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Fastener Hole Crack Detection Using Adjustable Slide Probes

Eddy Current Sliding Probes


The guidelines for the adjustable sliding probes are similar to the fixed types, therefore much of the information that is given here follows the same sequence and detail and will look like repetition. This is done so that both technical bulletins are self contained and may be read independently, but is best to become familiar with the fixed probes first.

Sliding probes have been named as such because they move over fasteners in the inspection area in a sliding motion. Conventionally, probes are used in "spot probing" such as with a ring-encircling probe or moving a spot/surface probe around the periphery of a fastener.

Sliding probes are eddy current probes operating in the reflection mode (transmit-receive). This means that the eddy currents are induced by the driver coil (transmitter) and detected by a separate pick up coil (receiver). With adjustable types, a spacer is inserted between the two coil bodies.

Sliding probes are the fastest method to inspect large numbers of fastener holes for cracks. They are capable of detecting small defects in both the surface and subsurface layers. Adjustable sliding probes are particularly well suited for finding subsurface cracks in thick multilayer structures, like wing skins. They differ with the fixed types in that they are most often moved at right angles to the crack direction (although the probe is turned 90 degrees) in what is called a 90 degree scan (see the Appendix).
The sensitive area is located in the center of the probe between the coils and is directionally sensitive, so the engraved (normally green) "detection" line must be kept in the direction of the expected cracks. Two types of scan are possible: one scan centralized over the heads or two side (tangential) scans, one in each side of fastener.

Surface and Subsurface Crack Detection

Adjustable sliding probes are normally used for subsurface crack detection and rarely for surface cracks where the fixed sliding probes will normally have an advantage. Nevertheless there are some exceptions such as in the case of large or magnetic fasteners and/or if the crack growth direction is at 90 degrees to the fastener row. The penetration will increase with the larger size probes and depths of 0.75 in. (20 mm) have been possible, although the small sizes are the most common and can also be used down to 100 Hz.

Liftoff Adjustment

When the probe is passed over the fastener head an indication will be obtained similar to that of Figure 1. This is very similar to the fixed types. The liftoff is normally adjusted to be horizontal as it is the conventional direction. As the signal is not a straight line but a curve, it is important to remember that we only need a reasonable compensation for the expected lift off variations caused by paint and fastener head unevenness. A horizontal movement of the dot for the first 0.01 in. (0.25 mm) to 0.02 in. (0.5 mm) of lift off is satisfactory. In Figure 1 it is the movement from the null point "X" to point "Y", which will only cause a mainly horizontal shift of the display along that distance.

Figure 1 it is the movement from the null point "X" to point "Y"

Figure 1

Even this small distance can be a steep curve and may have to be allowed to move slightly upwards before moving downwards (see Figure 2). The amount of vertical movement for the required lift off is distributed so that the display only shifts slightly above or below horizontal.

Figure 2

Probe Adjustment

The spacer thickness between the coils is normally adjusted for the best detection. If the notch used for calibration is long enough (to give a good indication) it is quicker to centralize it over the head and perform one scan only (typical spacer thickness for the single scan inspection is approximately the fastener diameter). Check that the notch is still detectable if the probe is turned 180 degrees. This type of scan may not be possible with some large head or magnetic fasteners.

For tangential scans a thinner spacer is often better, but the final decision depends on the experimental results obtained with the reference standard and the structure to be inspected. The spacer thickness range can vary from 0 (no spacer) for inspections close to the surface and small fastener heads to a maximum of about 0.3 in. (8 mm) for deep penetration on large heads with bigger probe types. A wider spacer will give more tolerance to probe deviation as the sensitive area becomes wider, but the instrument will require more gain.

Signal Interpretation

When the probe moves over a fastener hole with no cracks in the normal 90 degree scan, the indication is narrow, but if we scan at 0 degrees the indication becomes a loop. See Figure 3 and Appendix: (Scan Directions to Insure All Cracks are Evaluated). The loop is produced by a continuous phase change as the driver and pick up coils travel over the fastener and is wider than with the fixed probes. When the dot is at point "a" the probe is totally centralized (common to both scanning directions).

