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UK’s first laser vibrometry test facility opening in early 2014

29 Oct 2013

ASDEC, a partnership between the University of Leicester and Polytec, to offer new robot-mounted R&D facilities for automotive and engineering systems designers.

When it opens in May 2014, the Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre (ASDEC), a joint project between the University of Leicester and Polytec UK, will be the UK’s first commercially available 3D non-contact laser vibration scanning measurement and modal-analysis research centre. It has been developed specifically to service the automotive, aerospace and space sectors.

ASDEC will be the only such facility in the UK providing 3D full-field scanning measurement services and the only one in Europe to provide modal analysis, modeling and certification services. This capability will be provided by the range and spatial resolution of Polytec’s laser Doppler systems, enabling automatic 3D scans of structures at the Centre as well as vibration field scans at end-user sites.

This high-tech, non-contact technology enables diagnostics and large-area dynamic measurements to be performed in hours compared with the longer turn-around times of traditional multi-channel accelerometery (typically measured in terms of days, weeks or even months). Even more exciting will be the ability to measure complex structures, traditionally difficult or impossible to measure by surface-mounted transducers, to inform product development.

ASDEC is a University of Leicester-led project in partnership with Polytec UK, and is initially funded by a £1 million grant from the UK Government’s Regional Growth Fund and by an ERDF structured grant to support Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) engagement. When fully operational, ASDEC is expected to create at least 15 direct and 27 indirect sustainable jobs in the UK. The location of the ASDEC facility is the Technology Park of MIRA (formerly the Motor Industry Research Association), an automotive consultancy company headquartered in Nuneaton, close to Leicester.

Refining products

The advanced vibration measurement and analysis cuts the time required for new product development, testing, analysis and, ultimately, time to market. For product development, this approach also allows an enhanced upfront pre-test diagnostics, improved Mac address comparison data, early product de-risking, and reduced development time and costs. The ASDEC facility will also act as a “catalyst and an entry point” for businesses to access the resources of the University of Leicester and its broad range of additional services, expertise, R&D, facilities, and technologies.

Aldo Rona, academic technical lead of the ASDEC project, told optics.org, “ASDEC represents a strategic investment for the University of Leicester, enabling the university to effectively collaborate with industry through research and development that is highly responsive from a research intensive trusted university.”

Joe Armstrong, sales manager of Polytec, said, “We are pleased that the University of Leicester is the first group to make available a robot-mounted laser vibrometer in the UK. This resource will help innovative companies to access large area structural dynamic measurements with high resolution and accuracy for improved finite-element analysis validation. For example, it can fully measure and characterize a full body in white for an automotive supplier.”

In September 2013, ASDEC signed a £700,000 agreement with Polytec to purchase the 3D robot scanning laser vibrometer. Polytec has previously supplied a similar set-up to an academic-industrial-focused partnership project in Germany: a 3D laser vibration analyzer on a robot installed in Waldbronn, which is a similar project for the German automotive industry. Besides the laser itself, Polytec is also providing ASDEC with expertise and support. The project is associated with University of Leicester’s College of Science and Engineering, which includes the departments of engineering and physics and astronomy, and the Space Research Centre.

Rona added, “The main purpose of ASDEC is to work with industry to advance research and technical development. This will be achieved through a number of mechanisms, including testing and analysis, consultancy and contract research: all surplus income will be reinvested in the facilities and in research. There is no equivalent robot-mounted laser scanning vibrometer available elsewhere in the UK. Its key operational element is laser Doppler vibrometry enabling us to measure velocity rather than acceleration. Typically, other systems that are available use a “comparison” approach. Application areas are in: the design phase, prototype phase and, in the case of space-focused applications, one-off product runs. The Centre will employ a team of about eight people initially, building up to 15.”

Why laser scanning?

There are different modes of vibration: lateral, transverse, and half-wavelength modes. The optical arrangement in ASDEC means that it is possible to test the point of greatest vibration intensity with a detailed matrix of up to 512x512 points, from near DC to 1MHz frequency and with a sensitivity of up to 10 pico-meter/second. With the robot mounting acting as an intelligent positioning device, optimal measurements for even the most complex surface arrangement can be achieved.

Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Director of ASDEC, explained why automotive companies tend not to operate their own laser vibrometry facilities: “Generally, companies only need to use such a system from time to time so it is not cost-effective to invest in a dedicated 3D robot scanning vibrometer system full-time. The entry cost for the technology is at least £0.75m in hardware.

“So Leicester’s ASDEC system breaks the mould because it is rentable and it can be on wet lease (with the Leicester team operating it) or dry lease when the manufacturer brings in its own analysis team. ASDEC also offers a design support service for clients. For example, large companies probably won’t want the wet-lease package because they already have such experts on their staff but we expect they would want other parts of the service – such as access to the specialist equipment, collaborative research, and Continuous Professional Development training.”

ASDEC Q&A

optics.org posed a number of questions to Aldo Rona about the combined industrial, commercial, and academic potential of ASDEC.

A university teaching facility? Undergraduate teaching is not planned to be a feature of the ASDEC offer initially but the Centre will be used for academic research, Continuous Professional Development, and post-graduate training (MSc, PhD).

Projects booked? A leading multi-national electrical systems manufacturer has already said that it wants to use the facility for the development of certain machinery, in conjunction with Prof. Hainsworth.

Who manages the vibrometry system? The activities are coordinated by the director of ASDEC. Up to the collection of the data, such information is effectively contained within Polytec’s system and we at Leicester will work with them to improve the data gathering part of the job, encompassing measurement, auto-focusing, intelligent scanning, and so on. Leicester’s expertise will be in the post-processing; sensitivity analysis, qualifying the impact of the vibration assessment on the client’s design; assessing how good the existing design is and how we can improve it. Then our recommendations will be fed back to the client to help them refine their designs.

Environmental considerations? We have made over £700k of investment in the equipment. The test cell where the laser vibrometer will be housed is under construction. We want a high level of vibration isolation between the mounting platform where the test piece will sit and the effects of nearby roads / railways, thus eliminating external environmental factors.

Thermal management? We have also been looking at the issue of thermal management of the measurement environment because there is a significant response change depending on temperature. We have developed a uniform temperature management system to maintain the temperature within +/- 1degC. Also, our range of operating temperatures is quite generous: -40C to 40C. The laser has no problem in operating in either cold or hot conditions, as long as there is no condensation, so we can maintain a constant temperature during the test, achieved by the use of a heat exchanger.

Business plan? There is a strong vibrant market for vibration testing and analysis services, as evidenced by the letters of support we have received and market research, therefore we are confident that the business plan will be delivered if not exceeded - the robot can work 24/7. The cost model is competitively based on a per day / month / year lease basis”.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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