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There are many methods of nondestructive testing, such as ultrasonic testing, liquid penetrant testing, and visual inspection, that help engineers evaluate the properties of a material or object without dismantling or destroying it. One of the most insightful NDT tools is industrial CT, or computed tomography.

Phoenix offers comprehensive industrial CT imaging services, including both X-ray CT and neutron CT scanning.

What Is Industrial CT Scanning?

X-ray image of Honeywell circuit boards

Radiographic testing is one of several vital techniques for nondestructive evaluation. Radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation can penetrate materials that visible light cannot. You can then harness that radiation to create images of an object’s otherwise-hidden interior.

Two-dimensional radiographic images cannot always capture every detail of an object’s complex internal structure. When you take many two-dimensional images, at many different angles, though, you can layer them together to form a 3D image and gain an even greater understanding of the object’s internal structure. Computed tomography is an offshoot of radiography in which a beam of radiation such as X-rays, gamma rays, or neutron radiation is used to create a 3D image.

What Is Industrial CT Scanning Used For?

While the layperson is most acquainted with CT scans in the realm of medical imaging, in which a three-dimensional image of their body is created using multiple two-dimensional X-ray images, CT imaging also has many industrial applications. Manufacturers in many sectors rely on CT scanning services, including the aerospace, defense, automotive, and energy industry.

Applications of industrial CT scanning include:

  • Failure analysis

  • Quality assurance

  • Assembly analysis

  • Reverse engineering

  • Dimensional inspection

  • Metrology

  • Porosity analysis

CT imaging plays an important role in industrial NDT, especially in areas such as:

  • Weld testing

  • Concrete inspection

  • Rapid prototyping

  • Composite materials and polymers development

  • Explosives and munitions examination

CT scanning is often used for detecting voids, cracks, and defects, especially within cast metal and molded plastic components, without dismantling or damaging the components. It can also be used to reverse-engineer components without having to dismantle them, which may render them inoperable. Computed tomography is also utilized heavily in quality assurance to make sure that complex components have been assembled properly without having to take them apart, as well as in archaeology and paleontology to examine ancient artifacts and fossils.

Phoenix’s Industrial CT Scanning Capabilities and Facilities

The most commonly used and most well-known form of radiation used to inspect objects is X-ray. Neutron CT imaging, or computed tomography using neutron radiation instead of X-rays, is also very powerful, although seldom used, with only a few facilities boasting such capabilities.

At Phoenix, we have a first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art facility offering comprehensive radiographic non-destructive inspection services. The Phoenix Neutron Imaging Center (PNIC) provides comprehensive 2D and 3D industrial radiography, including film radiography and digital radiography.

At PNIC, Phoenix has the ability to provide a complete suite of CT imaging services.

By using revolutionary fusion neutron generators, PNIC can provide high-quality neutron images without the use of a nuclear fission reactor in addition to X-rays. Phoenix is one of the few NDT industry leaders working to fuse N-ray and X-ray radiographic data for more comprehensive materials testing results. With X-ray and neutron capabilities under the same roof, PNIC can offer comprehensive industrial CT inspection services. PNIC will begin accepting orders in early 2020.

Phoenix’s X-Ray System

Phoenix uses a North Star X5500 industrial 3D X-ray inspection system to perform both 2D X-ray imaging and 3D X-ray CT.

  • 450 kV X-ray energies
  • 360º rotation turntable
  • 3,000x geometric resolution
  • 500 nm maximum resolution
  • 6x field of view over normal
  • 1500 lb weight capacity
  • 32″ diameter x 48″ tall nominal part envelope
Bullets as seen through N-ray imaging Bullets as seen through X-ray imaging

X-Ray CT Scanning

X-ray is the most well-known radiography method, both for medical and industrial applications. If you’ve broken a bone, you’ve gotten an X-ray. Once a year (assuming you keep up with your dental checkups) you get X-rays taken of your teeth. X-rays can easily penetrate light material but struggle to pass through dense material, which is what allows you to see your bones inside your flesh on an X-ray image. Outside of the medical field, X-ray and gamma ray radiography are both widely used for weld inspection, cargo scanning, concrete inspection, and other areas of nondestructive radiographic testing.

X-ray CT imaging is the most well-known form of computed tomography. It has many advantages over two-dimensional X-ray imaging, especially for components that X-rays might normally struggle with clearly imaging.

