cores, which are later etched to remove the ceramic, leaving empty channels for active cooling. These parts are those in the hot section of jet engines, both military and commercial, and must survive in environments often above their melting temperature. Any blockage of the airways caused by residual ceramic can result in localized hot-spots and jeopardize the integrity of the critical part. Locating ceramic blockages is difficult with X-ray due to high density metal outer shell and low density of the ceramic residue. Neutron imaging provides a clear image of the internal structures and any residual material left behind from the manufacturing process, ensuring that safe and effective parts go into every airplane engine.
Additionally, thousands of energetic devices are manufactured every year and are used for highly-critical applications including:
- Separation of the canopy from an aircraft in the event of a falling military plane and the subsequent expulsion of the pilot from the vehicle
- Separation of rocket motor stages during space vehicle launch
- Frangible joint separation to deploy payloads into space such as satellites
Many of these energetic devices are also directionally formed. For this reason, small separations, gaps, bubbles, voids, cracks, and fill levels are viewed using neutron imaging to ensure proper construction of such devices. This is again an example where low-density, hydrogenous material is encapsulated inside high density shells where neutron imaging outperforms X-ray inspection.
Other appliations for neutron imaging include:
- Loading uniformity in munitions
- Presence/position of liquid inside dense metal or enclosure
- Internal structure in additive manufactured components
- Evidence of corrosion inside metal pipelines