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This paper proposes novel techniques for thermal nondestructive test-
ing based on frequency modulated thermal waves. Amild steel sample hav-
ing discontinuities at different depths is taken as a test sample. The limited
depth resolution of the lock in thermography due to the fixed driving fre-
quency of the excited heat sources is overcome by the proposed new tech-
nique. Apulse compression approach is used to detect subsurface disconti-
nuities using linear frequency modulated thermal wave imaging and
digitized linear frequency modulated thermal wave imaging. In this way,
the peak power for probing the specimen can be decreased markedly by in-
creasing the average transmitted energy, which is proportional to the
length of the modulated excitation signal. Comparison between the tech-
niques based on the analog frequency modulated signal and its digital form
are presented.
Keywords: nondestructive testing, thermal wave, nonstationary sig-
nals, frequency modulation, time bandwidth product, correlation, pulse
Infrared thermography is a noncontact and whole field tech-
nique that can be usefully employed in nondestructive testing
(NDT) of materials. Presently, three different types of active thermal
nondestructive techniques are predominantly in use: pulse, lock in
and pulse phase thermography (Maldague, 2001; Maldague et al.,
2002; Lhota et al., 2000; Wu and Busse, 1998). In pulse thermogra-
phy, the tested material is warmed or cooled with a short duration
energy pulse and a measurement of the temporal evolution of the
surface temperature is performed with an infrared camera through
recording the infrared image sequence, indicating subsurface dis-
continuities at different depths (Maldague, 2001; Lhota et al., 2000).
The surface temperature gradients are affected because of present
subsurface discontinuities by local inhomogeneities of the material
surface as well as nonuniform heating. Lock in thermography uses
periodic sinusoidal thermal excitation in order to derive informa-
tion of reflected thermal wave phase and magnitude (Wu and
Busse, 1998). The phase angle has the advantage of being less sensi-
tive to local variations of illumination or of surface emissivity. Be-
cause of its monofrequency excitation, the depth resolution of the
test is fixed (fixed thermal wavelength). The experimental arrange-
ment of pulse phase thermography (Maldague, 2001; Maldague et
al., 2002) is similar to that of pulse thermography, but the funda-
mental idea of processing the captured image sequence is different.
In pulse phase thermography, the extraction of various frequency
components in the captured sequence is performed by Fourier
transform on each pixel of the thermogram sequence. The phase
images thus obtained show all the merits of the phase images ob-
tained with lock in thermography (that is, they are less sensitive to
surface inhomogeneities and illumination variations). Theoretically,
the short duration excitation pulse in pulse phase thermography
does launch a large number of frequency components into the test
samples, but the higher order components may not have sufficient
energy to propagate deep into the sample. Further compared with
pulse phase thermography, the proposed technique controls the
bandwidth of the thermal waves being launched into the sample
thickness of interest, leading to higher sensitivity (Maldague et al.,
2002). To overcome some of the traditional limitations of conven-
tional thermal wave imaging techniques (resolution, peak power,
depth of penetration), the present work focuses on two related,
nonstationary forms of thermal excitation techniques: frequency
modulated thermal wave imaging (Mulaveesala and Tuli, 2005; Tuli
and Mulaveesala, 2004; Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2005) and digitized
frequency modulated thermal wave imaging.
The basic concept of lock in thermography is the periodic heat-
ing of the sample surface by a sinusoidal intensity modulated heat
source. The absorbed heat generates thermal waves at the surface of
the object, which then propagate into the material under test. The
thermal waves will be reflected back onto the surface from wherev-
er the physical heat propagation parameters are different (for exam-
ple, voids and delaminations). For the purpose of analysis, the sam-
ple is considered as semiinfinite, onto which a uniform heat source
periodically deposits heat at a modulating angular frequency ω.
