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Ultrasonic Testing FAQs

Ultrasonic Testing FAQs

Find the answers to commonly asked questions about ultrasonic testing. 

1. What is ultrasonic testing?

Ultrasonic nondestructive testing, also known as ultrasonic NDT or simply UT, is a method of characterizing the thickness or internal structure of a test piece using high-frequency sound waves. The frequencies, or pitch, used for ultrasonic testing are many times higher than the limit of human hearing, most commonly in the range from 500 kHz to 20 MHz.

2. How does ultrasonic testing work?

High-frequency sound waves are very directional, and they will travel through a medium (for example, a piece of steel or plastic) until they encounter a boundary with another medium (such as air), at which point they reflect back to their source. By analyzing these reflections, it is possible to measure the thickness of a test piece or find evidence of cracks or other hidden internal flaws.

3. What types of materials can be tested?

In industrial applications, ultrasonic testing is widely used on metals, plastics, composites, and ceramics. The only common engineering materials that are not suitable for ultrasonic testing with conventional equipment are wood and paper products. Ultrasonic technology is also widely used in the biomedical field for diagnostic imaging and medical research.

4. What are the advantages of ultrasonic testing?

Ultrasonic testing is completely nondestructive. The test piece does not have to be cut, sectioned, or exposed to damaging chemicals. Access to only one side is required, unlike measurement with mechanical thickness tools like calipers and micrometers. There are no potential health hazards associated with ultrasonic testing, unlike radiography.

When a test has been properly set up, results are highly repeatable and reliable.

5. What are the potential limitations of ultrasonic testing?

Ultrasonic flaw detection requires a trained operator who can set up a test with the aid of appropriate reference standards and properly interpret the results. Inspection of some complex geometries may be challenging. Ultrasonic thickness gauges must be calibrated with respect to the material being measured, and applications requiring measurement of a wide range of acoustically diverse materials may require multiple setups. Ultrasonic thickness gauges are more expensive than mechanical measurement devices.

6. What is an ultrasonic transducer?

A transducer is any device that converts one form of energy into another. An ultrasonic transducer converts electrical energy into mechanical vibrations (sound waves), and sound waves into electrical energy. Typically, they are small, handheld assemblies that come in a wide variety of frequencies and styles to accommodate specific test needs.

7. What is an ultrasonic thickness gauge?

An ultrasonic thickness gauge is an instrument that generates sound pulses in a test piece and very precisely measures the time interval until the echoes are received. Having been programmed with the speed of sound in the test material, the gauge utilizes that sound velocity information and the measured time interval to calculate thickness via the simple relationship of distance equals velocity multiplied by time.

8. How accurate is ultrasonic thickness gauging?

Under optimal conditions, commercial ultrasonic gauges can achieve a level of accuracy as high as ±0.001 mm (0.00004 in.) and ±0.025 mm (0.001 in.) or higher in most common engineering materials. Factors affecting accuracy include the uniformity of sound velocity in the test material, the degree of sound scattering or absorption, the surface condition, and the precision and care with which the instrument has been calibrated for the application at hand.

9. Who uses ultrasonic gauges?

A common use for ultrasonic gauges is to measure remaining wall thickness in corroded pipes and tanks. The measurement can be made quickly and easily without needing access to the inside of the pipe or tank or requiring it to be emptied. Other important applications include measuring the thickness of molded plastic bottles and similar containers, turbine blades and other precision machined or cast parts, small diameter medical tubing, rubber tires and conveyor belts, fiberglass boat hulls, and even contact lenses.

10. What is an ultrasonic flaw detector?

Sound waves traveling through a material will reflect in predictable ways off flaws such as cracks and voids. An ultrasonic flaw detector is an instrument that generates and processes ultrasonic signals to create a waveform display that can be used by a trained operator to identify hidden flaws in a test piece. The operator identifies the characteristic reflection pattern from a good part, and then looks for changes in that reflection pattern that may indicate flaws.

11. What defects can you find with a flaw detector?

A wide variety of cracks, voids, disbonds, inclusions, and similar problems that affect structural integrity can all be located and measured with ultrasonic flaw detectors. The minimum detectable flaw size in a given application depends on the type of material being tested and the type of flaw under consideration.

12. Who uses ultrasonic flaw detectors?

Ultrasonic flaw detectors are widely used in critical safety-related and quality-related applications involving structural welds, steel beams, forgings, pipelines and tanks, aircraft engines and frames, automobile frames, railroad rails, power turbines and other heavy machinery, ship hulls, castings, and many other important applications.

13. What other types of instruments are available?

Ultrasonic imaging systems are used to generate highly detailed pictures similar to X-rays, mapping the internal structure of a part with sound waves. Phased array technology originally developed for medical diagnostic imaging is used in industrial situations to create cross-sectional pictures. Large scanning systems are used by the aerospace industry and metalworking suppliers to check for hidden flaws in both raw materials and finished parts. Ultrasonic pulser/receivers and signal analyzers are used in a variety of materials research applications.

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 72DL PLUS™ advanced ultrasonic thickness gauge delivers precision thickness measurements at high speed in a portable, easy-to-use device. Compatible with single element transducers up to 125 MHz, this innovative instrument is ideally suited to measure the thickness of ultra-thin materials, including multilayer paint, coatings, and plastic. It can simultaneously display the thickness of up to 6 layers.

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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