Today is National Engineering Day [see ‘My Engineering Day’ on November 4th, 2021] whose purpose is to highlight to society how engineers improve lives. I would like to celebrate the success of two engineers who are amongst the seventy-two engineers elected to the fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering this year. Chris Waldon is leading the design and delivery of a prototype fusion energy plant, targeting 2040, and a path to the commercial viability of fusion. This is a hugely ambitious undertaking that has the potential to transform our energy supply. He is the first chief engineer to move the delivery date to within twenty years rather than pushing it further into the future. My other featured engineer is Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, a leading advocate of innovations in engineering education that focus on encouraging enterprising and socially-conscious approaches to designing and delivering engineering solutions. These are important developments because we urgently need a more holistic, sustainable and liberal engineering education that produces engineers equipped to tackle the complex challenges facing society. Of course I am biased having worked and published with both of them. However, I am not alone in my regard for them and will be joining other Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering at a dinner in London next week to celebrate their achievements.
Some years ago I wrote with great excitement about publishing a paper in Royal Society Open Science [see ‘Press release!‘ on November 15th, 2017]. This has become a routine event; however, the excitement returned earlier this month when we had a paper published in the Proceedings of Royal Society of London on ‘A thermal emissions-based real-time monitoring system for in situ detection of cracks’. The Proceedings were first published in February 1831 and this is only the second time in my career that my group has published a paper in them. The last time was ten years ago and was also about cracks: ‘Quantitative measurement of plastic strain field at a fatigue crack tip’. I have already described this earlier work in a post [see ‘Scattering electrons reveal dislocations in material structure’ on November 11th, 2020]. This was the first time that the size and shape of the plastic zone around a crack had been measured directly rather than inferred from other measurements. It required an expensive scanning electron microscope and a well-equipped laboratory. In contrast, the work in the paper published this month uses components that can be purchased for the price of a smart phone and assembled into a device not much larger than a smart phone. The device detects the changes in the temperature distribution over the surface of the metal caused by the propagation of a crack due to repeated loading of the metal. It is based on the principles of thermoelastic stress analysis [see ‘Counting photons to measure stress‘ on November 18th, 2015], which is a well-established measurement technique that usually requires expensive infra-red cameras. Our key innovation is to not aim for absolute measurement values, which allows us to ignore calibration requirements, and instead to look for changes in the temperature distribution on the metal surface by extracting feature vectors from the images [see ‘Recognising strain‘ on October 28th 2015]. Our approach lowers the cost of the equipment required by several orders of magnitude, achieves comparable or better resolution of crack growth (around 1 mm) and will function at lower loading frequencies than techniques based on classical thermoelastic stress analysis. Besides crack analysis, the common theme of the two papers is the innovative use of image processing to identify change, based on the fracture mechanics of crack propagation.
The research reported in this month’s paper was largely performed as part of the DIMES project about which I have written many posts.
The University of Liverpool was the coordinator of the DIMES project and the other partners were Empa, Dantec Dynamics GmbH and Strain Solutions Ltd. Airbus was the topic manager on behalf of the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking.
The DIMES project received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951.
The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
Amjad, K., Lambert, C.A., Middleton, C.A., Greene, R.J., Patterson, E.A., 2022, A thermal emissions-based real-time monitoring system for in situ detection of cracks, Proc. R. Soc. A., doi: 10.1098/rspa.2021.0796.
Yang, Y., Crimp, M., Tomlinson, R.A., Patterson, E.A., 2012, Quantitative measurement of plastic strain field at a fatigue crack tip, Proc. R. Soc. A., 468(2144):2399-2415.
Image: Figure 8 from Amjad et al, 2022, Proc. R. Soc. A., doi: 10.1098/rspa.2021.0796.
The path from a discovery to a successful innovation is often tortuous and many good ideas fall by the wayside. I have periodically reported on progress along the path for our novel technique for extracting feature vectors from maps of strain data [see ‘Recognizing strain‘ on October 28th, 2015] and its application to validating models of structures by comparing predicted and measured data [see ‘Million to one‘ on November 21st, 2018], and to tracking damage in composite materials [see ‘Spatio-temporal damage maps‘ on May 6th, 2020] as well as in metallic aircraft structures [see ‘Out of the valley of death into a hype cycle‘ on February 24th 2021]. As industrial case studies, we have deployed the technology for validation of predictions of structural behaviour of a prototype aircraft cockpit [see ‘The blind leading the blind‘ on May 27th, 2020] as part of the MOTIVATE project and for damage detection during a wing test as part of the DIMES project. As a result of the experience gained in these case studies, we recently published an enhanced version of our technique for extracting feature vectors that allows us to handle data from irregularly shaped objects or data sets with gaps in them [Christian et al, 2021]. Now, as part of the Smarter Testing project [see ‘Jigsaw puzzling without a picture‘ on October 27th, 2021] and in collaboration with Dassault Systemes, we have developed a web-based widget that implements the enhanced technique for extracting feature vectors and compares datasets from computational models and physical models. The THEON web-based widget is available together with a video demonstration of its use and a user manual. We supplied some exemplar datasets based on our work in structural mechanics as supplementary material associated with our publication; however, it is applicable across a wide range of fields including earth sciences, as we demonstrated in our recent work on El Niño events [see ‘From strain measurements to assessing El Niño events‘ on March 17th, 2021]. We feel that we have taken some significant steps along the innovation path which will lead to adoption of our technique by a wider community; but only time will tell whether this technology survives or falls by the wayside despite our efforts to keep it on track.
Christian WJR, Dvurecenska K, Amjad K, Pierce J, Przybyla C & Patterson EA, Real-time quantification of damage in structural materials during mechanical testing, Royal Society Open Science, 7:191407, 2020.
Christian WJ, Dean AD, Dvurecenska K, Middleton CA, Patterson EA. Comparing full-field data from structural components with complicated geometries. Royal Society open science. 8(9):210916, 2021
Dvurecenska K, Graham S, Patelli E & Patterson EA, A probabilistic metric for the validation of computational models, Royal Society Open Science, 5:1180687, 2018.
Middleton CA, Weihrauch M, Christian WJR, Greene RJ & Patterson EA, Detection and tracking of cracks based on thermoelastic stress analysis, R. Soc. Open Sci. 7:200823, 2020.
Wang W, Mottershead JE, Patki A, Patterson EA, Construction of shape features for the representation of full-field displacement/strain data, Applied Mechanics and Materials, 24-25:365-370, 2010.
The new academic year is well and truly underway. It was 2019 when we last welcomed students to campus in person for the start of the academic year. In my role as Dean, I have been touring lecture theatres trying to speak to and welcome students in all of our taught programmes in the School of Engineering. It is exciting to see packed lecture theatres full of students eager to listen and learn. For the first time in a decade, I am not teaching this year so that I can focus on other activities. I have mixed feelings about giving up teaching. I taught my first class thirty-six years ago in Mechanics of Solids. For the last eleven years I have been teaching Thermodynamics to first year students [see, for example ‘From nozzles and diffusers to stars and stripes‘ on March 30th, 2022]. So, teaching has been a substantial part of my working life and its absence will leave a large hole. I will miss the excitement of standing in front of a class of hundreds of students as well as the rewards of interacting with undergraduate students who are encountering and engaging with a new subject. One consequence of my change in focus is likely to be a decline in the frequency of blog posts featuring thermodynamics [you can read them all under ‘Thermodynamics’ in Categories], but perhaps that will be a relief to many readers.
Image: Painting by Sarah Evans owned by the author.