Scan Directions to Insure All Cracks are Evaluated)

Figure 3

Crack Detection

When the probe moves over a fastener hole with a crack the indication changes and typically will create a larger loop and vertical movement (see Figure 4).

crack detection

Figure 4

The main difference between scanning in the crack direction or at right angle to the crack is the shape of the indication. The dotted line shows the indication obtained when the probe travels over the length of the crack (0° scan), where the solid line shows the indication from traveling at right angles to the crack (the normal 90° scan). The reason is when the crack is scanned "slowly" along its length, the phase changes, displaying a loop - but when moving at right angles to the crack, it is seen by the probe "abruptly", and gives a sharp narrow signal. This signal will meet the loop at some point in its travel depending on the probe alignment. Both these signals can be observed by scanning the same fastener hole in the two directions. See Appendix: (Scan Directions to Insure All Cracks are Evaluated).

If two cracks in opposite sides of the fastener hole are present with the probe moving at right angles and centralized over the fastener the indications will typically add up to a larger indication. This is because both are being detected at the same time (with a fixed probe they would normally be detected one after the other in a 0° scan).

Variables: Probe Scan Deviation

It is important to try to keep the probe centralized over the fastener heads. This corresponds to a maximum indication for the fastener and also the crack. In Figure 5 the indication "a" corresponds to a perfectly centralized probe, while indications "b" and "c" correspond to increasing deviation from the center line. The dotted line marks the path of the changing deviation (See Appendix).

indication "a" corresponds to a perfectly centralized probe, while indications "b" and "c"

Figure 5

If the probe deviates from the center line, the crack indication will move along the loop that we saw in Figure 4 and is now presented in Figure 5. The crack indication is at "a" when the probe is centralized and moves towards "b" as it deviates in one direction or "c" as it deviates in the opposite direction. Point "b" gives an improved indication even if it loses a small amount of amplitude it has gained in phase, giving a better separation angle (this is because we deviated to the side where the crack is located). This is the reason why two tangential side scans are more sensitive to smaller cracks than one centralized scan. When the probe deviates in the opposite direction the signal from the crack moves towards point "c", where it loses too much phase and amplitude and starts looking more like the normal fastener indication (particularly for a small size defect that the one represented in Figure 5). This is why a second tangential scan in the opposite side is needed.

Other Variables: Crack Angle Deviation

A reduction in the crack indication occurs when the crack is at an angle to the probe scan direction. This happens if the crack is not completely at 90 degrees to the normal probe scan or changes direction as it grows. The effect is also very similar if the probe is not at right angles but at a smaller angle of attack. See Appendix: (Scan with a Deviation Angle).

The adjustable sliding probes are capable of detecting cracks up to about 30 degrees off angle, and will give a reduced indication proportional to the amount of deviation, see Figure 6. The effect is similar to that obtained with the fixed sliding probes.

adjustable sliding probes are capable of detecting cracks up to about 30 degrees off angle

Figure 6

Other Variables: Electrical Contact

When inspecting fasteners that have just been installed or reference standards that have intimate contact with the aluminum skin plate, it is not unusual to obtain a smaller than normal indication. In some extreme cases the fastener indication may disappear almost completely. This is due to the good electrical contact between the fastener and the skin that allows the eddy currents to circulate without finding the boundary and therefore no obstacle or barrier. Figure 7 shows the decrease of the fastener indication due to close contact.

This problem is found more frequently with riveting and rarely with other fasteners, particularly if used with nuts or collars. Nevertheless, because of this effect it is recommended to paint the holes on the reference standard before fastener installation. In this way the reference standard will simulate the real life structure that due to the temperature changes, moisture and movement that always creates a natural oxide layer between fastener and skin.


  • Cracks are considered detectable up to +/- 30 degrees, but it also depends on depth and crack length. Longer cracks are more likely to be detected off angle.
  • It is important to avoid the probe hitting the edge of the fastener head. If the spacer does not provide enough gap to allow clearance over the fastener heads it is advisable to create one using thin strips (skis) of tape.
  • To provide the best presentation it is usual to set the vertical gain a few dB above the horizontal gain.
  • It is often helpful to use a non metallic straight edge to guide the probe over the line of fasteners, particularly if heavy paint makes it difficult to see the heads. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to locate two fasteners to locate the row using the sliding probe.
  • If the fastener heads are not reasonably aligned, it is probably best to scan by hand, taking care to guide the probe along with the same alignment to the fastener head.
  • To find a crack direction more accurately, approach the fastener at different angles until you obtain the largest indication.
  • When inspecting magnetic steel fasteners it is often helpful to place a very thin magnetic steel shim under the driver coil. As the probe will see the steel shim all the time, the dot will move less when traveling from aluminum to the magnetic fastener head and will produce a smaller indication.
  • If the fastener spacing is close enough to allow a head to be under each coil, a downwards indication will be obtained but is normally easily identified from a crack.


