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High-Temperature Ultrasonic Testing

Although most ultrasonic flaw detection and thickness gauging is performed at normal environmental temperatures, there are many situations where it is necessary to test a material that is hot.

This commonly happens in process industries, where hot metal pipes or tanks must be tested without shutting them down for cooling. It also includes manufacturing situations involving hot materials, such as extruded plastic pipe or thermally molded plastic immediately after fabrication, or testing of metal ingots or cast parts before they have fully cooled.

Conventional ultrasonic transducers will tolerate temperatures up to approximately 50 °C or 122 °F. At higher temperatures, they will eventually suffer permanent damage due to internal disbonding caused by thermal expansion. If the material being tested is hotter than approximately 50 °C or 122 °F, then high-temperature transducers and special test techniques should be employed.

This application note contains quick reference information regarding selection of high-temperature transducers and couplants, as well as important factors regarding their use. It covers conventional ultrasonic testing of materials at temperatures up to approximately 500 °C or 932 °F. In research applications involving temperatures higher than that, highly specialized waveguide techniques are used. They fall outside the scope of this application note.

High-Temperature Transducers

NDT high-temperature transducers fall into two categories: dual element transducers and delay line transducers. In both cases, the delay line material (which is internal in the case of duals) serves as thermal insulation between the active transducer element and the hot test surface. For design reasons, there are no high-temperature contact or immersion transducers in the standard product line. 

High-temperature duals and delay line transducers are available for both thickness gauging and flaw detection applications. As with all ultrasonic tests, the best transducer for a given application will be determined by specific test requirements, including the material, the thickness range, the temperature, and in the case of flaw detection, the type and size of the relevant flaws.

1. Transducers for High-Temperature Thickness Gauging

The most common application for high-temperature thickness gauging is corrosion survey work. This involves the measurement of remaining metal thickness of hot pipes and tanks with corrosion gauges such as the 39DL PLUS™ and 45MG instruments. Most of the transducers that are designed for use with Evident corrosion gauges are suitable for high-temperature use. The commonly used D790 series transducers can be used on surfaces as hot as 500 °C or 932 °F. For a complete list of available corrosion gauging duals that includes temperature specifications, see this link: Corrosion Gauge Duals.

For precision thickness gauging applications using the 39DL PLUS gauge or 45MG gauge with Single Element software, such as the thickness measurement of hot plastics, any of the standard Microscan™ delay line transducers in the M200 series (including gauge default transducers M202, M206, M207, and M208) can be equipped with high-temperature delay lines. DLHT-1, -2, and -3 delay lines may be used on surfaces up to 260° C or 500° F. DLHT-101, -201, and -301 delay lines may be used on surfaces up to 175° C or 347° F. These delay lines are listed in the Delay Line Option Chart.

In challenging applications requiring low-frequency transducers for increased penetration, the Videoscan™ replaceable face transducers and appropriate high-temperature delay lines can also be used with 39DL PLUS and 45MG thickness gauges incorporating the High Penetration software option. Custom transducer setups will be required. Standard delay lines for this family of transducers can be used in contact with surfaces as hot as 480 °C or 896 °F. For a full list of transducers and delay lines, see this link: Replaceable Face Transducers.

2. Transducers for High-Temperature Flaw Detection

As in high-temperature thickness gauging applications, high-temperature flaw detection most commonly uses dual element or delay line transducers. All our standard NDT flaw detection duals offer high-temperature capability. Fingertip, flush case, and extended range duals whose frequency is 5 MHz or below may be used up to approximately 425° C or 797° F, and higher frequency duals (7.5 and 10 MHz) may be used up to approximately 175 °C or 347 °F. For a full list of transducers in this category, see this link: Flaw Detection Duals.

All of the Videoscan replaceable face transducers can be used with appropriate high-temperature delay lines in flaw detection applications. The available delay lines for this family of transducers can be used in contact with surfaces as hot as 480 °C or 896 °F. For a full list of transducers and delay lines suitable for various maximum temperatures, see this link: Replaceable Face Transducers.

Applications involving thin materials are often best handled by the delay line transducers in the V200 series (most commonly the V202, V206, V207, and V208), any of which can be equipped with high-temperature delay lines. DLHT-1, -2, and -3 delay lines may be used on surfaces up to 260 °C or 500 °F. DLHT-101, -201, and -301 delay lines may be used on surfaces up to 175 °C or 347 °F. These transducers and delay lines are listed on the Delay Line Transducer List.

We also offer special high-temperature wedges for use with angle beam transducers: the ABWHT series for use up to 260 °C or 500 °F and the ABWVHT series for use up to 480 °C or 896 °F. For more detailed information on available sizes, reach out to your local Evident sales representative. 

Couplants for High-Temperature Ultrasonic Testing

Most common ultrasonic couplants, such as propylene glycol, glycerin, and ultrasonic gels, will quickly vaporize if used on surfaces hotter than approximately 100 °C or 212 °F. Thus, ultrasonic testing at high temperatures requires specially formulated couplants that will remain in a stable liquid or paste form without boiling off, burning, or releasing toxic fumes. It is important to be aware of the specified temperature range for their use and to use them only within that range. Poor acoustic performance and/or safety hazards may result from using high-temperature couplants beyond their intended range.

At very high temperatures, even specialized high-temperature couplants must be used quickly since they tend to dry out or solidify and no longer transmit ultrasonic energy. Dried couplant residue should be removed from the test surface and the transducer before the next measurement.

Note that normal incidence shear wave coupling is generally not possible at elevated temperatures because commercial shear wave couplants will liquify and lose the very high viscosity that is necessary for transmission of shear waves.

