January 15, 2016

ORNL’s Thermal Cameras Snoop beneath Surfaces to Reveal Materials’ Secrets

ORNL’s Ralph Dinwiddie uses infrared cameras to create heat maps of working materials that
reveal their thermal properties and subsurface structure. This 1998 image of an aging aircraft’s
engine cowling revealed severe subsurface corrosion.
Image credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy; Ralph Dinwiddie

(January 15, 2016)  Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are pioneering the use of infrared cameras to image additive manufacturing processes in hopes of better understanding how processing conditions affect the strength, residual stresses and microstructure of 3D-printed parts. This is just the latest application to build upon decades of expertise in IR cameras that have added scientific understanding to promising technological developments. 

In 1995, DOE’s Continuous Fiber Ceramic Composite program, led by ORNL, bought a high-speed IR camera—one of the first available for purchase outside the military. ORNL researcher Ralph Dinwiddie used the new IR camera to help developers of tough, lightweight ceramic composites study how well these materials conducted heat and use the insight gained to optimize manufacturing processes.
Since then, ORNL has acquired at least 10 additional IR cameras for use in a spectrum of other projects. The cameras have mapped changing temperatures as heat flows through objects from gears to artwork.

“At first we just planned to use this camera to measure thermal diffusivity maps of composites,” Dinwiddie said of the 1995 purchase. “This would allow us to measure the constituent properties and to study how they changed due to the processing conditions.”

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