With Atomic Precision – High-performance technology for the development

Whether in biological research, medical diagnostics or for material testing in engineering: The fields of application of radioactive nuclides are extremely diverse. In the automotive industry, radionuclide technology (RNT) is used by engine developers, among others, as a central tool for wear analysis in important components such as piston rings or connecting rod bearings. IAV already uses the RNT method for measurements on internal combustion engines – but it can also be used in the field of e-mobility, for example for e-components and transmissions.

The future technologies such as e-mobility, autonomous driving and interconnectivity show that the pace of innivation in the automotive industry is continuing to accelerate rapidly. Product development must keep pace and is also gaining momentum through progressive digitalization and the use of predictive simulation software and artificial intelligence.

With increasingly virtual development processes, it is becoming increasingly important to gain early insights into contact friction between solid bodies at certain operating points and the resulting material removal. Here, so-called online wear measurements with radioactive nuclides provide measured values in the nano range, this allows to check and optimize the quality of the simulations tools.

Where forces of motor-driven locomotion are acting, relative movement between solid bodies occurs. The resulting friction is both ecologically and economically disadvantageous. On the one hand, it slows down the movement between bodies and thus leads to higher fuel consumption and increasing CO2 emissions. On the other hand, progressive wear causes additional costs for repair and spare parts. Developers therefore rely on the precise and efficient RNT method to keep friction and wear to a minimum. Almost all wear-relevant engine parts and materials can be activated, examined and evaluated.

mit atomarer präzision hochleistungstechnologie

Synergy effects in development

The shortening of product cycles has an impact on the development processes. Endurance tests of up to 1,000 hours for car engines, which provide insufficient information at high costs, are now considered unprofitable. Based on RNT measurement results, release and production start can be significantly accelerated and the associated costs noticeably reduced, says Dr. Hubert Schultheiß from the Simulation and Validation Department at IAV.

“The measured values provide a key basis for quickly evaluating wear processes in the development and testing process and noticeably improving predictive calculation methods,” says Schultheiß. “In addition, we determine wear rates in real time and can thus precisely optimize wear-relevant components for their service life requirements.”

Wear analysis in real time

At the RNT method, the component under investigation is first bombarded with protons, deuterons, alpha particles or neutrons at a particle accelerator (cyclotron). The reactions of these particles with the atomic nuclei of the evaluating components produce a thin radioactive layer on its surface, which emits a readily measurable gamma radiation during radioactive decay. The abrasion-based wear generates tiny activated particles which are introduced into the lubricant and whose gamma radiation can be detected in the oil circuit. In addition, the wear rate of the components in question can be monitored online continuously and with high precision during operation on the test rig.

IAV has a special permit from the Free State of Saxony to use the RNT measuring method at its Chemnitz/Stollberg site as handling radioactive materials is subject to the Radiation Protection Act, among other things. IAV also works with its Belgian partner Delta Services Industriels (DSI), a specialist in the development and use of radioactive marker techniques.

In IAV’s own application of the RNT method, up to five components can be examined simultaneously thanks to the use of ultra-pure germanium detectors for gamma rays. These so-called HPGE detectors are much more efficient than sodium iodide (NaI) detectors, which can only analyze up to two elements simultaneously.

Sights set on new areas of application

From the RNT measured values, the data preparation tool IAV Teslin generates detailed overviews of all measuring processes per component. Developers and component managers on the customer side benefit from much greater efficiency and better evaluation options during and after endurance tests.

Thanks to our in-depth expertise in the field of inspection and testing equipment, we have been involved in RNT wear measurement for many years. In doing so, we also test new areas of application with a view to the essential future technologies, for example in the field of lubricating oils for electric drives. Here, too, the RNT method allows valuable conclusions to be drawn, for example, about the wear behavior of different materials or coatings with a constant reference lubricant. For example, the qualities of different gear oils in electric drives can be compared with each other with regard to the wear behavior of specific components such as gears and bearings.

«Radionuclide technology offers great potential for the entire powertrain. It is an effective instrument for improving the resource utilization of the complete powertrain system.»

Philipp Zumpf — Head of the Simulation and Validation Department at IAV

If you have always wanted to know how your friction partners behave and how they can be optimized, then contact us. IAV’s RNT test capacities are ready and able to effectively improve many systems and components.

The article was published in automotion 03/2020, the automotive engineering magazine of IAV. Here you can order the automotion free of charge.

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