For instance, a single two-dimension X-ray image of a component may not reveal much, of any, of its internal structure, depending on its composition. However, by imaging the component from many different angles, some of the resultant images that will be combined to form the 3D model may manage to capture more of the internal structure through gaps in the outer material, giving a clearer picture of the component’s internal structure.

X-ray image of a set of 50-caliber ammunition
X-ray image of an empty pistol
Advantages and Disadvantages of X-Ray CT Imaging

X-ray CT is a particularly useful method for reverse-engineering designs, since CT imaging results in a digital model of the object that can be navigated around in three dimensions. This comes with the trade-off that CT images take much longer to create, since many different X-rays must be taken and then spliced together using specialized software.

X-ray CT imaging can overcome many of the shortcomings of two-dimensional X-ray imaging, but at the end of the day, not even computed tomography can overcome all of the inherent physical properties and limitations of X-rays.

3D model created via neutron CT

Neutron Radiation (N-Ray) CT Scanning

Neutron radiography is similar to X-ray radiography. Both techniques use beams of radiation to create images of an object’s internal structure.

However, neutron radiation is very different from X-rays. X-rays are both forms of electromagnetic radiation, just like radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light. Neutron radiation, on the other hand, is comprised of neutrons: the neutral particles usually found inside the nucleus of an atom.

Unlike X-rays, neutrons interact with matter in such a way that they pass easily through many dense materials such as lead and other heavy metals, while struggling to pass through comparatively light materials such as plastic and even water. This makes neutron imaging, or N-ray, in many ways the polar opposite of X-ray imaging. N-ray is often used to inspect materials which are not conducive to X-ray imaging, such as aircraft turbine blades, munitions, and energetic devices.

The same principles behind X-ray CT imaging apply to neutron CT imaging. Multiple two-dimensional N-ray images are taken from multiple angles, then stitched together using software to create an image that can be explored in three dimensions.

In some cases, a single two-dimensional neutron image can provide just as much detail of an object’s inner structure as an entire 3D model produced by X-ray computed tomography. A 3D neutron image shows even more detail which can be especially useful for assembly analysis, reverse engineering, and other use cases.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Neutron CT Imaging

Like X-ray CT images, neutron CT images take longer to create. Neutron CT is also seldom-used compared to X-ray imaging due to accessibility issues that have plagued N-ray in the past.

Just as neutrons offer some inherent advantages over X-rays for certain use cases, neutron CT imaging offers similar advantages over X-ray tomography. Neutron CT is best suited for mapping the structures of complex devices, composite materials, and additively-manufactured components which resist traditional X-ray imaging due to their compositions.

Neutron CT imaging has largely been used for research and as proof-of-concepts purposes, not for commercial purposes, due to the inherent issues surrounding neutron sources. Since the development of neutron radiography as an industrial tool in the 1950s, the singular issue holding back the technique from large-scale adoption was the lack of a convenient neutron source.

Prior to the development of Phoenix’s high-yield neutron generators, only facilities with special nuclear fission reactors or spallation sources could perform neutron radiography such as fast neutron imaging, thermal neutron imaging, and neutron CT imaging. The number of reactor facilities providing neutron imaging has decreased over the decades, though, which makes neutron-based inspection methods difficult to access on top of regulatory and logistical burdens associated with the commercial use of non-power-generating research reactors.

To make neutron imaging techniques such as neutron CT scanning more usable among NDT professionals, an alternative source of neutron radiation must be used to nuclear reactors. Phoenix is the first neutron imaging vendor to have designed a non-reactor neutron source powerful enough to produce neutron images in a timely fashion, bringing neutron CT into the realm of feasibility at last.

Want to learn more?

Phoenix’s mission is to use powerful, safe nuclear technology to better our world. Our advancements in compact, high-yield neutron sources make us a leader in the field of neutron-based nondestructive inspection, including fast and thermal neutron imaging as well as neutron tomography.

Please contact us or reach out to one of our applications specialists to find out more about how Phoenix can help you meet your needs for N-ray and X-ray CT imaging service.

PNIC exterior

PNIC, the world’s first reactor-free one-stop location for X-ray and N-ray imaging services, will begin accepting orders in early 2020. To be notified as soon as PNIC begins accepting orders, sign up for our monthly neutron imaging newsletter: