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As the inaugural edition of TechSolutions, this article provides an overview of nondestructive testing, a critical component of the broader class

of systems testing. While this first article gives a strategic introduction to the various nondestructive techniques currently available, future editions of TechSolutions will engage the reader in a more detailed discussion of each of these methods and how they can be used to locate defects in various applications. Once the series on nondestructive methods is complete, we will combine all of the articles into a valuable desk reference on nondestructive testing. - Editor

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David S. Forsyth H. Thomas Yolken George A. Matzkanin TRI/Austin Austin, TX

A Brief Introduction to Nondestructive Testing INTRODUCTION Nondestructive testing (NDT) is defined by the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) as: The determination of the physical condition of an object without affecting that objects ability to fulfill its intended function. Nondestructive testing techniques typically use a probing energy form to determine material properties or to indicate the presence of material discontinuities (surface, internal or concealed). For the purpose of this article, the terms nondestructive testing, nondestructive inspection (NDI), and nondestructive evaluation (NDE) will be considered to be equivalent. In the modern NDT paradigm, the uses of NDT can be broken into several categories where it plays an important role: Material property measurements Process design for materials manufacturing Online process control Quality control as various stages of manufacturing are completed In addition, NDT plays an important role in the continued safe operation of physical assets. For instance, NDT is being used in conventional inspections and in health monitoring, where NDT sensors are embedded or attached to the system being inspected or monitored for defects or damage. In all cases, the customer must define the requirements of the test, such as the minimum level of acceptability for the property being measured and the characteristics of the material discontinuities to be identified. Given this information, the NDT engineer or experienced Level III technician* can choose the appropriate method and develop an appropriate technique for the inspection requirements. NONDESTRUCTIVE TESTING METHODS An NDT method is classified according to its underlying physical principle. For example, the common methods are: Visual and optical testing (VT) Radiographic testing (RT) Electromagnetic testing (ET) Ultrasonic testing (UT) Liquid penetrant testing (PT) Magnetic particle testing (MT) Acoustic emission testing (AE) Infrared and thermal testing (IR)
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An NDT technique defines all the parameters for the application of a specific method to a specific problem. These parameters include the instruments, probes, acceptance criteria, calibration specifications, and much more. ASNT offers a series of handbooks that are a key reference for the practical implementation of NDT. In addition, AMMTIAC has a number of state-of-the-art reports and technology assessments that provide in-depth reviews of specific topics. A listing of these reports is available on the AMMTIAC website. The following sections will briefly describe each of the common methods listed above. Visual Testing By far, the most common NDT method is visual and optical testing. In many instances, a trained inspector armed with simple tools, such as a flashlight and magnifying glass, can perform a very effective inspection. In quality control, as well as in maintenance operations, visual testing is the first line of defense. When deciding upon whether to use visual testing, it is important to understand its potential as well as its limitations. If the visual method is not sufficient for the problem at hand, more complex methods must be considered. Using the visual inspection method for enclosed systems can be challenging and possibly ineffective. To enable a technician or engineer to inspect these difficult-to-see areas, a device known as a borescope is often used. Borescopes are essentially miniaturized cameras that can be placed on the end of a fiber optic cable. The camera can then be inserted into regions that are obstructed from direct visual inspection, and the resulting images are viewed in real-time on a video screen by the inspector, as shown in Figure 1. Radiography Historically, radiography is the next most common NDT method. Significant activity in the field occurred almost immediately after Roentgens discovery of X-rays in 1895 [1]. Early literature notes the ability of radiographs to detect discontinuities in castings, forgings, and welds in metals. Discontinuities such as pores or inclusions in metals are readily detected in many cases. Cracks may also be detected using radiographic techniques, but attention must be paid to orientation and residual stress issues. Radiography continues to be widely used despite the expense and safety implications of
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Figure 1. Air Force Inspectors Use a Borescope (Circled in Red) to Inspect Engine Components on a B1-B Lancer.

