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Testing and Inspection Automation in Large-Scale Manufacturing

testing and inspection automation

As automation within the manufacturing of large-scale materials and equipment becomes more widespread, the need for inspection increases. Even the most high-tech and advanced manufacturing process can result in an occasional flaw or defect. Locating and fixing these flaws before the material is placed in service is crucial. 

Methods that can speed up inspection without sacrificing accuracy can reduce risk and improve a manufacturer’s bottom line. Non-destructive testing (NDT) in manufacturing allows for efficient testing without having to cease production operations. By also leveraging automation, NDT technicians can improve inspection processes in the manufacturing industry. Automation using NDT technologies—such as eddy current and ultrasonic—has helped reduce the time required to perform inspections and the physical stress that some technicians may experience with manual testing. 

Manual Non-Destructive Testing: From Manual to Semi-automated

Before the term “non-destructive testing” became prominent, inspectors often looked at objects to determine size, shape, and even the presence of surface imperfections visible to the naked eye and listened to the metal being shaped by a blacksmith or the tone of a bell after it was cast. These methods weren’t the most accurate. 

The introduction of manual NDT technology was an enormous step forward. Initial NDT involved giant, immobile machines. Through the decades, these evolved into devices that were portable and/or handheld. This made it easier to bring testing equipment into the factory and into the field. 

While it reduces human involvement and can lead to minimal human error, automation doesn’t completely remove the manual aspects of NDT and inspection. Technicians are still needed to calibrate and manipulate tools. Without proper calibration, a reading can be inaccurate.      

The Benefits of Inspection Automation

Oftentimes, manufacturers use a third party or custom engineering services to take specific NDT inspection equipment components and create an automated solution for enhanced performance. The automated process can be used along production lines or for routine servicing of large-scale infrastructures like pipelines and railways, for example. Automation can help to gather and analyze the data quickly across a very large area with more accuracy, allowing the technician to make an informed decision.

There are many advantages to leveraging automation in NDT, including:

  • Increased accuracy and reliability
  • Data repeatability
  • Improved flexibility and coverage
  • Improved speed

Automation in both eddy current and ultrasonic NDT techniques provides these advantages.  

Automated Ultrasonic NDT

Picture a vast airplane wing. Now picture thousands of them, at the airport or the end of the assembly line. Inspecting them manually can be a tedious, time-consuming process. But a highly flexible aerospace inspection scanner that runs on tracks makes it a much smoother, easier, and more accurate process. 

Automated ultrasonic testing benefits span wider than streamlining NDT inspection in the aerospace industry. Zetec’s TOPAZ family of instruments, for example, can be included in an automated inspection solution designed to perform in-service inspections of railroad tracks, covering thousands of miles while keeping the trains running on time.  

Automated Eddy Current NDT 

One of the primary benefits of automating eddy current technology is the ability to perform complex weld inspections, especially in the oil and gas industry. For example, at a major refinery, Zetec’s eddy current array technology was combined with laser-guided robotics to travel into large bullet tanks, inspecting welds as it crawls along. The ability to perform interior inspections without having to disassemble components or deal with extensive employee exposure can significantly reduce downtime and ensure safety.

Effective NDT Testing and Inspection Automation 

Almost every industry can benefit from testing and inspection automation. They rely on automation for: 

  • More efficient large-scale inspections
  • Less chance of user error
  • More accurate results
  • Lower total costs due to less downtime
  • Increased safety for employees and the end user 

For improved manufacturing processes, find an NDT equipment partner that offers automated eddy current and ultrasound testing solutions for your specific needs. 

Zetec is a leading provider of automated non-destructive testing solutions, specializing in automated ultrasound, eddy current, and mechanical systems solutions. For more information on our cutting-edge instrumentations and software, contact us today.