Then, neglecting convection losses, the temperature T, as a function
of depth z and time t is given by (Maldague et al., 2002; Wu and
Busse, 1998)
T0 = amplitude of the oscillating temperature on the surface
z = the depth below the surface
λ = the wavelength of the thermal wave
µ = the thermal diffusion length (Wu and Busse, 1998), defined
α = thermal diffusivity of the material.
The depth of penetration µ of thermal waves in a given material
(thermal depth range) is therefore dependent not only on the mate-
rial properties but also on the modulating frequency of the heat
source — the smaller the modulation frequency, the deeper the pen-
etration of the thermal wave. Beyond this thermal diffusion length,
the heat wave amplitude will drop to 1/e of its surface value.
= =
T z t T e
, cos ( ) = −

1046 Materials Evaluation/October 2005
Digitized Frequency Modulated Thermal Wave
Imaging for Nondestructive Testing
by Ravibabu Mulaveesala
and Suneet Tuli

Submitted June 2005
* Centre for Applied Research in Electronics, Indian Institute of
Technology Delhi, New Delhi 110016, India; e-mail <ravibabucareiitd>.
† Centre for Applied Research in Electronics, Indian Institute of
Technology Delhi, New Delhi 110016, India; e-mail <suneet@care>.
08_1035_1050_TPs_16pgs 9/15/05 11:31 AM Page 1046
Most signals encountered in engineering applications are inher-
ently nonstationary: that is, they have time varying frequencies or
amplitudes. Such signals are widely used in seismic, sonar and
radar applications and lead to solutions for combined range resolu-
tion problems (Wehner, 1994). The present work focuses on using
frequency modulated thermal excitation of the sample surface to
overcome the problems associated with long measurement time
and high peak powers. The advantage of using a frequency modu-
lated (chirp) heating (Mulaveesala and Tuli, 2005; Tuli and
Mulaveesala, 2004; Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2005) on the sample sur-
face is that it provides good accuracy for time of flight measure-
ments, as it only correlates well at a single well defined instant of
time of arrival. Additionally, the received chirp signal can be detect-
ed even when its level is well below the noise floor.
Afrequency modulated signal xcs(t) can be represented in time
as follows (Mulaveesala and Tuli, 2005; Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2005)
a(t) = the envelope of the chirp signal, which is zero outside the
time interval tD
θ(t) = the phase of the chirp signal (Figure 1a).
The instantaneous frequency fm(t), of the chirp signal can be ob-
tained as follows
The chirp rate represents the rate of change of instantaneous fre-
quency and is defined by
The waveform is said to be an up chirp if µ(t) > 0 and a down
chirp if µ(t) < 0. For a linear chirp, µ(t) is constant and, hence, fm(t) is
a linear function of time.
Conventional pulse thermography demands that the excitation
pulse should have a high peak power in order for the energy to
penetrate deep into the test sample. This becomes a limitation for
the high peak powers, but it can be overcome by coded excitation,
in which instead of increasing the peak power of the excitation sig-
nal, the average power is increased (O’Donnell, 1992). The funda-
mental concept of the digitally coded excitation system is shown in
Figure 1.
In digitized frequency modulated thermal wave imaging, the
input signal is clipped and converted into a binary (digital) form
(Figure 1b). The digitized signal xcd(t) can be derived from its ana-
log counterpart signal xca(t), by the nonlinear signum operation as
sgn(xca) = 1 when xca > 0
sgn(xca) = 0 when xca = 0
sgn(xca) = –1 when xca < 0.
The advantages of digitization of the analog chirp signal over
the conventional analog form can be explained by considering their
spectra. The difference between the spectrum of a sine wave chirp
(analog chirp) and the digital chirp can be estimated, if we compare
the spectrum of a single frequency sine wave and a square wave of
the same basic frequency. Asine wave has one spectral component
at a frequency f, whereas a square wave can be represented by its
Fourier series as below
By computing root mean square values of sine and square, it’s
clear that the energy of a square wave is two times higher than the
energy of a sine wave of the same amplitude. However, in the
square wave, the larger amount of additional energy is due to high-
er harmonics, which do cause a thermal wave inside the material
but of very small amplitude levels that can be neglected. The fun-
damental frequency has an amplitude (= 4/π) 1.273 times higher
than the sine signal, causing a greater depth of penetration and
leading to an increase in the reflected signal amplitude.
