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Application Notes
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Thickness Measurement of Automobile Fuel Tanks

Application: Measurement of individual layers and total thickness in multilayer plastic automobile fuel tanks.

Background: Most contemporary automobile fuel tanks are fabricated with a multilayer plastic construction, typically made of two structural layers of high density polyethylene (HDPE) surrounding a thin gas barrier layer made of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH). The purpose of the barrier layer is to prevent the slow leakage of gasoline vapor through the polyethylene wall. The HDPE structural layers are typically in the thickness range 0.1 in. to 0.2 in. (2.5 to 5 mm), and the EVOH barrier layer is typically 0.004 in. to 0.012 in. (0.1 to 0.3 mm). Tank manufacturers need to measure both the thickness and the depth of the barrier layer.

Equipment: The Model 38DL PLUS ultrasonic thickness gage with the Multi-Measurement software option is recommended for simultaneous measurement of individual layers and total tank thickness in this application. With this software, the 38DL PLUS gage is capable of using separately programmed setups (including sound velocity, gain, and blanking settings) for each layer being measured to optimize performance. In this test, the gage is most often used with an M2017-RM (20 MHz) delay line transducer. Contact Olympus for gage setup assistance.

Typical Procedure: The waveforms below show measurements of structural and barrier layers in a typical automobile fuel tank using appropriate setups. The gage's frequency-based barrier measurement mode is used to read the barrier layer whenever its thickness is less than approximately 0.010 in. (0.25 mm). Barrier depth is measured with a conventional Mode 2 setup, and the thickness of the inner polyethylene layer is also measured in Mode 2. Thick barrier layers, greater than approximately 0.010 in. (0.25 mm) may also be measured in Mode 2. Note that because of low pass filtering effects in the outer polyethylene wall, the minimum measurable barrier thickness will usually be approximately 0.004 in. (0.100 mm).

The reflection ratio at the boundary between any two materials is determined by the relative acoustic impedances of those materials. Because virgin and regrind material have essentially identical acoustic impedances, it is not possible to separately measure regrind layers. Also, adhesive layers adjacent to barrier layers are generally too thin and/or too closely impedance matched to measure with ultrasonic techniques and cannot be resolved.

outer polyethylene layer

barrier layer (frequency domain measurement)

inner polyethylene layer

As with any ultrasonic thickness measurement, accuracy is dependent on proper sound velocity calibration. Velocity calibration must be performed for each material being measured, on samples of known thickness.


Olympus IMS

Products used for this application


The 38DL PLUS is an advanced ultrasonic thickness gage. Uses dual element transducer for internal corrosion applications, and has features that include THRU-COAT technology and echo-to-echo. Uses single element transducers for very precise thickness measurements of thin, very thick, or multilayer materials.


The handheld 45MG ultrasonic thickness gage 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 gage an all-in-one solution for virtually every thickness gage application.

Magna-Mike 8600

The Magna-Mike is a Hall effect thickness gage that uses a magnetic probe to perform accurate measurements on nonferrous and thin materials such as plastic bottles.
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