Typical Center Scan with an Adjustable Probe

Typical Center Scan with an Adjustable Probe

Typical Side Scan (Tangential) with an Adjustable Probe (two scans normally required)

Typical Side Scan (Tangential) with an Adjustable Probe (two scans normally required)

Scan Directions to Insure All Cracks are Evaluated

Scan Directions to Insure All Cracks are Evaluated

Scan with a Deviation Angle

Scan with a Deviation Angle

Olympus IMS

Products used for this application

Pencil Surface Probe

Pencil surface probes are general purpose plastic-tip probes used for surface or near-surface crack detection. They are available with various coil configuration and connector options. Pencil surface probes feature an adjustable collar for greater stability.

Bent Shaft Surface Probes

Bent shaft surface probes are general purpose stainless-steel probes used for surface or near-surface crack detection. They are available in a variety of sizes, and with various coil configurations and connector options.

Flexible Shaft Surface Probes

Flexible copper shaft of these probes can be bent to various shapes. Designed for general surface crack detection, flexible surface probes are available in a variety of lengths, and with various coil configurations, drops, and connector options.

All Other Surface Probes

A specialized probe series including the Pencil 3551l probe, Blade probe, Plastic-Tip probe, Finger probe, and Spring Loaded probe.

Rotating Stainless Steel Scanner Probes

The rotating stainless steel scanner probes section includes a range of all-stainless-steel probes, including the standard series and the SEU series.

Ring/Donut Probes

Ring/Donut probes are made to fit various fastener head diameters. Their principal use is for subsurface crack detection with the fastener in place. They are available in both bridge and reflection configurations.

All Other Scanner Probes

The other rotating scanner probes section includes a variety of specialized scanner probes, such as the Adjustable X type series, the Adjustable Y type series, the Countersink series, and the Countersink Stainless Steel series.

Angle Shaft Surface Probe

30° or 45° tip, stainless-steel shaft. Designed for general surface-crack detection, these probes are available in a variety of lengths, and with various coil configurations, drops, and connector options.

Straight Shaft Surface Probes

Straight stainless-steel shaft. Designed for general surface crack detection, these probes are available in a variety of lengths, and with various coil configurations and connector options.

Spot Probes

Spot probes are used for discovering flaws both on and below surfaces. Their large coil diameter and low frequency operation are advantageous for scanning larger areas, and providing an increased detectable flaw size; typically equal to one-half of the probe diameter.

Manual Bolt Hole Probes

Manual bolt hole probe coils are positioned at right angles to the shaft direction. These probes are rotated by hand to inspect holes with the fasteners removed. Standard (fractional and metric) and custom diameters are available with either absolute or differential coils.

Rotating Plastic Scanner Probes

The rotating plastic scanner probes section features a variety of expandable plastic-tip probes and stainless-steel backshell probes, including the SUB series, SPO-5965 series, SPO-3564 series, and standard series.

Eddy Current Probes

Eddy current probes consist of the acquired brands of Nortec and NDT Engineering. We offer more than 10,000 standard and custom designed eddy current probes, standard references, and accessories.

Weld Probes

Weld probes are designed to inspect ferrous welds. They provide a cost-effective alternative to magnetic particle inspection, which requires the part to be prepared (cleaned) prior to inspection.

Right Angle Surface Probes

90° tip, stainless-steel shaft. Designed for general surface crack detection, these probes are available in a variety of lengths, and with various coil configurations, drops, and connector options.

Conductivity Probes and Standards

Conductivity probes are designed for sorting non-ferrous metals and determining heat treatment condition or damage.

Sliding Probes

Sliding probes are specifically designed to inspect rows of fasteners. They operate in reflection mode and are used to find surface and near-surface flaws. They come in adjustable types, which are able to accommodate different fastener sizes, and fixed types, which are usually procedure specific.


The new NORTEC 600 incorporates the latest advancements in high-performance eddy current flaw detection into a compact, durable unit. With its vibrant 5.7 inch VGA color display and true full-screen mode, the NORTEC 600 produces user-selectable, highly contrast eddy current signals.
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