We offer two types of high-temperature couplant:

1. Couplant H-2: Temperature range of -18 °C to 400 °C (0 °F to 750 °F) 

2. Couplant I-2: Temperature range of -40 °C to 675 °C (-40 °F to 1250 °F) 

Note that medium and high-temperature couplants should not be used in unventilated areas due to the small possibility of vapor auto-ignition. Consult Evident for details.

For a complete list of couplants available from Evident, along with further notes on each, please refer to the application note on Ultrasonic Couplants.

Test Techniques for High-Temperature Applications

The following factors should always be taken into consideration in establishing a test procedure for any high-temperature application:

1. Duty Cycle

All standard high-temperature transducers are designed with a duty cycle in mind. Although the delay line insulates the interior of the transducer, lengthy contact with very hot surfaces will cause significant heat buildup, and eventually permanent damage to the transducer if the interior temperature becomes hot enough. 

For most dual element and delay line transducers, the recommended duty cycle for surface temperatures between approximately 90° C and 425° C (194 °F to 797 °F) is no more than ten seconds of contact with the hot surface (five seconds is recommended), followed by a minimum of one minute of air cooling. Note that this is guideline only; the ratio of contact time to cooling time becomes more critical at the upper end of a given transducer's specified temperature range. 

As a general rule, if the outer case of the transducer becomes too hot to comfortably hold with bare fingers, then the interior temperature of the transducer is reaching a potentially damaging temperature, and the transducer must be allowed to cool down before testing continues. Some users have employed water cooling to accelerate the cooling process. However, Evident publishes no official guidelines for water cooling, and its appropriateness must be determined by the individual user.

2. Freeze Functions

Our EPOCH™ series flaw detectors and thickness gauges have freeze functions that can be used to freeze the displayed waveform and reading. The freeze function is very useful in high-temperature measurements because it enables the operator to capture a reading and quickly remove the transducer from the hot surface. With gauges, the fast screen update mode should be used to help minimize contact time.

3. Coupling Technique

The combination of transducer duty cycle requirements and the tendency of couplants to solidify or boil off at the upper end of their usable thickness range requires quick work on the part of the operator. A best practice is to apply a drop of couplant to the face of the transducer and then press the transducer firmly to the test surface, without twisting or grinding it (which can cause transducer wear). Any dried couplant residue should be removed from the transducer tip between measurements.

4. Gain Boost

The 39DL PLUS and 45MG gauges have user adjustable gain boost functions, as do all EPOCH series flaw detectors. Because of the higher attenuation levels associated with high-temperature measurements, it is often useful to increase gain before making measurements.

5. Velocity Variation

Sound velocity in all materials changes with temperature, slowing down as the material heats up. Accurate thickness gauging of hot materials always requires velocity recalibration. In steel, this velocity change is approximately 1% per 55 °C or 100 °F change in temperature. (The exact value varies depending on the alloy.) In plastics and other polymers, this change is much greater and can approach 50% per 55 °C or 100 °F change in temperature up to the melting point. If a temperature/velocity plot for the material is unavailable, then a velocity calibration should be performed on a sample of the test material at the actual test temperature. The temperature compensation software function in the 39DL PLUS gauge can be used to automatically adjust velocity for known elevated temperatures based on a programmed temperature/velocity constant.

6. Zero Recalibration

When performing thickness gauging with dual element transducers, remember that the zero offset value for a given transducer will change as it heats up due to changes in transit time through the delay line. Thus, periodic re-zeroing is necessary to maintain measurement accuracy. With Evident corrosion gauges this can be quickly and easily done through the gauge's auto-zero function; simply press the 2nd Function > Do Zero keys.

7. Increased Attenuation

Sound attenuation in all materials increases with temperature, and the effect is much more pronounced in plastics than in metals or ceramics. In typical fine grain carbon steel alloys, attenuation at 5 MHz at room temperature is approximately 2 dB per 100 mm one-way sound path (equivalent to a round trip path of 50 mm each way). At 500 °C or 932 °F, attenuation increases to approximately 15 dB per 100 mm of sound path. This effect can require use of significantly increased instrument gain when testing over long sound paths at high temperature. It can also require adjustment to distance/amplitude correction (DAC) curves or TVG (Time Varied Gain) programs that were established at room temperature.

Temperature/attenuation effects in polymers are highly material dependent but will typically be several times greater than the above numbers for steel. In particular, long high-temperature delay lines that have heated up may represent a significant source of total attenuation in a test.

8. Angular Variation in Wedges

With any high-temperature wedge, sound velocity in the wedge material will decrease as it heats up, and thus the refracted angle in metals will increase as the wedge heats up. If this is of concern in a given test, the refracted angle should be verified at the actual operating temperature. As a practical matter, thermal variations during testing will often make precise determination of the actual refracted angle difficult. 

Olympus IMS

Products Used for This Application

The 39DL PLUS™ gauge is field-proven and reliable for virtually every ultrasonic thickness inspection. It works as a precision or corrosion thickness gauge to meet the challenges of demanding applications across industries, including maintenance, manufacturing, and energy production. With world-class ultrasonic capability, fast scanning speeds, and fully integrated wireless connectivity, this handheld gauge delivers results you can trust in a seamless workflow.

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 handheld 45MG ultrasonic thickness gauge is packed with measurement features and software options. This unique instrument is compatible with the complete range of Olympus dual element and single element transducers, making this gauge an all-in-one solution for virtually every thickness gauge application.
The 27MG is a basic ultrasonic thickness gauge designed to make accurate measurements from one side on internally corroded or eroded metal pipes and parts. It is lightweight, durable, and ergonomically designed for easy, one-hand operation.
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