Sikorsky Tech Leaders to Present on 4-22 Webinar

Several of Sikorsky’s top engineers will participate in a webinar on April 22 to dig into the details of the 7th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge.  The webinar will take place at noon, EST.  Interested parties can register here:

Participating leaders from Sikorsky include:

  • Nick Lappos, Senior Technical Fellow, Advanced Technology
  • David Walsh, Technical Fellow, Flight Test
  • Ryan Patry, Staff Engineer, Advanced Manufacturing
  • Joseph Simonetti, Technical Fellow, Propulsion

Following the prepared remarks, the public will be invited to ask their own questions of the experts.  Questions can also be submitted in advance to

For more information, or to apply to the Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge, please visit




Nondestructive Testing Ensures Manufacturing Quality

This interview is republished with permission from NASA Tech Briefs

Dr. Ajay Koshti, Lead Nondestructive Evaluation Engineer, invented NASA Flash Infrared Thermography Software. Koshti also worked as a Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) Engineer on NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter for 23 years.

NASA Tech Briefs: Ajay, Your September Webinar with us will focus on infrared (IR) flash thermography software. To set the stage, what is infrared (IR) flash thermography software?

Dr. Ajay Koshti: It is a post-processing software, so let me describe the flash thermography process. It’s a non-destructive evaluation process used to detect delaminations and voids in composites, primarily nonmetallic Non-destructive testingcomposites. These materials are used on NASA flight hardware, so they are critical structure materials. Flash thermography is one of the nondestructive evaluation methods to inspect these materials for internal flaws.

In this process, you have an infrared camera, used to acquire the image data. Flash lamps momentarily heat up the part under inspection. As soon as the flash occurs, you acquire the data of surface temperature, using the infrared camera, and that data is analyzed to detect internal flaws, such as voids and delamination.

Usually we use a commercial software to acquire the data and provide some post-processing to analyze it. I developed a separate software to analyze the data. Primarily, [with the separate software], we are looking for quantitative evaluation of the data. When you have internal flaws, you want to have a quantifiable response that can be measured repeatedly; even if you change the camera systems, you should get the same response on the same defect.

That was the starting point: to understand and define the signal response from the flaws. That’s where it started out: with the concept of normalized contrast. The response is normalized between -1 and +1. It’s very repeatable.

Going beyond that, once the response is the characteristics of a flaw, you can start characterizing the flaws for the depth and diameter. That’s based on calibration. You get these responses from various flaws, diameters, and depths. Then, you teach the system to identify or interpolate flaw sizes based on these responses. It’s a calibration process. Using the contrast methodology, you can also reduce the noise in the response. You essentially have a reflection component in infrared imagery, which comes from reflection of heat that is coming from the background. If you are able to remove that, you improve your signal response.

One of the other iterations I have is drawing the boundary around the defect indication. That’s called the half-max. It looks for a location of 50% signal drop around the indication area, and then it draws a boundary. That gives you a most accurate way of sizing the defect. You can estimate depth of the defect. Upon calibration, it even gives you an idea about gapping within the defect.

NTB: How are these subsurface flaws being formed?

Dr. Koshti: Flaws are formed due to many reasons. Many of these structures are laminated, which means that in the assembly itself, you use sheets or layers, which are then stacked, put in autoclave, and bonded. They start out with layered construction. Many times, in manufacturing between layers, they may not bond properly. That’s delamination, or separation between layers.

These are also damage-prone. If there is an impact, or if something falls on the part, it will have a tendency to have delamination. Layers will separate. You can also inspect these materials for handling damage. Currently, for example, on the Space Shuttle program, reinforced carbon-carbon composite material is being used on the wing leading edge and also on the nose cap. It’s a layered material that is exposed to reentry temperatures in excess of 3000 °F.

These materials heat up and expand, and form microcracks. Through those microcracks, a small amount of oxidation will occur. This results in separation below the outside layer, which is silicon carbide. The inner ones are carbon-carbon, which are providing structural strength, while the upper layer is refractory, providing high temperature capability.

NTB: How is the flash thermography software being used currently?

Dr. Koshti: Initially we started using it on the Space Shuttle program. Though microcracks are not detrimental, excessive oxidation caused by these microcracks can become structurally significant issues. Monitoring of very small indications is important so that you can confirm the structural integrity of the part.

There was a need to quantify an indication. That’s where the normalized contrast type approach was used initially: to assess if there is a growth of these indications between flights. More than that, because these responses are repeatable, you can then analyze them, once calibrated, for what size of flaw you have, what depth it is, and what kind of gapping is occurring. Now with image processing, you can actually use it for inspection: to detect and locate flaws in composite hardware for NASA at JSC. When you have to do finer analysis, you can go ahead and use this software.

