Large CT scanner able to inspect aircraft wings

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Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS have developed a huge CT scanner that can inspect objects several metres in size. The device can carry out non-destructive materials testing on things like cars, airplane wings and shipping containers.

Some of the potential uses for this technology include bringing prototypes of new cars into alignment with design data, or spotting material failures such as minuscule cracks in automotive or aircraft components. Security forces could use the giant scanner to detect explosives or other prohibited objects in shipping containers without having to open them.

The object is scanned on a giant turntable. An X-ray source moves up and down on one side of the object, and these movements are mirrored by a four-metre X-ray detector on the other. The readings are sent to a computer, which then generates a three-dimensional image.

‘We have never been able to carry out non-destructive materials testing on this scale before,’ says Professor Randolf Hanke, director of the Fraunhofer Development Centre X-ray Technology EZRT.

The system can currently achieve a resolution of 0.8mm allowing scientists to make out even the tiniest of details on objects that are several meters in size. Researchers hope soon to improve the resolution even further to 0.4mm.

The scanner has a portable counterpart around the size of a microwave oven, which the Fraunhofer scientists claim is the smallest portable CT scanner in the world. This system has a resolution of 0.02mm and can scan anything from small plastic parts to biological samples.

Professor Hanke and his team are working on a device that will be able to scan at a magnitude of less than 100nm. ‘We’ve now succeeded in customising an electron microscope in such a way that it is able to produce a nano X-ray source,’ he said.

The device could be used for scientific investigation at the nanoscale, such as analysing the way water is transported within wood fibres, for instance.

The clever part is that the electric charge carriers that generate the X-rays are conducted onto the side of a thin needle. The resulting X-rays emitted from the tip of this needle deliver a precise focal point 50nm in diameter for scanning nanoscale objects in clearly defined detail.

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