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Application Notes

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Phase Shift Test for Bond Integrity

Application: Using nondestructive testing to evaluate the integrity of bonds between dissimilar materials of low acoustic impedance and high acoustic impedance such as plastic, fiberglass, rubber or epoxy bonded to metal, glass, or ceramic.

Among the specific applications for this test are bonding of carbon/fiber/resin composites to a steel substrate, bonding of plastic liners in metal pipes and tanks, plastic safety coatings over glass, rubber coatings on metal rollers, and epoxy coatings on metal parts. The technique has also been used on metal bearings where soft, low impedance metal such as babbit is bonded over hard, high impedance metal (steel or brass).

Problem: The most common technique for ultrasonically evaluating the integrity of a bond or weld is to look at the amplitude of the signal reflected from the interface between the two materials. This method works well when the two joined materials have similar acoustic impedance such as metal to metal or plastic to plastic. However, when the two bonded materials differ greatly in acoustic impedance such as a plastic to metal bond, the change in the amplitude of reflected signals between good and bad bonds is less dramatic. In these cases, the most readily visible difference between bonds and disbonds is a reversal in the phase or polarity of the echo from the boundary when the bond is tested from the low impedance side.

Equipment: This test may be performed with any ultrasonic instrument that provides an unrectified RF waveform display such as the EPOCH XT, EPOCH LTC, EPOCH 600, EPOCH 650, and EPOCH 1000 portable flaw detectors. If portability is not required, any one of a number of Pulser/Receivers (Models 5072PR, 5073PR, 5077PR, 5058PR) may be used along with an oscilloscope or digitized waveform display. Select the transducer type and frequency based on the specific application Broadband transducers are recommended in all cases to maximize the effect.

Procedure: Both the phase (or polarity) and amplitude of a reflected signal at the boundary between two materials are determined by the relative acoustic impedance of the two materials. The phase or polarity of the echo from the boundary between the materials is reversed or inverted when the order of relative acoustic impedances is reversed (low to high versus high to low).

Testing must be performed from the low impedance side of the bond. Also, it is important to note that this test identifies the presence or absence of an acoustic bond, but it does not quantify the strength of the bond.

Figures 1 and 2 show echoes from a plastic/air and plastic/metal boundary respectively, demonstrating phase inversion. Photos made with an EPOCH flaw detector and V109 5 MHz broadband contact transducer.

Figure 1 shows the echo from the back side of a 0.2 in/5 mm flat piece of Plexiglas plastic, as seen by a 5 MHz broadband contact transducer with an EPOCH 600 flaw detector set up in the RF mode. In this case the sound energy is reflecting from a boundary between a relatively high impedance material (plastic) and a very low impedance material (air). With this setup, the returning echo from this high to low impedance boundary is seen as a negative polarity echo.

Figure 1: Echo from unbonded Plexiglas plastic

In Figure 2, the same piece of Plexiglas is coupled to a piece of aluminum. The sound energy is now reflecting from a boundary between a relatively low impedance material (plastic) and a high impedance material (aluminum). Plastic has higher acoustic impedance than air, but lower than aluminum, steel, or other materials and we are concerned not with the absolute acoustic impedances but rather the high to low or low to high relationship at the boundary. The result is a positive echo, inverted with respect to the signal from the plastic to air boundary.

Figure 2: Echo from Plexiglas plastic bonded to aluminum

In general, there will be a clear difference in echo phase or polarity between bonded and air-backed materials that can be quickly seen through the use of calibration standards. It is best to optimize echoes on a bonded sample and then observe the phase change from an unbonded sample. Adjustment of pulser damping and receiver filtering will often optimize this effect. The same pattern described above would result from using a pulser-receiver such as a Model 5072PR with an analog or digital oscilloscope. Again, a lack of bonding creates a plastic/air boundary that produces a negative echo, while a solid bond inverts the echo to positive.

Note : Displayed echo polarity is arbitrary depending on signal processing within the instrument. While Olympus IMS flaw detectors and pulser/receivers produce displays of the type shown here,equipment from other manufacturers may display signals that are the reverse. A test block can help determine this factor. The basic principle of phase inversion at a low to high impedance boundary applies in any case.

Products used for this application

EPOCH 1000 Series

The EPOCH 1000 is an advanced conventional ultrasonic flaw detector that can be upgraded with phased array imaging at an authorized Olympus service center. Key features include: EN12668-1 compliant, 37 digital receiver filter selections, and 6 kHz pulse repetition rate for high speed scanning.


The EPOCH 600 is mid-level, handheld ultrasonic flaw detector. Weighing only 1.68 kg (3.72 lb.), its horizontal case is built to withstand the rigors of very harsh environments. EN12668-1 plus features such as 400 V PerfectSquare tunable square wave pulser, digital filtering for enhanced signal-to-noise ratio.


The EPOCH 650 is a conventional ultrasonic flaw detector with excellent inspection performance and usability for a wide variety of applications. This intuitive, rugged instrument is a continuation of the popular EPOCH 600 flaw detector with additional capabilities.


The EPOCH LTC is a mid-level, handheld ultrasonic flaw detector in a compact 2.12 lbs (0.96 kg) vertical case. It is a full-featured instrument with EN12668-1 compliance and a wide variety of standard features as well as specialized options to meet your inspection needs.
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