NTB: What are some applications with nondestructive evaluation (NDE) testing?

Dr. Koshti: The Boeing 787 is primarily a composite structure. Thermography is very applicable there. The typical applications for thermography are for composites, even outside aerospace. Outside aerospace, composites are used in many places as reinforcement. Graphite fibers, for example, are often used to reinforce columns. Many small boats are made out of composite fiberglass. Again, to detect impact damage, you could use it for those structures. The software can be used anywhere that there are composite structures, even bathtubs that are made out of fiberglass.

NTB: Compared to traditional methods of measuring, what makes the thermography software a better option?

Dr. Koshti: The previous software is more qualitative in nature. When you take a video, the data itself is in the video. What I’m doing: I convert the video data to contrast data. So I’ve taken the first step to enhance the data.

Ultimately, visual detection is done by looking at the differences from an indication with respect to its surroundings. Our contrast is in a different domain. It’s in a contrast, and it’s not in a raw domain. I do a certain processing on it. I go ahead and look for where the contrast is maximum, and create composite images showing that. So things that you would do to go through the data by playing it back and forth: It’s done by the software. It gives you those images right away, and so it saves you time. Image processing enhances the results.

The primary idea was also to be able to quantify these images. The images have a scale. The software gives you the normalized contrast values, so you can actually read what the actual value you’re getting from various indications. Those indications can also be analyzed for their size, depth, based on calibration.

This is actually the philosophy of ultrasonic inspection. You calibrate your instrument on known flaws, and then use that to interpret your data. I’m bringing the well-known ultrasonic testing metrology of calibration and evaluation of data into flash thermography. This is the first time anyone has done that. This allows NDE personnel to understand flash thermography as analogous to pulse-echo ultrasonic testing. They can use the ultrasonic testing knowledge and apply it in thermography and do the inspection at the same level of rigor and same quantitative manner, knowing exact signal responses and basing the reject level on the known level of signal responses. This brings thermography from just visual, qualitative evaluation to a quantitative, objective evaluation.

To learn more about NASA Flash Infrared Thermography Software, read a full transcript, or listen to a downloadable podcast, visit



Remote Additive Manufacturing – A Huge Benefit of 3d Printing

Industry and military await the day that 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing can repair and replace parts in the farthest reaches of the world

If you’ve invested millions in advanced technology, you expect it to be available all the time. Any downtime is costly for a wide variety of reasons. That’s why companies that produce complex systems (automotive, aerospace and heavy industry) have huge investments in parts inventory so that they can provide their customers with replacements to get systems back up and running in the shortest time possible. But there is an emerging scenario that will allow manufacturers to better manage their inventory process and leverage Additive Manufacturing (AM) capabilities to reduce expense and improve flexibility. In this scenario, needed parts would be be produced via Additive Manufacturing techniques on an as-needed basis, in facilities a few hours travel away from the piece of equipment in need of repair. The oil industry is researching this “just-in-time” AM opportunity, as is the military, which covets the ability to fix machinery in the field. NASA has also successfully tested AM on the International Space Station.

Where additive manufacturing could save money and reduce risk

Drilling for oil above the Arctic Circle, maintaining heavy-use airplanes on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean, or replacing a defective part while circling the earth in the International Space Station are all examples of remote workplaces that stretch the common understanding of a supply chain.

That’s why the people in charge of supply chains and the associated economics are among the most fanatical proponents of additive manufacturing/3D printing.


The oil and gas industry, which is working in increasingly remote and hostile environments, views additive manufacturing as a proven technology — based on work being done in the aerospace and biomedical fields.

Components of a typical oil rig part include the mud pump, which has pistons and valves that need to be replaced every eight to 24 days. These commodity items are shipped from China. In a scenario envisioned in an article in “Today’s Energy Solutions” magazine, a small additive manufacturing operation could be set up in a shipping container to repair worn-out parts with materials that would last longer. Such a practice would reduce inventory and increase service life of the repaired parts.


A 3D printer has been tested on the International Space Station to show that it can work in micro gravity. The test machine used plastic, not metal, but is considered the first step toward realizing a machine shop in space, which would be critical for any Deep Space mission. The European Space Agency is also working on plans to build a lunar base using 3D printing.

On the seas

The U.S. Navy, which must contend with repair and replacement issues that constrict the ability to store large numbers of parts or to access new ones quickly from off-ship locations, views additive manufacturing as having the potential to transform Navy logistics and maintenance capabilities.

