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13.1 Nondestructive Inspection Nondestructive inspection is an engineering discipline in its own right. All large aerospace companies and many part manufacturers have NDI groups that work full time at developing new and improved methods of inspecting parts. The literature on NDI is extensive; 1-5 therefore, in this chapter only the basics will be covered and how NDI can be used to detect flaws in composite parts. NDI methods range from simple visual inspections to very sophisticated automated systems with extensive data handling capabilities. It should be noted that composites are generally more difficult to inspect than metals due to their non-homogenous nature; i.e., laminated structures containing multiple ply orientations with numerous ply drop-offs. In addition, it is important that technicians conducting NDI be trained and certified in the method they are using. 13.2 Visual Inspection Visual inspection is both a very valuable yet limited method for inspecting composite parts. Since only surface or edge defects are visible, it reveals nothing about the internal integrity of the part. Nevertheless, all parts should be periodically inspected for surface cracks, blisters, porosity, depressions or waviness, edge delaminations or paint discoloration. Proper lighting and low power magnifiers (5-10• can help with visual inspection. Borescopes and mirrors are often used if the area to be inspected is hidden from direct view. Edge delaminations and tight surface cracks can be enhanced by taking a clean cotton cloth, dampening it with a solvent such as acetone, wiping the suspected area and then watching the solvent evaporate. If a crack or delamination is present, some residual solvent will continue to bleed out revealing its location and size. Normal dye penetrants should never be used, because they can contaminate the surfaces of the delamination making subsequent repair more difficult or impossible. Although tap testing is normally classified as a sonic test method, actually a lowfrequency vibration method, it will be discussed here since it is frequently used during visual inspection. In tap testing, a heavy coin, washer, or small hammer is used to lightly tap the surface. If a good region is tapped, the reflected sound will contain more high-frequency vibrations and will produce a ringing sound, while if a bad region (e.g., an unbond) is tapped, the reflected sound will contain less high-frequency vibrations and the sound will be much duller. Tap testing is capable of doing a credible job of finding unbonds or delaminations in honeycomb assemblies containing relatively thin skins (e.g., <0.040 inches or thinner). 6 For composite laminates, the tap test may be capable of detecting delaminations in the first few surface plies but cannot detect deeper defects. About the smallest defect that can be detected is 0.50 inches diameter at a depth up to about 0.25 inches, a Electronic tap testing equipment is available that will provide a more consistent test. Although tap testing can be used as a preliminary screening method, it is strongly recommended that instrumented ultrasonic equipment be used to make the final determination of defect size. For example, an impact delamination may result in only a
a transmitting . As the ultrasonic beam passes through the composite. while low frequencies (longer wavelengths) can penetrate to greater depths. An ultrasonic wave traveling through a composite laminate that encounters a defect (e. The piezoelectric crystal will also convert the returning sound waves back into electrical energy when the sound is received back from the part. however. Thicker laminates will attenuate more sound than thinner laminates.g. 13. although most composite structure is usually tested at 1-5 MHz. 2.e.. The two most prevalent fabrication defects in solid laminates are porosity and foreign objects. High frequencies (short wavelengths) are more sensitive to small defects. Ultrasonic waves are produced when an electrical signal generator sends a burst of electrical energy to a piezoelectric crystal in the transducer causing the crystal to vibrate and convert the electrical pulses into mechanical vibrations (sound waves). Inclusions. lost) due to scattering. shown in Fig. In the through transmission method. Through transmission (TT) ultrasonics is one of the two most common methods used to inspect fabricated composite laminates and assemblies. or two crystals can be used with one sending and the other receiving the pulse. absorption and beam spreading. porosity) will reflect some of the energy at the interface while the remainder of the energy passes through the porosity.. or foreign objects.small indication on the surface at the point of impact.3 Ultrasonic Inspection Ultrasonic inspection is the most valuable technique for inspection of composite parts. Flaws are detectable since they alter the amount of sound returned to the receiver. the delamination often radiates from the impact point resulting in an extensive network of internal matrix cracks and delaminations. This loss or attenuation is usually expressed in decibels (dB). Porosity is detectable because it contains solid-air interfaces that transmit very little and reflect large amounts of sound. Ultrasonic inspection is defined as inspection conducted in the frequency range of 1-30 MHz. A single crystal can be pulsed to send and receive sound waves. The more severe the porosity. it is attenuated (i. are detectable if the acoustic impedance of the foreign object is sufficiently different than that of the composite material. Ultrasonics operates on the principle of transmitted and reflected sound waves. the greater the amount of reflected energy and the less that is transmitted through the defect.
If the part contains a defect. pulse echo can be used to measure laminate thickness and the depth of defects. this method cannot detect all types of foreign objects and it cannot detect the depth of the defects. However. such as porosity or a delamination. The amplitude of the echo received from the back surface is reduced by the presence of defects in the structure.transducer generates a longitudinal ultrasonic wave that travels through the laminate and is received by a receiving transducer placed on the opposite side of the part. some or (all) of the sound will be either absorbed or scattered so that some (or all) of the sound is not received by the receiving transducer. Thus. Pulse echo ultrasonics will detect just about all types of foreign objects but is not as capable of determining porosity levels as thoroughly as through transmission. . Through transmission is usually conducted in a water tank or by using a water squirter method. Attenuation of the ultrasound is affected by internal defects and the time delay of the pulse is related to the depth of the defect. Through transmission is excellent at detecting porosity. it is an excellent method when there is access to only one side of the part. If appropriate reference standards are available. 3). the sound is transmitted and received by the same transducer. Mylar film and nylon tapes are particularly difficult to detect with through transmission. delaminations and some types of inclusions. Pulse echo is more sensitive to transducer alignment than through transmission. pulse echo (PE) ultrasonic inspection is frequently used in conjunction with through transmission ultrasonics to inspect parts. Since through transmission is not capable of detecting all types of foreign objects and the depth of defects. In the pulse echo method (Fig. unbonds.
