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| On 01, Mar 2011

Jack Hipple

Understanding and “seeing” things we can’t see is a holy grail in a number of technical areas. Vibration tells us a lot about what might be going on inside a piece of mechanical equipment. X-Rays tell us about our body structure. MRI’s are used to image organs, soft tissues, and flow through them.

Well, what about jet engines? From a thermodynamic standpoint, we want them to run as hot as possible, but if they run too hot, the metals can melt and catastrohpic failure can result. Blade tips are cooled to just below their failure point to maximize efficiency while protecting the blade from melting. But how do you measure accurately the fluid mixing? Sound like something that an MRI should be able to do? Well, Col. Michael Benson, a Ph.D. student in mechnical engineering at Stanford is studying the use of MRI imaging to analyze flow patterns around jet engine metal surfaces.

See for the entire write up.

If this sounds similar to the parallel universes described in a previous column (Dec 6) regarding fluid flow in the human body and the flow of oil and gas, it’s because it is! The fact that accurately measuring flow mixing in jet engines is important is not new. The fact that we have been using MRI as a flow measuring technology in medicine for decades is also not a secret. Why does it take so long for one area of industry or science to see the parallel universes that might assist it? Is it ego? To illustrate my point, I just typed in “jet engine cooling” into a web search and got 8.5 million hits. Typing MRI into the search box, I get 5.8 million hits. But when I type “MRI jet engine cooling”, I get less than 150,000 hits (including the article mentioned above). Isn’t that interesting? Depressing? It makes me wonder if GE, who makes both MRI equipment and jet engines, has thought about this before? If so, why would a Stanford grad student be working on it rather than a GE patent already having been issued? Has anyone seen such a patent or publication? If the grad student didn’t study the patent literature, then shame on him. But if this is news to GE……can anyone enlighten us?

It still amazes me how few new problems there really are. You are never alone and the problem you have is never unique.