NDLGS: Technology to enhance surveillance

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 2:54pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

A new technology, created to assess gases within a weapon component without destroying the part, is expected to save taxpayers millions of dollars and to benefit multiple industries outside the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

A new technology, created to assess gases within a weapon component without destroying the part, is expected to save taxpayers millions of dollars and to benefit multiple industries outside the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

Scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Y‑12 and the Pantex Plant have collaboratively fashioned a new process to sample gases within a weapon component. This process, called the nondestructive laser gas sampling system, demonstrated first use on a W76 Retrofit Evaluation Systems Test unit in May 2012.

NDLGS is an automated system that combines the latest in gas-sampling and laser-processing technologies to detect low levels of gas constituents within sealed volumes. The result is an accurate sample of the weapon component's interior gas content without the typical destruction of the part, which allows the component to be viable for stockpile reacceptance.

“Previously, sampled units would not be available for reacceptance without a rebuild,” explained Yvonne Tracy, program manager. “With this technology, we avoid the cost of new manufacture.” Annual cost savings are expected to be several million dollars.

The technology also greatly minimizes worker exposure to hazardous materials. The remote use of a single laser enables users to safely access, assess and reseal the wall of an enclosure. The laser is part of the valveless laser processing system (see inset photo), which can drill, sample and hermetically reseal containers.

“Valveless laser processing is the technology that won a 2012 R&D 100 Award for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Y‑12,” explained Tammy Graham, manager of Technology Transfer Operations. Y‑12 researchers Ken Nicklas and Chris Hayes were co-winners of the award along with their LANL colleagues. “It is one of the top high-technology products of the year and has strong potential for uses in aerospace, pharmaceuticals, energy conservation and other commercial markets,” said Graham.

Valveless laser processing incorporates electro-spark deposition, a technique that alters the alloy content of stainless steel to improve material strength and weldability. Electro-spark deposition produces a series of tiny welds that build up as a layer onto the surface. After repeated applications, alloys are metallurgically bonded and then mixed by a laser to smooth the surface, increasing the total alloy content of the original material. Unlike other welding processes, this system allows for a very small amount of material to be added to the surface in a controlled manner. The precise control of the amount of material added allows the welded area to achieve the desired alloy content within tight limits, reducing the chance of cracking during later welding operations.

“It's exciting to see what's emerging from the deployment of NDLGS at Y‑12,” said Tracy, who anticipates the technology's use with surveillance activities on systems in the active stockpile. “Certainly the nuclear stockpile will continue to benefit. And with valveless laser processing's wide-ranging applications, many industries, along with their services and products, will surely improve.”