by cracks. Thus ET methods are highly effective for the detection of cracks present on or below the surface of metallic objects. ET equipment has become extremely portable and is relatively cheap. It is the second most common method specified for NDT of aircraft. Recent advances in eddy current technology include multi-channel portable instruments, allowing faster inspections of large areas, and new magnetic sensors, such as the giant magnetoresistive sensors (GMR) developed for computer hard drives, instead of coils. Ultrasonic Methods Ultrasonic testing employs an extremely diverse set of methods based upon the generation and detection of mechanical vibrations or waves within test objects. The test objects are not restricted to metals, or even to solids. The term ultrasonic refers to sound waves of frequency above the limit of human hearing. Most ultrasonic techniques employ frequencies in the range of 1 to 10 MHz. The velocity of ultrasonic waves traveling through a material is a simple function of the materials modulus and density, and thus ultrasonic methods are uniquely suited to materials characterization studies. In addition, ultrasonic waves are strongly reflected at boundaries where material properties

the equipment. Recent advances in digital radiography have helped reduce the cost of employing this method by eliminating the use of film. Electromagnetic Testing Electromagnetic testing (ET), especially eddy current testing, is commonly used to inspect objects throughout their life cycle. Eddy current techniques employ alternating currents applied to a conducting coil held close to the test object. In response, the test object generates eddy currents to oppose the alternating current in the coil. The eddy currents are then sensed by the same coil, separate coils, or magnetic field sensors. Changes in the induced eddy currents may be caused by changes to a materials electromagnetic properties and/or changes in geometry, including the abrupt changes in current flow caused

Figure 3. A Bolt Hole Eddy Current Inspection Performed on an Aircraft.

change, and thus are often used for thickness measurements and crack detection. Recent advances in ultrasonic techniques have largely been in the field of phased array ultrasonics, now available in portable instruments. The timed or phased firing of arrays of ultrasonic elements in a single transducer allows for precise tailoring of the resulting ultrasonic waves introduced into the test object. Liquid Penetrant Liquid penetrant methods are simple, and are commonly used for the detection of surface breaking discontinuities, especially cracks. These methods involve the application of a

Figure 2. An Inspector Reviews a Digital X-ray on the Monitor.

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A D VA N C E D M AT E R I A L S , M A N U FA C T U R I N G
AND

TESTING

A MMTIAC

penetrant liquid to the test object, subsequent removal of excess penetrant, and application of a developer to enhance the visibility of remaining penetrant. Surface breaking cracks may trap penetrant, and thus provide a visual indication of the crack. Liquid penetrant methods are popular due to their simplicity and visual nature of the results. The process parameters of penetrant and developer dwell time and cleaning are extremely important, and significant efforts continue to be expended to understand and optimize these parameters. Liquid penetrant methods can be applied to virtually any material, but residual stress fields may close cracks and reduce the effectiveness of these methods.

such as the monitoring of pressure vessels. Space Shuttle flights since the Columbia accident have included an AE-based system on board to attempt to detect impacts to the leading edge of the wing. Recent advances in AE include the miniaturization of the associated electronics, allowing the development of relatively small and light systems for use in applications such as on board the shuttle. Infrared/Thermal Testing Infrared and thermal testing methods are characterized by the use of thermal measurements of a test object as it undergoes a response to a stimulus. Thermal imaging cameras are the most common sensing method. Passive imaging of machinery or electronics may be used to detect hot spots indicative of problems. Imaging of test objects after the application of energy can be used to monitor the flow of heat in the object, which is a function of material properties as well as boundaries. Flash thermography techniques have been very successful in imaging disbonds and delaminations in composite parts, for example. The high cost of quality thermal cameras was previously a drawback of the IR method, but recently these have become significantly less expensive. Another significant recent advancement is the use of mechanical energy to stimulate localized heating at subsurface discontinuities, such as cracks in metals, opening up a new field of application for the IR method. SELECTING AND EVALUATING AN NDT METHOD AND TECHNIQUE The selection of the appropriate method and development of the optimal technique to execute it is a crucial first step in the use of NDT, and must be performed by appropriately educated and experienced personnel. It is not sufficient to ask an inspector to X-ray this part to see if its OK. The relevant type of discontinuity, the material type, the manufacturing steps, and geometry are only some of the variables that affect the optimal choice. For a simplified guide, refer to Table 1.
Magnetic Particle Infrared and Thermal
X X X X X X X X X X X

Figure 4. An Inspector Performing a Magnetic Particle Inspection of a Component.

