Ultrasonic transducers are manufactured for a variety of applications and can be custom fabricated when necessary. Careful attention must be paid to selecting the proper transducer for the application. A previous section on Acoustic Wavelength and Defect Detection gave a brief overview of factors that affect defect detectability. From this material, we know that it is important to choose transducers that have the desired frequency, bandwidth, and focusing to optimize inspection capability. Most often the transducer is chosen either to enhance the sensitivity or resolution of the system.
Transducers are classified into groups according to the application.
- Contact transducers are used for direct contact inspections, and are generally hand manipulated. They have elements protected in a rugged casing to withstand sliding contact with a variety of materials. These transducers have an ergonomic design so that they are easy to grip and move along a surface. They often have replaceable wear plates to lengthen their useful life. Coupling materials of water, grease, oils, or commercial materials are used to remove the air gap between the transducer and the component being inspected.
- Immersion transducers do not contact the component. These transducers are designed to operate in a liquid environment and all connections are watertight. Immersion transducers usually have an impedance matching layer that helps to get more sound energy into the water and, in turn, into the component being inspected. Immersion transducers can be purchased with a planer, cylindrically focused or spherically focused lens. A focused transducer can improve the sensitivity and axial resolution by concentrating the sound energy to a smaller area. Immersion transducers are typically used inside a water tank or as part of a squirter or bubbler system in scanning applications.
More on Contact Transducers.
Contact transducers are available in a variety of configurations to improve their usefulness for a variety of applications. The flat contact transducer shown above is used in normal beam inspections of relatively flat surfaces, and where near surface resolution is not critical. If the surface is curved, a shoe that matches the curvature of the part may need to be added to the face of the transducer. If near surface resolution is important or if an angle beam inspection is needed, one of the special contact transducers described below might be used.
Dual element transducers contain two independently operated elements in a single housing. One of the elements transmits and the other receives the ultrasonic signal. Active elements can be chosen for their sending and receiving capabilities to provide a transducer with a cleaner signal, and transducers for special applications, such as the inspection of course grained material. Dual element transducers are especially well suited for making measurements in applications where reflectors are very near the transducer since this design eliminates the ring down effect that single-element transducers experience (when single-element transducers are operating in pulse echo mode, the element cannot start receiving reflected signals until the element has stopped ringing from its transmit function). Dual element transducers are very useful when making thickness measurements of thin materials and when inspecting for near surface defects. The two elements are angled towards each other to create a crossed-beam sound path in the test material.
Delay line transducers provide versatility with a variety of replaceable options. Removable delay line, surface conforming membrane, and protective wear cap options can make a single transducer effective for a wide range of applications. As the name implies, the primary function of a delay line transducer is to introduce a time delay between the generation of the sound wave and the arrival of any reflected waves. This allows the transducer to complete its "sending" function before it starts its "listening" function so that near surface resolution is improved. They are designed for use in applications such as high precision thickness gauging of thin materials and delamination checks in composite materials. They are also useful in high-temperature measurement applications since the delay line provides some insulation to the piezoelectric element from the heat.
Angle beam transducers and wedges are typically used to introduce a refracted shear wave into the test material. Transducers can be purchased in a variety of fixed angles or in adjustable versions where the user determines the angles of incidence and refraction. In the fixed angle versions, the angle of refraction that is marked on the transducer is only accurate for a particular material, which is usually steel. The angled sound path allows the sound beam to be reflected from the backwall to improve detectability of flaws in and around welded areas. They are also used to generate surface waves for use in detecting defects on the surface of a component.
Normal incidence shear wave transducers are unique because they allow the introduction of shear waves directly into a test piece without the use of an angle beam wedge. Careful design has enabled manufacturing of transducers with minimal longitudinal wave contamination. The ratio of the longitudinal to shear wave components is generally below -30dB.
Paint brush transducers are used to scan wide areas. These long and narrow transducers are made up of an array of small crystals that are carefully matched to minimize variations in performance and maintain uniform sensitivity over the entire area of the transducer. Paint brush transducers make it possible to scan a larger area more rapidly for discontinuities. Smaller and more sensitive transducers are often then required to further define the details of a discontinuity.