The pulse compression technique (Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2005;
Wehner, 1994) prevalent in radar allows for the transmission of a
low peak power, long duration modulated wave. This provides
detection range and resolution comparable to or better than that
achieved by short duration, high peak power pulse techniques.
The most widely used technique for pulse compression is the
correlation technique. Let s(t) be the thermal response on the sam-
ple surface over a designated reference region. Let h(t) be the ther-
mal response on the sample surface over the defective region. Both
s(t) and h(t) can be considered to be the same as the incident heat
( )
is odd
x t a t a t a n t
n square
sin sin 3 sin ( ) ( ) + ( ) + + ( )
1 3
ω ω ω K
x t x t
cd ca
( ) ( )
( )


f t
( )



x t a t t t t
cs D
( ) ( ) ( )
< < sin , θ 0
Materials Evaluation/October 2005 1047
Figure 1 — Intensity profile of heat source over time: (a) linear
frequency modulated signal (b) digitized linear frequency modulated
08_1035_1050_TPs_16pgs 9/20/05 3:08 PM Page 1047
flux except for a delay and a change in amplitude (Tuli and
Mulaveesala, 2004; Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2005; Wehner, 1994). The
cross correlation of the two sequences of the thermal responses on
the sample surface at problematic and unproblematic regions, h(t)
and s(t), is a narrow correlation peak g(t) called a compressed pulse
(Figure 2), which can be represented as
Widening the bandwidth of the transmitted pulse by modulat-
ing it in either frequency or phase yields a finer range resolution
than can be achieved with conventional thermographic techniques.
Increasing the bandwidth of the excitation signal not only helps
to get fine range (depth) resolution but also improves the signal
to noise ratio (Tuli and Mulaveesala, 2004) as follows
τ = the duration
B = the bandwidth of the excitation signal.
It is possible to get a high signal to noise ratio by either increasing
the bandwidth or duration of the excited signal. Here, the pulse
compression technique has been applied to thermal nondestructive
testing for discontinuity detection by choosing the reference and
discontinuity thermal responses as the inputs to the cross correlator.
Increasing the bandwidth leads to an improvement in depth res-
olution for the detection of discontinuities at various depths be-
cause it induces more probing frequencies into the samples.
However, further increase in the bandwidth beyond a certain
limit for a given sample (depending on thermal properties and
thickness) will not help in extracting discontinuity information.
Linear and Digitized Linear Frequency Modulated Thermal
Wave Imaging
Experiments to validate the proposed linear frequency modulat-
ed thermal wave imaging technique and the digitized technique
were carried out on a mild steel sample (Figure 3) using an infrared
(3 to 5 µm [1.2 × 10
to 2 × 10
in.]) system. The sample contains 10
circular flat bottom holes, each 20 mm (0.8 in.) in diameter, at differ-
ent depths from the sample top surface. Afrequency modulated
thermal wave imaging signal (sine chirp) of 169 s duration, with its
frequency linearly varying from 0.01 to 0.5 Hz, is generated from a
signal generator and used to drive the heat sources via a source
control unit as shown in Figure 4. For the digitized (digitized
chirp) technique, the experimental setup was the same except
that the excitation is through a digitized signal with frequency

= ( ) 10
log τ
g t s t h t ( ) = ( )∗ ( )
1048 Materials Evaluation/October 2005
Figure 2 — Pulse compression principle: (a) s(t) is the temperature profile at the reference region over the surface; (b) h(t) is the temperature profile
on the sample surface over the discontinuity region; (c) g(t) is the compressed pulse after correlation of s(t) and g(t).