Magnetic Particle Magnetic particle methods are based on the collection of loose magnetic particles at locations of magnetic flux leakage on an object. This phenomenon is familiar to almost everyone from childhood experiments with magnets and iron filings. Magnetic particle methods are based on surface or near surface discontinuities that influence the electromagnetic properties of the object under test. For these methods to be employed, the object under test must be electrically conductive and ferromagnetic. Magnetic particle techniques thus allow the detection of surface-breaking cracks in steel objects of complex geometry, which typically is a challenge for RT methods. Figure 4 shows the inspection of a component using a magnetic particle test. Acoustic Emission Acoustic emission (AE) methods rely on the use of passive sensors to listen for mechanical disturbances caused by various degradation processes in test objects. In principle the AE method is very simple, but in practice it can be difficult to separate the vibrations caused by normal in-service processes from those associated with degradation and damage. Despite this difficulty, AE methods are commonly used in certain niche applications,
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Visual and Optical

Radiography

Electromagnetic

Test Object Material Ferromagnetic metal

Discontinuity Type

Surface-breaking cracks Non-surface-breaking cracks Surface-breaking cracks Non-ferromagnetic metal Non-surface-breaking cracks Corrosion pitting (hidden surface) Stress corrosion cracking* Metal (generic) Welds - lack of penetration Welds - porosity Delamination/disbonding Polymer-matrix Porosity composite Impact Damage Cure Polymers Disbonds Voids/Porosity Density Voids/Porosity Ceramics Surface-breaking cracks Non-surface-breaking cracks *See non-surface breaking cracks

X X

X X X X X X X X

X X X X X X X

Ultrasonic

X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X

Liquid Penetrant

X X

X X

X X X X X X X

Table 1. A Guide to Selection of NDT Methods for Various Materials and Discontinuities.

Acoustic Emission
X X X X X X

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The above table demonstrates that many of the general NDT methods can be applied to a wide variety of inspection problems. In practice, there are many mundane but important criteria that will affect the optimal choice, including equipment cost and availability, the availability of trained inspectors, time required to perform inspections, and the tradeoff between time/cost and the required capability. The quantitative evaluation of NDT capability is most commonly made through the metric of probability of detection (POD). MIL-HDBK-1823 provides a widely accepted method of estimating the POD for a specific NDT technique as applied to a specific inspection problem. The time and cost required to perform these studies can be significant, but this method is still widely used. It must be emphasized that the use of proper technique documentation, calibration procedures, and training are essential to ensure that the carefully controlled data acquired in a POD study can be reproduced in the actual service environment. The study of the reliability of NDT is an active area beyond the scope of this article. AMMTIAC has a long history of involvement in this field, and the interested reader is referred to the Nondestructive Evaluation Capabilities Data Book (AMMT-029) and the Technology Assessment of Probability of Detection for Nondestructive Evaluation (AMMT-019) for more information [2,3]. THE FUTURE OF NDT The evolution of a variety of technologies has enabled NDT to move rapidly ahead in the last several years. Vastly increased computing capability has enhanced the ability to gather, store and manipulate data and images, and to partially or fully automate NDT equipment. Similarly,

NDT modeling has benefited from advances in computing power. Commercial NDT modeling software is now available for use on personal computers and it continues to improve. The use of embedded sensors to monitor environments, usage, and performance will continue to grow. Many of these sensor technologies are based on those long used in NDT, but many are also new. Advances in MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), fiber optics, power harvesting, and wireless communications will be exploited to provide a continuous NDT system to supplement traditional periodic inspection scheduling. It is impossible to provide more than a brief introduction to the wide array of NDT possibilities in such a short article. In future issues of the AMMTIAC Quarterly, each method will be described in more detail. ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Photographs in this article were provided courtesy of the Air Force. They are publicly available at http://www.af.mil/photos/.

NOTES & REFERENCES


*ASNT maintains a certification program for inspectors, with grades Level I, II, and III, Level III being the highest grade. [1] R.H. Bossi, F.A. Iddings, G.C. Wheeler, and P.O. Moore, Radiographic Testing, Nondestructive Testing Handbook (3rd. Ed.), Volume 4, American Society for Nondestructive Testing, Columbus OH, 2002 [2] W.D. Rummel and G.A. Matzkanin, Nondestructive Evaluation Capabilities Data Book, 3rd Edition, Nondestructive Testing Information Analysis Center, AMMT-029, 1997 [3] G.A. Matzkanin and H.T. Yolken, A Technology Assessment of Probability of Detection for Nondestructive Evaluation, Nondestructive Testing Information Analysis Center, AMMT-019, 2001

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