Here are some examples:

  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Rapid Prototype Lab is saving the Navy thousands of dollars on the Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers. Instead of traditional wood or metal mockups of ship alterations, which help to prevent expensive rework, the lab prints much cheaper plastic polymer models – in hours, rather than days or weeks. Now all four Navy shipyards have 3D printers working on similar, and other, ways to benefit the Navy.
  • The Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast took advantage of the ability to work with more complicated designs and unique material properties to develop an enhanced hydraulic intake manifold for the V-22 Osprey. This manifold is 70 percent lighter, improves fluid flow, and has fewer leak points than its traditionally manufactured counterpart.
  • The circuit card clip for J-6000 Tactical Support System Servers, installed onboard Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines and Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines is no longer produced by its original manufacturer. Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport uses additive manufacturing to create a supply of replacement parts to keep the fleet ready.

Challenges to reaching the next level

The technology is not yet advanced enough to accomplish some of the most imaginative and coveted tasks – providing quick repairs to allow marooned military fighters to fix a plane, helicopter or similar machine and get out of harm’s way or improve combat readiness.

But with military aircraft now operating for more years Pull quote Frazierthan originally designed, parts that were not expected to be replaced are failing. For the military, shipping electrons rather than raw materials is very appealing. Even in normal, non-combat circumstances, the future of AM offers the military ways to save money and time.

The challenges to achieving everything that can be imagined by engineers and scientists who want to build nearly anything they need through AM techniques are still basic. Dr. Ranier Hebert is director of the The Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at the University of Connecticut. He is investigating the physics of additive manufacturing. AM is still a relatively young process compared to traditional manufacturing, and there are questions about whether results can be duplicated from machine to machine or how different materials react under similar circumstances and at different temperatures. Those are the answers Hebert and his lab are seeking.

“It’s the type of data you can’t look up in the literature,” Hebert said. “But the advanced measurement modeling and simulation we are doing will speed up development.”

Developing ways to gain this information is critical for the day to arrive when parts can be repaired anywhere from the tundra, to the deck of a ship or even in outer space. “If we have a part spinning at 70,000 rpm and the tolerance is off,” Hebert said, “the engine will blow up. The tolerances are not yet what we need them to be.”


3d Printing Has Huge Upside But Requires Proven Testing Tech

Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing is the Future, but There’s a Catch

There are many benefits to the eventual widespread use of 3D printing and other Additive Manufacturing (AM) techniques. But components, parts, and tools created through the printing of metal and other high value substances are unlikely to gain widespread commercial acceptance within aerospace or other manufacturing categories without proven NDT (nondestructive testing) testing techniques.

Nondestructive Testing (NDT) During Manufacturing is a Goal

The aerospace industry’s goal is to conduct non-destructive tests during the additive process, almost particle by particle. Such processes would not only help manufacturers spot flaws, but would open the possibility that they could correct imperfections before finishing parts. This may require the industry to develop different testing for the various forms of additive manufacturing, which include melting raw materials with lasers or electron beams, or building layers of small particles into detailed patterns, many of which are only achievable using AM techniques.

Materials and Product Testing is an Established Field

Testing has long been an integral part of manufacturing, from the raw materials that manufacturers shape in a forge to the blanks that they might turn on a lathe, to the final products that workers measure and check for flaws. Many ingenious methods exist for looking inside both components and finished products, including liquid penetrationindustrial radiography and electromagnetics.
While manufacturers might also apply some of these testing methods to AM, products produced via 3D printing are often too complicated to see inside with clarity, even with X-rays or electromagnetic tools. More importantly, workers can’t take the products apart for repair if something is wrong. Current testing protocols call for operators to dismember a percentage of each batch of any item so they can identify flaws in the process. But this method doesn’t guarantee that the other pieces in the batch are free of imperfections. The good news is that when NDT verification of 3D printed parts is finally ready for prime-time, manufacturers will have decades of data and best practices to leverage for benchmarking purposes.

Sikorsky Innovations is Looking for New Verification Techniques for 3D Printed Materials

Sikorsky Innovations is one of the global R&D groups focused on developing a robust approach to testing the output of 3D Manufacturing/Additive Manufacturing processes. “Additive Manufacturing will be restricted to a minor role in aerospace manufacturing until new verification techniques are developed,” according to Bill Harris, a Technical Fellow with Sikorsky Aircraft,.”As we get more and more product produced this way, you’ll need more innovative ways to test and validate product,” he said. “The time to start making this investment is now.”
As part of the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge, the company has made a statement on the types of technologies they are looking for on the path to mission critical 3d printing/Additive Manufacturing. Specifically, the challenge calls for: Aerospace quality additive manufacturing of complex geometry with real time inspection.”

Please share your Nondestructive Testing Tech and Ideas

Real time, nondestructive testing of 3D printed materials is of strong interest to Sikorsky Aircraft. If you have tech or concepts that support nondestructive testing, please submit them to Sikorsky Innovations’ 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge. Click here to learn more about the competition and how you might compete for $25,000 in no-strings-attached funding.


