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High-performance products and manufacturing systems require accurate measurements for a wide range of parameters and in a wide range of production environments. Complex and efficient manufacturing systems often use processes operating in challenging or even hostile environments – at high temperatures, at very-high or very-low pressures or using rapidly-changing mechanical inputs, such as force, torque and pressure. These create corresponding challenges for the metrology infrastructure, not only requiring improved capabilities at NMIs but also practical solutions for the manufacturing plant.
Curiosity led exploration of space has driven the development of over 2000 technologies including integrated circuits, lightweight insulation and automated credit card transactions. However, overcoming this harsh environment requires state-of-the art technology which presents its own new measurement challenges. This is especially true for interplanetary travel where high vehicle fuel efficiency is required for the long distances involved, maximising mission payloads and the amount of science that can be performed.
Nanotechnology offers significant potential benefits in advanced industrial applications, from electronics to medicine. However, scaling-up nanoparticle production from batch to continuous processes was slowed by timeconsuming methods for measuring particle size. Faster methods would transform the pace of product development, but no suitable reference materials were available to calibrate some promising particle size measurement technologies.
Temperature sensors are commonly used to maintain optimal thermal conditions for high-value manufacturing processes, such as heat treatment of aircraft components. Unavoidable calibration drift reduces measurement accuracy over time, so conventional thermocouples require frequent replacement, which interrupts production and adds significant labour costs. Calibration systems used in laboratories could provide confidence and extended lifetimes but were too large to be integrated into industrial processes.
Modern high value goods often incorporate multiple layers of different types of materials, both organic and inorganic. This complexity can cause severe measurement issues during production where any defects that occur may be buried or hard to detect. Mass spectrometry has been identified as a promising technique for revealing and identifying such problems but has lacked the resolution and traceability to be employed in this manufacturing sector.
The biomedical, semiconductor and robotics industries need precision positioning techniques to underpin the development and production of high-performance products. Positioning systems are driven by linear drives, which control the position and orientation of surgical or manufacturing tools or measurement devices with extreme precision. Improvements to the size, speed and accuracy of linear drives will support the development of new and improved techniques in many diverse applications.
Photonics – the science of light – is one of the key enabling technologies for Europe and is used in applications as diverse as smartphones and astronomy. In 2012, the European photonics industry employed around 377,000 workers in a market worth over €65 bn. State-of-the-art measurement techniques which enable the development and manufacture of sophisticated optical components are needed to ensure Europe sustains its strong position in this rapidly growing market.
Antwerp has been a trading hub for the diamond industry for several centuries, and is regarded by many as the world’s diamond capital. In 2013, 84% of the world’s rough diamonds were traded in Antwerp, with a total value of $55 billion. The income and jobs generated make the sector of crucial importance to the Belgian economy; consequently, preserving Antwerp’s world-class reputation in the characterisation of cut diamonds is vital.
The colour or sparkly finish of cars effects how well they sell. Paint effects using metal or mica flakes that shimmer like stars in the sky are a new effect. Achieving a uniform finish over the entire car is a production challenge due to the variety of materials used. Manufacturers need reliable measurement methods to assess complex paint effects but currently these do not exist.
Finland is a major exporter of paper, with pulp and paper contributing €12 Billion to their economy. Paper manufacturers are continually striving to increase quality, and production efficiency, whilst reducing manufacturing costs. Ensuring paper quality meets production tolerances is key to maintaining competiveness. Finnish paper producers require improved measurement reliability to maintain this important national industry.
High pressure can be used to strengthen materials by changing their structure. These stronger materials have many applications, with one of the most important being in diesel injection engines, where stronger components are needed for more fuel efficient designs. However, until recently, the automotive sector couldn’t ensure the accuracy of the high pressure process delivering this strength.
Accurately measuring pressure shocks generated by contained explosions is challenging. European automotive, aerospace and defence industries rely on measuring these types of dynamic pressure changes in developing new products. New calibrations are needed to enable rapidly changing pressure extremes to be rigorously assessed to provide essential information to designers of new products.
Lost turbine performance forced outages and repairs cost the power industry 200 million euro per year. Harsh operating conditions, where high speed particles at elevated temperatures collide with gas turbine blades, creates wear that reduces turbine efficiency and hence electricity production. Developing more erosion resistant materials requires an improved understanding of the degradation process and better linking of material testing to in-service conditions.
Harsh operating conditions in gas fired power plants erode turbine blades, costing the power industry 200 million euro per year in downtime and lost efficiency. New coatings can reduce heat transfer from hot gases to cooled components and protect against erosion, improving turbine efficiency and helping plants meet EU CO2 emission directives. Developing and having confidence in new coatings relies on testing under in-service conditions, which are challenging to reproduce.
Vacuum chambers are an important tool during the manufacture of many high-tech and high-value products, such as semiconductors, photovoltaics and LED lighting. Fast, accurate pressure measurements play an important role in process control as product quality and process efficiency depend on how quickly and how consistently a vacuum can be applied. Improved vacuum measurements will support Europe’s precision manufacturing industries to develop more cost effective products and processes.
Temperature measurements above 1000 °C are difficult to make but essential for a wide range of industrial processes, many of which require close temperature control to be effective. Laser hardening at high temperatures is used to harden the surface of components used in the automotive, aerospace, power generation, construction and many other sectors, but it is hard to make reliable surface temperature measurements due to the challenging measurement conditions.
Almost half the steel produced in Europe is recycled from scrap materials. These materials come from a variety of sources, some of which may be radioactively contaminated, such as waste from industry, medical facilities and decommissioned nuclear power plants. Given the potential hazards posed by radiation exposure, improved measurement methods and standards are needed to assess the radioactivity of recycled steel and comply with EU regulations designed to protect Europe’s citizens.
Few instruments and sensors will survive inside a 2000 ºC furnace. Yet such high temperatures must be measured accurately, if we are to keep improving the materials which are manufactured at or submitted to such temperatures - materials which are key to industries like aerospace and energy. New methods are needed to provide reliable measurement of the extremely high temperatures which underpin vital industrial processes.