Automating X-ray and neutron imaging applications with flexible automation
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This dissertation advances the capability of autonomous manipulation systems for non-destructive testing applications, specifically computed tomography and radiography. Non-destructive testing is the inspection of a part that does not affect its future usefulness. Radiography and tomography technologies are used to detect material faults inaccessible to direct observation. An industrial 7 degree-of-freedom manipulator has been installed in various x-ray and neutron imaging facilities, including the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, for imaging purposes. Inspection of numerous components manually is laborious and time consuming, and there is the risk of high radiation dose to the operator. As Low As Reasonably Achievable exposure can be significantly reduced by installing a robot in an x-ray or neutron imaging facility to perform part placement in the beam for radioactive parts and nuclear facilities. Automation has the additional potential benefit of improving part throughput by obviating the need for human personnel to move or exchange parts to be imaged and allowing for flexible orientation of the imaged object with respect to the x-ray or neutron beam. When the process is fully automated, it eliminates the need for a human to enter the beam area. The robot needs to meet certain performance requirements, including high repeatability, precision, stability, and accuracy. The robotic system must be able to precisely position and align parts, and parts need to be held still while the image is taken. Any movement of the specimen during exposure causes image blurring. Robotics and remote systems are an integral part of the ALARA approach to radiation safety. Robots increase the distance between workers and hazards and reduce time that workers must be exposed. Research performed aims to expand the role of automation at nuclear facilities by reducing the burden on human operators. The robot’s control system must manage collision detection, grasping, and motion planning to reduce the amount of time that an operator spends micro-managing such a system via tele-operation. The subject of this work includes modeling (in MCNP) and measuring flux, dose rates, and DPA rates of neutron imaging facilities to develop predictions of radiation flux, dose profiles, and radiation damage by examining neutron and gamma fields during operation. Dose and flux predictions provide users the means to simulate geometrical and material changes and additions to a facility, thus saving time, money, and energy in determining the optimal setup for the robotic system.