Stamford Innovation Center is working closely with Sikorsky Innovations to drive awareness and identify great ideas for submission to the 6th Sikorsky EChallenge. The current challenge is focused on uncovering companies that can provide leading edge thinking and products in critical new areas of technology including Additive Manufacturing, Augmented Reality, Sensors, and Energy Storage/Management. For more information, visit


Is 3D Printing the Future of Manufacturing?

Is 3D Printing the Future of Manufacturing?

3D Printing has the potential to reshape manufacturing by lowering costs and shortening the amount of time it takes to make complex parts. Much of the progress at the high end is being driven by the aerospace industry.
The precision and robust approach to testing required for success in aerospace will once again provide benefits for other industries as they get to work with vendors who have survived the experience of having their work pushed to the limit by aerospace engineers.
Small Engine Part created using Additive Manufacturing Techniques
Small Engine Part created using Additive Manufacturing Techniques

What is 3D Printing?

The 3D printing technique (also called Additive Manufacturing) builds parts by melting a metal or plastic and applying it one layer at a time. Extremely complex parts can be constructed in less time, and at lower weight, than it takes in traditional manufacturing, which might forge parts or cut them out of blocks of material. Replacement parts can be built when needed and new designs can be put into place with less prototyping.

What is the Most Ambitious 3D Printing Project?

Additive Manufacturing techniques are now being applied to nearly every field of manufacturing and repair. A 3D printed car even made the cover of Popular Mechanics last month, and there is definitely a pop-star type of glow around the concept.  The University of Connecticut is building the Pratt and Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at its Storrs campus. GE is investing $125 million in a plant in Alabama devoted to 3D printing.  And several governmental and business organizations are encouraging inventors to push the technology.
One of them is Sikorsky Aircraft, which is looking for technology from small and large teams around the world to submit 3D Printing technology ideas to Sikorsky Innovations’ 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge. Learn more about the Sikorsky Innovation Challenge and how you might compete for $25,000 in no-strings-attached funding.

So What’s the biggest Hurdle for Mission Critical 3D Printing?

large electron beam AM machine
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing Machine.
But 3D printing faces obstacles before it fulfills the promise many industrial experts expect of it, with the largest probably being finding a way to test complex printed parts to ensure they meet all the specifications.

How Do You Test a Complicated 3D Printed Part?

The ideal testing concept is called non-destructive testing, or NDT, which finds flaws with X-rays or other methods of figuring out what is inside the object without cutting it open. Many items created by 3D printing are extremely complex; if traditionally manufactured they would contain two dozen separate pieces. Non-destructive testing, however, is not yet advanced enough.
Greg Morris, manager of additive manufacturing and business development at GE Aviation, acknowledged that the industry still faces many challenges in finding, preventing and correcting defects in AM products. Morris said last year at the Propulsion and Energy Forum of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics that, “right now, inspection processes account for 25 percent of the total cost of parts produced additively.” Those costs, he said, must come down before the technology can gain wider acceptance.
Many experts, though, are optimistic about the future of 3D printing.. Terry Wohlers, a long-time consultant in 3D printing, pointed out that the technology has already made dramatic progress. In his newsletter, (title of newsletter and link) Wohlers said that additive manufacturing was once considered only for the creation of models, prototypes and patterns. Today, however, manufacturers like Boeing use 3D printing to produce complex environmental control ducting for military and commercial jets, significantly reducing inventory, labor, weight and maintenance.

“Given what I am seeing, I believe that AM will eventually have a greater breadth of impact on the production of products than any manufacturing technology in recent history,” Wohlers wrote.

When Do I Get to 3D Print a Car?

Which brings us back to the printed car given such prominent space by Popular Mechanics. It was made by a Phoenix-based company called Local Motors, which describes itself as a “technology company that designs, builds, and sells badass vehicles.” The car design featured in the magazine is called the Strati and was built out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
As Troy Stains of Popular Mechanics wrote, “Developing countries would love this technology for cheap transportation, but so might the rich guy who wants a thousand-horsepower car of his own design, printed in a production run of one. Or the carmaker that wants to churn out a complete car in ten hours rather than 24, using a fraction of the components. Modern cars are complicated, but the union of 3D printing and electric propulsion — where the motor has just one moving part — points to a future in which that’s no longer a given.”

The U.S. Government wants Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing to Advance.

That kind of look toward the future is shared with government and business organizations alike. The U.S. Navy, in a request for proposal earlier this year, endorsed the potential of 3D printing. The technique, the Navy wrote,” is of wide interest across many industries and throughout the world …. This technology is expected to be of interest to many commercial industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical.”