As an undergraduate student, I never thought I would get the incredible opportunity to become a summer intern at the GE Global Research Center, amongst such brilliant and tenacious individuals. I have been exposed to some of the most cutting edge research in the world, and I feel honored to be a part of General Electric’s endless mission to innovate.
I have worked on two completely different areas of research throughout the summer, immersing myself in the research of non-destructive evaluation, specifically infrared pulse thermography, as well as the area of additive manufacturing.
Infrared pulse thermography is a method used to detect defects, and depending on the particular specimen and circumstances, can be a fast and accurate method of evaluation. Infrared pulse thermography deals with flash lamps, which are used as a heat source, flashing extreme heat into a specimen and using an infrared camera to detect any temperature differences as the heat diffuses through the specimen. The thermal responses for a defected area of a specimen are different from an area without defect; the infrared camera is sensitive enough to detect such differences.
Each day, as I began experiments or analysis, I thought about the importance of my research — how it may make aircraft engines more resilient to error, benefit GE economically, and might save lives someday.
Quite frequently, as I caused the powerful flash lamps to diffuse heat into a Ceramic Matrix Composite material, a material that GE is ardently developing for use in jet engines, I would notice defects through infrared analysis. Under the non-destructive evaluation umbrella, there are various methods of determining defects, and the particular method depends on the situation/specimen, but I have come to learn that infrared pulse thermography is a brilliant technique. It is a fast, affordable and accurate method of evaluation – I could explain why, but I would not want to bore those who are not interested in the technical tidbits! I have to come to realize that this method of non-destructive evaluation is certainly a pivotal one.
Additive manufacturing pertains to a number of technologies used to construct 3D objects by adding layers of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, fiber, or even human tissue.
In the area of additive manufacturing, a colleague and I mainly have been working on making modifications to a 3D printer that will allow it to print high temperature material. A typical low cost 3D printer, such as a Makerbot, prints PLA plastic material at approximately 215 ºC. However, we have been interested in printing a plastic at approximately 350 ºC; the material that we want to print at this high temperature is polyetheretherketone, commonly called PEEK. This material is strong, rigid, and can maintain its properties at elevated temperatures. In other words, unlike plastic objects printed by Makerbots, or even extremely expensive and highly accurate printers such as Objets, things printed by the PEEK printer could be used in industrial applications that require strong, temperature resistant materials. GRC is a PEEK printing pioneer. Not too many business entities are researching efficient ways of 3D printing PEEK material.
Although my areas of research differ, my colleagues and I have been collaborating about how we could amalgamate the two. We have been postulating the possibility of implementing the technique of infrared pulse thermography into the process of 3D printing a specimen. If accomplished, objects would be evaluated for defects during the manufacturing process. Of course, real-time infrared pulse thermography evaluation would not be limited to 3D printing; it could be used for standard machining process as well. However, the quality of a 3D printed part is dependent on many factors, and analyzing the part for defects during the construction of the part could potentially save significant time, money, and even lives. Finding defects in the lab, rather than when the part is already in the field, is a better outcome.
The internship experience at GRC this summer has quite honestly been life-changing. I hope to continue to pursue my passion for groundbreaking research with brilliant people at a company that has an unquenchable thirst for providing innovative ideas, products, and services to the world.