(a) (b) (c)
Figure 3 — Schematic description of the mild steel sample with flat
bottom holes. Sample measures X = 210 mm (8.3 in.), Y = 112 mm
(4.4 in.) and Z = 11.2 mm (0.4 in.). Holes are 20 mm (0.8 in.) in
diameter, with the following depths: a = 9.1, b = 11.1, c = 10.2,
d = 10.1, e = 7.0, f = 5.4, g = 8.3, h = 7.1, i = 6.3 and j = 5.4 mm
(a = 0.36, b = 0.44, c = 0.40, d = 0.39, e = 0.275, f = 0.21, g = 0.33,
h = 0.28, i = 0.25 and j = 0.21 in.).
Figure 4 — Schematic of the experimental setup for linear frequency
modulated thermal wave imaging and digitized linear frequency
modulated thermal wave imaging.
08_1035_1050_TPs_16pgs 9/15/05 11:31 AM Page 1048
varying similarly from 0.01 to 0.5 Hz. The infrared camera observes
the sample surface and records the temporal response of the sample
by capturing a sequence of images during the chirp heating. Vari-
ous frequency components in the captured image sequence are ex-
tracted using a Fourier transform on each pixel of the thermograph-
ic image sequence. The amplitude and phase images are formed by
repeating this process for all pixels in the frame. The phase and
magnitude images are generated using software.
Figure 5 shows the generated phase images using linear fre-
quency modulated thermal wave imaging and its digitized coun-
terpart at a modulation frequency of 0.05 Hz. The digitized image
(Figure 5b) clearly illustrates the capability to detect the deep dis-
continuities shown in Figure 3 (those labeled h, i and j) with better
resolution than through conventional linear frequency modulated
thermal wave imaging. It is clear that digitized imaging has the ca-
pability to preserve the shape of the discontinuity like the existing
pulse phase thermography. It may be noted that measurements
were made over only one frequency modulated cycle for both the
chirp excitations (0.01 to 0.5 Hz in 169 s) and the image sequence
was captured at a frame rate of 20 Hz. It can be seen that chirp heat-
ing can scan the entire sample thickness by utilizing thermal waves
whose diffusion length changes with time (Equation 2), depending
on the appropriate frequency modulated surface heating. The fre-
quency dependent thermal diffusion length determines the spatial
resolution of lock in thermography. In comparison, for a fixed test
frequency, the thermal diffusion length (Equation 2) gets fixed and
limits the depth resolution of the test. However, in chirp heating the
variable frequencies cause variable depth probing. Compared to
pulse thermography, considerably less peak power is required from
the heat sources. Further, as compared to pulse phase thermogra-
phy (Lhota et al., 2000; Maldague et al., 2002), even though a much
wider range of frequencies are probed simultaneously, higher order
harmonics may not have sufficient energy to scan the test sample.
Discontinuity Detection by Pulse Compression
Discontinuity depth can be conceptually estimated in two ways:
from the magnitude of the resultant thermal response at the discon-
tinuity location and by measuring the time delay of the thermal re-
sponse at the problematic region with respect to a reference region.
Estimation from the former can be misleading because of the pres-
ence of surface inhomogeneities and nonuniform heating of the
sample surface. Therefore, a correlation approach (based on time
delay) has been considered.
In this study, for both thermal wave imaging techniques, the
thermal response on the sample surface over a 0.1 mm
(3.9 × 10
in.) deep discontinuity from the sample surface has been
considered as the reference. The image sequence was captured for a
duration of 169 s at a frame rate of 20 Hz. Taking the sequence of
pixel intensity values at a discontinuity location throughout the se-
quence provides a temporal thermal profile. Before doing correla-
tion between the reference thermal profile and the thermal profile at
the discontinuity regions, the mean increase in temperature has
been removed by linear curve fitting. Correlations of the thermal
response of the sample from various depths, with respect to the
chosen reference (signal from 0.1 mm [3.9 × 10
in.] discontinu-
ity), were obtained. Figure 6 shows the correlation peaks ob-
tained for 1.1, 2.9, 4.2 and 4.9 mm (0.04, 0.11, 0.17 and 0.19 in.)
discontinuities with respect to the reference for both thermal
Materials Evaluation/October 2005 1049
Figure 5 — Phase images at 0.05 Hz of the mild steel sample with blind
holes, experimentally obtained using: (a) linear frequency modulated
thermal wave imaging; (b) digitized linear frequency modulated
thermal wave imaging. Measurements are made over only one
frequency modulated cycle.
