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Ultrasonic analyzer named top new technology

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September 22, 1994 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — A new technology that may drastically reduce manufacturing time and save millions of dollars each year for machinery manufacturers was named one of the top 100 technological developments of 1994 by Research & Development magazine. The technology was developed for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Pacific Northwest Laboratory and the Saginaw Division of the General Motors Corp.

The 32nd annual R&D 100 Award competition honors the most promising new products, processes, materials or software developed throughout the world. Awards are based on the development's technical significance, uniqueness and usefulness. PNL staff have received 26 R&D 100 Awards since 1965.

The award-winning technology, an ultrasonic microstructural analyzer, estimates the hardness depth of heat-treated steel components in seconds by using a high-frequency ultrasonic wave without destroying the components. Hardness depth provides information on the strength and wear resistance of hardened steel components.

A steel component is submerged in a tank containing water and rotated. An ultrasonic sensor is positioned over the component and sound waves pass through it. Numerous small waves are reflected back toward the sensor as the main wave passes through crystalline structures within the steel.

The crystalline structures within the hardened layer reflect low amplitudes, and the softer underlying material reflect high amplitudes. The amplitude change is detected by the sensor, and an estimate of the hardness depth of the steel component is calculated from calibration data.

Originally, this technology was developed for potential use in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to identify the metal structure of missiles. Current applications for the UMA are in the automotive industry, agriculture, mining, machine tooling, engine manufacturing and for any machinery that uses hardened steel components. For example, the UMA could be used to analyze steel parts on helicopter transmissions or sewing machines.

The UMA is of special interest to the automotive industry because it makes measurements without any surface preparation and monitors the hardening process of steel components in seconds as opposed to current destructive testing that can take up to 30 minutes.

Currently, the automotive industry is evaluating the UMA as a replacement to costly and time-consuming destructive tests. In May, a UMA unit was installed at GM's Saginaw Division of the automotive components group worldwide to validate case-hardened parts which are supplied to automotive customers around the world. The Saginaw Division is the world's largest supplier of high-quality steering and drive line products.

PNL researchers believe the UMA may reduce manufacturing costs in the automotive industry by tens of millions of dollars each year because of improved manufacturing consistency. This also may lead to better designs -- decreasing the size of steel components. Long-term energy savings are expected to result from a 10 percent mass reduction of hardened steel used in automotive components.

Developers also believe the UMA will play a significant role as the automotive industry uses more metal matrix composites to lighten automotive vehicles. The UMA has the potential to analyze particle distribution in metal matrix composites, and proposed modifications may enable it to determine metal grain size and detect microcracks in ball bearings. The award-winning technology is available for licensing to businesses.

Morris S. Good, James R. Skorpik and George J. Schuster, all PNL researchers, and Dennis D. Rogers, Saginaw Division, will be honored in September by R&D magazine for their work on the UMA.

Tags: Energy

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