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Diana Sanders analyzes the integrity of welds in a stainless steel tube. Metallography is one of many Y-12 National Security Complex's analytical capabilities used for ensuring nuclear-arsenal quality.
Diana Sanders analyzes the integrity of welds in a stainless steel tube. Metallography is one of many Y-12 National Security Complex's analytical capabilities used for ensuring nuclear-arsenal quality.
Aaron Bales, left, and Rob Panaro attach an extensometer to a tensile specimen. The extensometer gives an accurate measure of how much the specimen stretches during a tensile test.
Aaron Bales, left, and Rob Panaro attach an extensometer to a tensile specimen. The extensometer gives an accurate measure of how much the specimen stretches during a tensile test.

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, recently invested more than $1 million in upgrades to its Materials Testing Laboratory. The lab’s new digital optical and scanning electron microscopes, hardness testers, tensile machine, and other characterization technologies allow Y-12 materials experts to more closely examine weapons components and provide a level of confidence that the nation’s nuclear arsenal will perform as designed.

“The new equipment increases the reliability of tests and data and reduces both the likelihood and impact of equipment failures,” said Rob Panaro, lead physical testing engineer in Quality Operations Support. “If we do have equipment failures, they’ll be easier to diagnose and repair. Equipment setup and maintenance are also more streamlined, and more powerful data acquisition tools allow us to capture even more information.”

These latest characterization technologies provide a level of detail not previously seen by Y-12 metallographers and other technicians, who study cracks, voids, and defects in steel, aluminum, uranium, and other materials, both metallic and nonmetallic.”

“We’re able to see things we were not able to before in our evaluation of materials and components,” said Aaron Bales, physical testing engineer. “The new equipment complements our existing tools and adds advanced diagnostics along with a degree of automation. These capabilities allow us to achieve repeatable results while reducing errors.

It’s important work. The testing and evaluation results we generate help determine if a component is acceptable for the finished product. We’ve got to get it right.

Aaron Bales
Physical testing engineer, Y-12 National Security Complex

“It’s important work,” Bales said. “The testing and evaluation results we generate help determine if a component is acceptable for the finished product. We’ve got to get it right.”

The lab upgrade revitalizes the workplace for current employees and makes it more attractive to prospective ones.

“We’re on the cutting edge of technology and there’s an excitement in the lab now,” said Diana Sanders, lab supervisor who is the third member of her family to test the physical structure of materials at the site. “People need to know that working at Y-12 is still relevant. We’ve got an important job to do, and we have the opportunity to do that work with some of the best equipment out there.”

Y-12 upgraded the Materials Testing Laboratory to ensure the site continues to deliver its enduring mission for the nation. Before some of the new equipment could be installed, outdated instrumentation had to be removed, including two large, heavy tensile machines.

“The tensile machines were ancient,” said Steve Dekanich, who spearheaded the months-long effort to revamp the lab. “It took a group of Y-12 personnel to dismantle them and then install our new MTS Exceed tensile machine. Everyone worked together as a cohesive, coordinated team to ensure the success of the project.”