Sonic gold: Ultrasound on the rise

Sheila Kennedy says ultrasound is finding a greater role in electrical inspections and as a complement to other tests.

By Sheila Kennedy

Ultrasonic inspection of mechanical and electrical equipment is gaining ground. This nondestructive testing (NDT) method has long proved effective in structure-borne applications such as finding faults in rotating equipment and in airborne applications such as detecting compressed air and gas leaks. Increasingly, ultrasonic testing (UT) is being employed in electrical inspections – to detect corona, tracking, and arcing – and as a complement to lubrication and vibration testing programs. UT training and service options are expanding accordingly.

Trending applications

Ultrasound is becoming prominent in a growing range of condition-based maintenance (CBM) applications. Ultrasound’s ability to detect increases in friction levels makes it a valuable leading indicator for online and permanent CBM for rotating equipment and increasingly a broad range of nontraditional applications, explains James Neale, director of the Energy Research Centre at University of Waikato, New Zealand.

“New software and hardware tools are now available to provide immediate feedback to CBM inspectors/technicians in the field, with real-time sound wave form and frequency spectra analysis crucial to detecting subtle changes in equipment condition,” says Neale. “This is particularly useful when dealing with low-energy applications such as slow-speed bearings, low-pressure valves, and low-pressure steam-trap assessments.”

UE Systems is seeing wider adoption of remote continuous monitoring using ultrasound for both mechanical and electrical applications.

Companies such as Nissan North America are incorporating remote-access sensors in their ultrasound programs and sharing the results with management to improve awareness of and support for their predictive maintenance efforts, according to UE Systems marketing director Maureen Gribble.

“This trend is being driven first by safety and the inaccessibility of equipment that needs to be monitored but can’t (be) through traditional data collection methods due to guarding,”she says. “It is also driven by the need for increased monitoring of the health of the asset and data integration into a facility’s CMMS/EAM program.”

Tool innovations

Ultrasonic flaw detection and imaging systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The future of UT technology in the NDT space is a focus on expanded features and functions available in a single platform that delivers the most benefits and the shortest ROI at a value-oriented price point, suggests Keith Erk, a global manager at NDT Systems.

“Customers want to be able to perform multiple inspections with one device,” he says, adding that the company’s Raptor flaw detector offers “advanced shear wave, precision thickness gauging, and on-board capability to drive automated scanners that provide 3D C-scan images of CFRP aerospace components or hi-def corrosion maps on pipes and tanks.” 

The Mentor UT ultrasonic array flaw detector from GE Inspection Technologies is optimized for corrosion and erosion mapping of process vessels, tanks, and piping, according to GE Oil & Gas product manager Matt Skinner. Custom or preinstalled inspection applications that guide users through inspection procedures help improve productivity and minimize training costs.

Advanced, intuitive digital features such as guided calibration, wireless connectivity, and a fully customizable touch-screen interface “improve inspection accuracy and shorten training time for new inspectors,” Skinner says.

Skills development and supplementation

Wider use of ultrasound demands making it a training priority. “Advanced ultrasonic inspection has in many cases replaced inspections previously carried out with radiography; therefore, the demand for ultrasonic training has increased in recent years, and the need for highly skilled ultrasonic inspectors is ongoing in many industry sectors,” explains Marcus Jones, global manager of strategy and development at TWI Training and Examinations.

TWI offers online courses through its Virtual Academy as well as blended learning packages that combine online and classroom education. Blended packages geared toward certification include Ultrasonic Testing (UT) of Welds levels 1 and 2, Time-of-Flight Diffraction (TOFD), and Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing (PAUT). “The facility for students to learn course theory online, in their own time, and at their own pace will enhance their classroom experience,” says Jones.

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