Unsupervised machine learning for flaw detection in automated ultrasonic testing of carbon fibre reinforced plastic composites

Tunukovic, Vedran and McKnight, Shaun and Pyle, Richard and Wang, Zhiming and Mohseni, Ehsan and Pierce, S. Gareth and Vithanage, Randika K. W. and Dobie, Gordon and MacLeod, Charles N. and Cochran, Sandy and O'Hare, Tom (2024) Unsupervised machine learning for flaw detection in automated ultrasonic testing of carbon fibre reinforced plastic composites. Ultrasonics, 140. 107313. ISSN 0041-624X (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ultras.2024.107313)

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The use of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) composite materials for critical components has significantly surged within the energy and aerospace industry. With this rapid increase in deployment, reliable post-manufacturing Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) is critical for verifying the mechanical integrity of manufactured components. To this end, an automated Ultrasonic Testing (UT) NDE process delivered by an industrial manipulator was developed, greatly increasing the measurement speed, repeatability, and locational precision, while increasing the throughput of data generated by the selected NDE modality. Data interpretation of UT signals presents a current bottleneck, as it is still predominantly performed manually in industrial settings. To reduce the interpretation time and minimise human error, this paper presents a two-stage automated NDE evaluation pipeline consisting of a) an intelligent gating process and b) an autoencoder (AE) defect detector. Both stages are based on an unsupervised method, leveraging density-based spatial clustering of applications with noise clustering method for robust automated gating and undefective UT data for the training of the AE architecture. The AE network trained on ultrasonic B-scan data was tested for performance on a set of reference CFRP samples with embedded and manufactured defects. The developed model is rapid during inference, processing over 2000 ultrasonic B-scans in 1.26 s with the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.922 in simple and 0.879 in complex geometry samples. The benefits and shortcomings of the presented methods are discussed, and uncertainties associated with the reported results are evaluated.