It should be noted that while through transmission is good at detecting porosity.They also index at the end of each scan pass. ultrasound does not propagate well through air. The ultrasonic energy is converted to digital data and stored in a file. the transducer needs to be within about 2 ~ of normal to the surface. therefore. Through transmission C-scans of both a good part and one with rejectable porosity are shown in Fig. glycerin compounds are frequently used while all automated systems use water. can often appear to be porosity. There are also special units for cylindrical parts that contain turntables that rotate during the scanning operation. C-scan units can . a couplant is used to more effectively transmit the sound from the transducer to the part. Imaging software allows Cscan displays in either shades of gray or color. Modern units are capable of scan speeds of up to 40 inch s -~ and some units can record through transmission and pulse echo data simultaneously. The output from these automated units is displayed as a C-scan. For hand inspection. such as ply wrinkling.For pulse echo inspection. the most frequently used in production. 7. 6. 8) and planar voids if the defect densities are similar. the more severe the sound attenuation and the poorer the quality of the part. are usually large gantry systems (Fig. eliminating the need to scan the part twice. 5) that are computer controlled to track the contour of the part and keep the transducers normal to the surface. which is a planar map of the part. 4. automated systems can either be squirter systems or submerged reflector plate systems. As shown in Fig. it cannot tell the difference between scattered porosity (Fig. Lead reference standards that are placed on the part to identify location. other defects. the darker the area. Squirter systems. while misalignments up to about 10~ a through transmission can tolerate Since there is a large impedance mismatch between air and a solid interface. In addition. where light (white) areas indicate less sound attenuation and are of higher quality than darker areas (gray to black) that indicate more sound attenuation and are of lower quality. As depicted in Fig.
that area of the part is rejected. Areas that are . Part zoning can also be used to reduce cost. Part manufacturers usually establish a baseline attenuation in decibels (dB) for each part. if the baseline for a good laminate is 25 dB and the rejection threshold is 18 dB. Both photomicrographs and mechanical property testing is used to establish the threshold levels. When the attenuation level exceeds the baseline by a predetermined dB.be programmed to print out the changes in sound levels as varying shades of gray or can be set in a go-no go mode where only rejectable areas are printed. For example. then any indication over 43 dB (25 dB + 18 dB) would be rejected. Baselines and thresholds are determined by conducting effects-of-defects test programs in which known good laminates are compared with laminates of varying porosity levels.
The first laser. An additional benefit of laser ultrasonics is that the ultrasound propagates perpendicular to the surface somewhat independent of the laser angle of incidence. In this process. This being said. air coupled ultrasonics are occasionally used for materials with low acoustic impedance (i. The receiving laser detects light scattered off the surface that is analyzed by a Fabry-Perot interferometer to extract the ultrasonic signal. the expansion will create an ultrasonic wave in the 1-10 MHz range. Surface temperatures are normally restricted to 150 ~ or less.. Carbon/epoxy laminates are usually scanned at around 5 MHz while honeycomb assemblies require lower frequencies (1 or 2. A relatively new ultrasonic inspection technology is laser ultrasonics. 1 The transducers are placed close to the part surface (within an inch) and frequencies of 50 kHz to 5 MHz are employed. parts are generally scanned with the highest frequency that can penetrate the part. normally a neodymium:yttriumaluminum garnet laser. resin starved or machined surfaces may limit the success of this technique. Foam filled structures require even lower frequencies with 250 kHz.highly stressed would be zoned to lower threshold values than non-critical lower stressed areas. However. especially for highly contoured parts. since the part must have a thin layer of resin on the surface for effective sound generation. 500 kHz or 1 MHz being typical. ~ It provides essentially the same information as conventional ultrasonic inspection except that it is faster than conventional methods. If the laser pulses are short (10-100 ns).25 MHz) to penetrate the thicker structure. generally a carbon dioxide laser. detects the sound signal as it returns to the top surface. generates ultrasound in the part by causing thermoelastic expansion. Laser heating at the surface causes a temperature increase and a resultant local expansion of the material. The transmitters and receivers can be off axis to normal as much as +45 ~ without loss of performance. while the second laser. Air coupling has been used to inspect honeycomb materials up to eight inches thick. . it is important to generate as much ultrasound as possible without causing heat damage to the composite surface. Two lasers are used. 1 Since the ability to detect defects suffers at lower frequencies. lower density materials) such as honeycomb assemblies.e.
The source-to-film distance (SFD) should be as great as possible for the best resolution. Changes in density can be caused by changes in part thickness. crushed core or liquid water in honeycomb cells. Flaw orientation is critical for detection reliability. The film used is a high contrast film with a small grain size. 12. 11. do not move. reference standards are normally used. Both methods . like the one depicted in Fig. There are several forms of radiography normally employed to inspect composite assemblies. such as those shown in Fig. Reference standards can be fabricated. but some of the best ones are pieces of scrapped assemblies that are cut up for dissection since they contain the same materials and thicknesses as the actual part being inspected. Static X-ray units can be stationary or portable for on-aircraft inspection. As with ultrasonic inspection. Some depth resolution can be obtained by titling either the X-ray source or the part. cracks. porosity. The major dimension of the flaw should be parallel to the beam direction for maximum sensitivity. thickness and part construction all cause variations in the radiographic image. The part is manually indexed under the X-ray source and multiple shots are taken to provide complete part coverage.Variations in density. Static X-ray units.
require proper shielding of personnel. there are two robots (a source robot and a media robot) that are mounted on a gantry . With in-motion X-ray.
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