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An information revolution will arrive when the potential for quantum computers is realized; providing exponentially faster and stronger computer processing. It will revolutionize all kinds of industry globally – just as the invention of transistors introduced a new connected world and rapidly changed industry in the twentieth century.
Non-destructive inspection – a blanket term for the large group of analysis techniques used in science and industry to understand the properties of materials, components, and systems without causing any damage – is one of the many industries that will be revolutionized by applying the superior processing power of quantum computers of the future.
Quantum computers work by replacing the binary units of information that are made from electrical transistors (which can either be on or off, one or zero) in classical computing with quantum units of information made from manipulating the peculiar mechanics of quantum (or smallest possible) particles.
Due to the quantum mechanical effect of superposition, qubits (the name given for quantum units of information) can exist as both on and off, one and zero simultaneously. This allows quantum information scientists to develop algorithms enabling potential quantum computers to complete processes simultaneously, rapidly speeding up their processing power.
While a commercially viable quantum computer does not yet exist, physical machines in laboratory settings and simulations on classical supercomputers have been demonstrated to process these quantum computing algorithms effectively – proving the theories of quantum computing are workable.
Quantum supremacy – the future state where a quantum computer can perform any task better and faster than a classical computer can – has not yet been reached. However, many of the world’s leading research groups, technology companies, and government agencies are invested in realizing this potential. Therefore, quantum computing for industries like non-destructive inspection could be just around the corner.
Applications in Non-destructive Inspection
Non-destructive inspection (NDI) has been needed since the 19th century to ensure safety on railways in the United States. Early methods were based on liquid penetration, applications of the newly discovered x-ray, magnetism and electromagnetic currents.
Modern NDI methods use computer processing power in conjunction with some of the earlier developed techniques. For example, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), where layers of the subject material or human patient are scanned for magnetic resonance to build up a three-dimensional image. This example is one of many where NDI has been critical to the development of modern medical diagnostic techniques.
In medicine, quantum computing in NDI could be applied to automate and simplify diagnostic techniques. For example, a quantum computer could easily process MRI images and compare them to a massive database to find problems like early tumor formation, leading to rapid diagnoses that could save lives.
This automation would rely on another application of quantum computers in NDI: superior modeling. Quantum computers would be able to process every particle and molecule in a material, component or system – and therefore create incredibly accurate models of these. These models could only be created and stored with the vastly higher processing power promised by quantum computers.
This kind of connectivity in NDI, enabled by quantum computers can also be applied to industry. For example, visual inspection (VI) – a key element of NDI quality control in industrial and manufacturing processes – could also become fully automated. Image sensors would send higher quality images to a central supervisory control and acquisition data (SCADA) system, which could compare these to a database of high-quality images and detect manufacturing defects. The quantum-computing powered SCADA system would also be able to send instructions for the repair or removal of defects to ensure error-free production.
It is not only through superior modeling and the automation of nearly any NDI method and technique that quantum computers will be valuable to the NDI field. One application of quantum computers will be to rapidly advance the related pursuits of machine-learning and artificial intelligence. Quantum computers will be able to rapidly prototype and learn from new iterations of NDI tests, developing methods and techniques that would transform NDI in ways that cannot yet be predicted.