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Auburn University installs $1.5M digital X-ray CT system for inspecting 3D printed parts

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Auburn University in Alabama is now home to a $1.5 million digital X-ray CT system which will be used to inspect 3D printed parts. The state-of-the-art CT system, which is being used at the university’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, is a customized digital radiology unit by Pinnacle X-Ray Solutions that will be used with additive manufacturing systems developed by Auburn University researchers.

Auburn University is an important academic player in the additive world, largely because of its Center for Additive Manufacturing. Founded in 2015, the center has resulted in exciting partnerships for both the university and AM industry, including collaborations with NIST, NASA and ASTM International. Now, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded to the center, it now has a cutting edge digital CT system at its disposal.

Auburn University Pinnacle X-ray CT

According to Auburn University, the new system consists of a “customized digital radiology vault from Pinnacle X-Ray Solutions that accommodates additive manufacturing machines designed and built by Auburn researchers to fit within the X-ray vault.” The new equipment will enable engineers at the university to perform non-destructive analysis and testing of mission-critical metal components produced using AM.

The CT scanning technology will also provide the researchers with real-time process monitoring to better understand the additive manufacturing process. Ultimately, the technology is expected to give the researchers the tools to validate the internal dimensions of 3D printed parts as well as to assess the quality of the manufacturing process.

“It’s a real game-changer because while we’re building a component with additive, it’s difficult to monitor what’s happening,” explained Bart Prorok, a professor of materials engineering and the principal investigator in the NIST grant. “With this new system, we can take two-dimensional X-ray pictures of a metal structure for real-time process monitoring or a series of 2D images in 360 degrees of rotation that are then reconstructed into a 3D representation of the build.”

With its new AM inspection system installed, Auburn University will continue to advance its additive manufacturing research efforts with its various partners in the aerospace, defense and standards areas. One of the university’s key focus areas within the additive sphere is on the establishment of industry standards and processes in order to commercialize the use of AM for mission-critical components.

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