Powder metallurgy is used to manufacture solid metal parts from metal powders. The powders are compacted in a rigid toolset and then sintered or heated to bond the particles. The process produces high volumes of complex parts of near-net shape, meaning they are close to the final desired form and require minimal subsequent machining. The result is important savings in time, cost and materials' usage compared to conventional forming techniques. Currently, defects or flaws are detected only through end-of-line destructive testing of a small number of parts. Late detection of flaws puts the realisation of benefits — and the competitive position of numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — at risk. Further, implementation of defective parts in final products can pose significant safety hazards. With increasing implementation in industries such as aerospace requiring 100 % inspection of parts, new inspection technology is desperately needed. EU-funded scientists working on the project AUTOINSPECT developed an automated in situ digital radiographic NDT system. The low-cost solution enables real-time online inspection of both compacted and sintered parts. In addition, it is equally applicable to metal injection moulding (MIM), a version of powder metallurgy similar to plastic injection moulding. Field trials have proven the capabilities of the AUTOINSPECT prototype and demonstrated that the technology has achieved a technology-readiness level of 4 to 6. Based on the tests, the team estimates 9 to 18 months of further development to deliver a fully integrated system to customers. AUTOINSPECT technology for in situ NDT of powder metallurgy/MIM parts could increase the quality of numerous high-precision metal parts and the productivity and profitability of SMEs. Reducing material waste and product replacement costs will have further positive impact on the competitive position of EU manufacturers.
Automated inspection, sintered parts, non-destructive testing, metal parts, powder metallurgy