Basic Principles of Ultrasonic Testing
Ultrasonic Testing (UT) uses high frequency sound energy to conduct examinations and make measurements. Ultrasonic inspection can be used for flaw detection/evaluation, dimensional measurements, material characterization, and more. To illustrate the general inspection principle, a typical pulse/echo inspection configuration as illustrated below will be used.
A typical UT inspection system consists of several functional units, such as the pulser/receiver, transducer, and display devices. A pulser/receiver is an electronic device that can produce high voltage electrical pulses. Driven by the pulser, the transducer generates high frequency ultrasonic energy. The sound energy is introduced and propagates through the materials in the form of waves. When there is a discontinuity (such as a crack) in the wave path, part of the energy will be reflected back from the flaw surface. The reflected wave signal is transformed into an electrical signal by the transducer and is displayed on a screen. In the applet below, the reflected signal strength is displayed versus the time from signal generation to when a echo was received. Signal travel time can be directly related to the distance that the signal traveled. From the signal, information about the reflector location, size, orientation and other features can sometimes be gained.
Ultrasonic Inspection is a very useful and versatile NDT method. Some of the advantages of ultrasonic inspection that are often cited include:
- It is sensitive to both surface and subsurface discontinuities.
- The depth of penetration for flaw detection or measurement is superior to other NDT methods.
- Only single-sided access is needed when the pulse-echo technique is used.
- It is highly accurate in determining reflector position and estimating size and shape.
- Minimal part preparation is required.
- Electronic equipment provides instantaneous results.
- Detailed images can be produced with automated systems.
- It has other uses, such as thickness measurement, in addition to flaw detection.
As with all NDT methods, ultrasonic inspection also has its limitations, which include:
- Surface must be accessible to transmit ultrasound.
- Skill and training is more extensive than with some other methods.
- It normally requires a coupling medium to promote the transfer of sound energy into the test specimen.
- Materials that are rough, irregular in shape, very small, exceptionally thin or not homogeneous are difficult to inspect.
- Cast iron and other coarse grained materials are difficult to inspect due to low sound transmission and high signal noise.
- Linear defects oriented parallel to the sound beam may go undetected.
- Reference standards are required for both equipment calibration and the characterization of flaws.
The above introduction provides a simplified introduction to the NDT method of ultrasonic testing. However, to effectively perform an inspection using ultrasonics, much more about the method needs to be known. The following pages present information on the science involved in ultrasonic inspection, the equipment that is commonly used, some of the measurement techniques used, as well as other information.