Characteristics of Piezoelectric Transducers
The transducer is a very important part of the ultrasonic instrumentation system. As discussed on the previous page, the transducer incorporates a piezoelectric element, which converts electrical signals into mechanical vibrations (transmit mode) and mechanical vibrations into electrical signals (receive mode). Many factors, including material, mechanical and electrical construction, and the external mechanical and electrical load conditions, influence the behavior of a transducer. Mechanical construction includes parameters such as the radiation surface area, mechanical damping, housing, connector type and other variables of physical construction. As of this writing, transducer manufacturers are hard pressed when constructing two transducers that have identical performance characteristics.
A cut away of a typical contact transducer is shown above. It was previously learned that the piezoelectric element is cut to 1/2 the desired wavelength. To get as much energy out of the transducer as possible, an impedance matching is placed between the active element and the face of the transducer. Optimal impedance matching is achieved by sizing the matching layer so that its thickness is 1/4 of the desired wavelength. This keeps waves that were reflected within the matching layer in phase when they exit the layer (as illustrated in the image to the right). For contact transducers, the matching layer is made from a material that has an acoustical impedance between the active element and steel. Immersion transducers have a matching layer with an acoustical impedance between the active element and water. Contact transducers also incorporate a wear plate to protect the matching layer and active element from scratching.
The backing material supporting the crystal has a great influence on the damping characteristics of a transducer. Using a backing material with an impedance similar to that of the active element will produce the most effective damping. Such a transducer will have a wider bandwidth resulting in higher sensitivity. As the mismatch in impedance between the active element and the backing material increases, material penetration increases but transducer sensitivity is reduced.
Transducer Efficiency, Bandwidth and Frequency
Some transducers are specially fabricated to be more efficient transmitters and others to be more efficient receivers. A transducer that performs well in one application will not always produce the desired results in a different application. For example, sensitivity to small defects is proportional to the product of the efficiency of the transducer as a transmitter and a receiver. Resolution, the ability to locate defects near the surface or in close proximity in the material, requires a highly damped transducer.
It is also important to understand the concept of bandwidth, or range of frequencies, associated with a transducer. The frequency noted on a transducer is the central or center frequency and depends primarily on the backing material. Highly damped transducers will respond to frequencies above and below the central frequency. The broad frequency range provides a transducer with high resolving power. Less damped transducers will exhibit a narrower frequency range and poorer resolving power, but greater penetration. The central frequency will also define the capabilities of a transducer. Lower frequencies (0.5MHz-2.25MHz) provide greater energy and penetration in a material, while high frequency crystals (15.0MHz-25.0MHz) provide reduced penetration but greater sensitivity to small discontinuities. High frequency transducers, when used with the proper instrumentation, can improve flaw resolution and thickness measurement capabilities dramatically. Broadband transducers with frequencies up to 150 MHz are commercially available.
Transducers are constructed to withstand some abuse, but they should be handled carefully. Misuse, such as dropping, can cause cracking of the wear plate, element, or the backing material. Damage to a transducer is often noted on the A-scan presentation as an enlargement of the initial pulse.