Figure 6 — Correlation peaks obtained from experimental results from
various discontinuity depths with: (a) linear frequency modulated
thermal wave imaging; (b) digitized linear frequency modulated
thermal wave imaging.
08_1035_1050_TPs_16pgs 9/15/05 11:31 AM Page 1049
wave imaging techniques. However, the discontinuities located
at 1.1, 2.9, 4.2 and 4.9 mm (0.04, 0.11, 0.17 and 0.19 in.) from the
front surface are considered as 1.0, 2.8, 4.1 and 4.8 mm (0.04, 0.11,
0.16 and 0.19 in.) because two signals (thermal response of prob-
lematic and unproblematic or reference regions) are required
while doing cross correlation. In the present case, the reference
thermal signal has been chosen as the one corresponding to a
0.1 mm (3.9 × 10
in.) deep discontinuity very close to the sur-
face. The concept of discontinuity detection by shifts in correla-
tion peaks for thermal wave imaging techniques is thus intro-
duced and illustrated.
In this paper a novel approach (digitized linear frequency mod-
ulated thermal wave imaging) is proposed which circumvents
some of the limitations of conventional infrared thermographic
techniques. This novel approach simultaneously combines advan-
tages of modulated and pulse phase theromographic techniques by
probing with thermal waves into the test specimen in a desired
range of frequencies and extracting the phase information from the
observed thermal response. Pulse compression has been carried
out for discontinuity detection in a mild steel sample. The advan-
tages of the proposed new method over pulse, lock in, pulse
phase and linear frequency modulated thermal wave imaging
have been described.
Lhota, J.R., S.M. Shepard, B.A. Rubadeux and T. Ahmed, “Enhanced Spa-
tial and Depth Resolution of Pulsed Thermographic Images,” Review of
Progress in Quantitative Nondestructive Evaluation, Vol. 20A, D.O.
Thompson and D.E. Chimenti, eds., New York Plenum Press, 2000, pp.
Maldague, X.P.V., Theory and Practice of Infrared Thermography for Non-destruc-
tive Testing, Hoboken, New Jersey, Wiley-Interscience, 2001.
Maldague, X.P.V., F. Galmiche and A. Ziadi, “Advances in Pulsed Phase
Thermography,” Infrared Physics & Technology, Vol. 43, 2002, pp. 175-181.
Mulaveesala, R. and S. Tuli, “Implementation of Frequency Modulated
Thermal Wave Imaging for Non-destructive Subsurface Defect Detec-
tion,” Insight, Vol. 47, No. 4, 2005, pp. 206-208.
O’Donnell, Matthew, “Coded Excitation System for Improving the Penetra-
tion of Real-time Phased-array Imaging System,” IEEE Transactions on Ul-
trasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control, Vol. 39, No. 3, 1992, pp. 341-
Tuli, S. and R. Mulaveesala, “Frequency-modulated Wave Thermogra-
phy for Non-destructive Testing, Quantitative Infrared Thermography
Proceedings, Rhode-Saint-Genese, Belgium, von Karman Institute for
Fluid Dynamics, 2004, pp. H.6.1-6.6.
Tuli, S. and R. Mulaveesala, “Defect Detection by Pulse Compression in Fre-
quency Modulated Thermal Wave Imaging,” Quantitative Infrared Ther-
mography, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2005, pp. 41-54.
Wehner, D.R., High Resolution Radar, Norwood, Massachusetts, Artech
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1050 Materials Evaluation/October 2005
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