An EU-funded project has developed a scanner for non-destructive testing of airplane parts, according to a European Commission statement on Wednesday.
Outperforming existing technologies such as X-ray imaging, ultrasound scanning and microwave sensors, the terahertz system detects small defects on and deep within composite materials, improving safety in the air and helping manufacturers and airline operators optimize maintenance and lower costs.
The Dotnac project, a consortium of EU-funded researchers and manufacturers from the aerospace industry, found that terahertz imaging seemed the best way to combine the benefits of existing systems while removing many of their drawbacks.
In the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz waves range from the far-infrared to the microwave region. They can penetrate most non-metallic materials without any contact, but pose no health risks to system operators. Their short wavelength helps to produce high-resolution images.
According to Dotnac coordinator Marijke Vandewal of Royal Military Academy in Belgium, "the terahertz systems produced very satisfactory results. Depending on the application, their performance was equal to or better than many of the conventional techniques."
Vandewal suggested that terahertz testing would focus maintenance on prevention rather than repair. "By detecting tiny weaknesses and defects early, the industry can plan maintenance or take measures to avoid deterioration," he said.
"Automated scanning in manufacturing and onsite testing on aircraft will also reduce production and maintenance times, helping to lower costs and increase the industry's global competitiveness," he added.