Ultrasonic inspection is a method of detecting discontinuities by directing a high-frequency sound beam through the base plate and weld on a predictable path. When the sound beam's plate path strikes an interruption in the material continuity, some of the sound is reflected back. The sound is collected by the instrument, amplified and displayed as a vertical trance on a video screen - Fig. 5.
Both surface and subsurface detects in metals can be detected, located and measured by ultrasonic inspection, including flaws too small to be detected by other methods.
The ultrasonic unit contains a crystal of quartz or other piezoelectric material encapsulated in a transducer or probe. When a voltage is applied, the crystal vibrates rapidly. As an ultrasonic transducer is held against the metal to be inspected, it imparts mechanical vibrations of the same frequency as the crystal through a couplet material into the base metal and weld. These vibrational waves are propagated through the material until they reach a discontinuity or change in density. At these points, some of the vibrational energy is reflected back. As the current that causes the vibration is shut off and on at 60-1000 times per second, the quartz crystal intermittently acts as a receiver to pick up the reflected vibrations. These cause pressure on the crystal and generate an electrical current. Fed to a video screen, this current produces vertical deflections on the horizontal base line. The resulting pattern on the face of the tube represents the reflected signal and the discontinuity. Compact portable ultrasonic equipment is available for field inspection and is commonly used on bridge and structural work.
Ultrasonic testing is less suitable than other NDE methods for determining porosity in welds, because round gas pores respond to ultrasonic tests as a series of single point reflectors. This results in low-amplitude responses that are easily confused with "base-line noise" inherent with testing parameters. However, it is the preferred test method for detecting plainer-type discontinuities and lamination.
Portable ultrasonic equipment is available with digital operation and microprocessor controls. These instruments may have built-in memory and can provide hard-copy printouts or video monitoring and recording. They can be interfaced with computers, which allows further analysis, documentation and archiving, much as with radiographic data. Ultrasonic examination requires expert interpretation from highly skilled and extensively trained personnel.