You are on page 1of 12



In an industry it is essential to detect flaws and defects of material, damages

of oil pipelines due to aging, rusting and mechanical impacts. Also it is required to
measure length, thickness of the materials. This needs to be done with a good
accuracy, in minimum time and very frequently or repeatedly for each specimen
without causing any damage to it. These all things stress on the requirement of vision
to a machine, for it to be able to sense flaws and measure lengths. Ultrasonic
technology provides an efficient solution to all the above mentioned problems.

Ultrasonics is the study and application of ultrasound. The sound wave with
the frequency above the audible range (20KHz) of a normal human being is called
ultrasound. A typical ultrasonic device mainly consists of a transducer, receiver. In
addition it may have suitable hardware to process the data (generally
microcontroller), LCD panel or oscilloscope to display.

A typical ultrasonic

measurement device is shown below (fig.1).

Fig.1 Block diagarm of the basic construction of an ultrasonic measurement device

to generate and detect ultrasonic waves

Transmitters are designed to produce a sound wave of some particular

frequency in the range 20 KHz to hundreds of MHz. Modern ultrasonic generators
can produce frequencies of as high as several gigahertz (several billion cycles per
second) by transforming alternating electric currents into mechanical oscillations, and
scientists have produced ultrasound with frequencies up to about10GHz (ten billion
vibrations per second). There may be an upper limit to the frequency of usable
ultrasound, but it is not yet known. A piezoelectric transducer is shown in the fig 2.

Fig.2: construction of a transmitter or receiver.

Receiver receives this sound wave and the analysis of time lag and nature of
the wave received could give the information on the nature of the medium the waves
passed through.
This transmitter and receiver when properly interfaced with Digital
Oscilloscope of suitable capture range could produce waveform, studying of which
one can understand the nature of the medium.
Now we will look at the each of the components and phenomenon involved in


As said earlier ultrasonic waves are the sound waves with frequencies
above 20 KHz. Basically they are same as the normal sound waves except for the fact
that they are not audible to us, and hence their properties are similar. Ultrasonic
waves are very similar to sound waves that they can be reflected, refracted and

Fig 3. Image showing different properties of light

A simple illustration of the ultrasonic waves produced in a solid is

shown in Fig. 4, where distortion caused depending on whether a force is applied
normal or parallel to the surface at one end of the solid can result in producing
compression or shear vibrations respectively, so that two types of ultrasonic waves,
i.e. longitudinal waves or transverse waves, propagate through the solid. The energy
of the wave is also carried with it.
In a continuous medium, the behaviour of ultrasonic waves is closely
related to a balance between the forces of inertia and of elastic deformation. An
ultrasonic wave moves at a velocity (the wave velocity) that is determined by the
material properties and shape of the medium, and occasionally the frequency. The
ultrasonic wave imparts motion to the material when it propagates. This is referred to
as particle motion, to distinguish it from the wave motion. This particle motion is
usually specified as a particle velocity v. It is noted in ultrasonic measurements that
the particle velocity is much smaller than wave velocity. Also, one can understand
that no ultrasonic wave propagates in vacuum because there are no particles that can
vibrate in vacuum

Fig. 4. Schematics of ultrasonic waves in a bulk specimen: (a) equilibrium state with no
disturbance, (b) waves relating to shear (transverse) vibrations, (c) waves relating to
longitudinal vibrations.

Wavelength is the distance over which one spatial cycle of the wave
completes and the following expression can be given,


Where v is the ultrasonic velocity and f is the frequency.

Wavelength is a useful parameter in ultrasonic sensing and evaluations. In
ultrasonic detection of a small object, the smallest size that can clearly be detected
must be larger than half a wavelength at the operating frequency. If the critical size of
an object to be detected is known, such prior information on size is helpful for
selecting an appropriate frequency for measurements



For the generation of ultrasonic waves piezoelectric transducers are

invariably used. These transducers have piezoelectric material as the active element
which works on the principle of piezoelectric effect.
Piezoelectric effect:
It is defined as the generation of an electric charge in certain
nonconducting materials, such as quartz crystals and ceramics, when they are
subjected to mechanical stress (such as pressure or vibration), or the generation of
vibrations in such materials when they are subjected to an electric field.

The active element is the heart of the transducer as it converts the

electrical energy to acoustic energy, and vice versa. It is basically a piece of polarized
material (i.e. some parts of the molecule are positively charged, while other parts of
the molecule are negatively charged) with electrodes attached to two of its opposite
faces. When an electric field is applied across the material, the polarized molecules
will align themselves with the electric field, resulting in induced dipoles within the
molecular or crystal structure of the material. This alignment of molecules will cause
the material to change dimensions. This phenomenon is known as electrostriction. In
addition, a permanently-polarized material such as quartz (SiO2) or barium titanate
(BaTiO3) will produce an electric field when the material changes dimensions as a
result of an imposed mechanical force. This phenomenon is known as the
piezoelectric effect.

As mentioned above different piezoelectric materials can be used to

make transducers. For a given material the thickness of the active element is
determined by the desired frequency of the transducer. A thin wafer element vibrates
with a wavelength that is twice its thickness. Therefore, piezoelectric crystals are cut
to a thickness that is 1/2 the desired radiated wavelength. The higher the frequency of
the transducer, the thinner the active element. The primary reason that high frequency
contact transducers are not produced is because the element is very thin and too

Fig. 5. Typical construction of a piezoelectric transducer and its use in measurement

of a solid specimen.

A transducer can act as transmitter or receiver. It is termed as transmitter if it

produces mechanical vibrations (ultrasound) in response to applied electrical signal
and it is called receiver if it produces electrical signal in response to ultrasound.
Depending on the type of testing ultrasonic device may employ two
transducers, one acting as transmitter and the other as receiver, or a single transducer
which can be used as either transmitter or receiver at a given time.



Ultrasonic sensors have widely been used for numerous sensing

applications in the fields of engineering, physics as well as medical science. Although
the ultrasonic techniques have been applied to various non-destructive evaluations
such as inspections of industrial structures, quantitative characterizations of materials
and structural health monitoring , it is still required to develop new and more
effective techniques that are applicable to advanced nondestructive evaluations.
The following applications of the ultrasonics have been discussed here.
i) Ultrasonic Cleaning
ii) Flow Metering
iii) Medical Imaging
iv) Ultrasonic Testing.



Perhaps the most common type of applications for ultrasonics is

cleaning. This includes the removal of grease, dirt, rust and paint from metal,
ceramic, glass and crystal surfaces of parts used in the electronic, automotive, aircraft,
and precision instruments industries.
the cavitation effect. Cavitation is the rapid formation and collapse of tiny, gas and
vapor filled bubbles or cavities in a solution that is irradiated with ultrasound.
The repeated collapsing of these bubbles produces tiny shock waves that
scrub the contaminants off of the surfaces of the parts. A variety of cleaning solutions
can be used, including water, detergents and organic solvents.
Ultrasonic cleaning can be highly efficient for applications in which
extreme cleanliness is required. It is also well suited for cleaning parts with very
complex shapes.
Examples of specific applications are optical glass for lenses, quartz crystals, small
ball bearings and dental bridges.

Flow Metering

Ultrasonic metering of flowing liquids is based on the Doppler effect.

This type of metering has the advantages that it has no effect on the flow and can be
used to monitor closed systems, such as a coolant in a nuclear power plant or the flow
of blood to the human heart.


Medical Imaging

One of the most rapidly advancing areas of application is medicine.

Ultrasound is used for imaging the human body and as a means of heating tissues to
treat various ailments. It is also used to sterilize surgical instruments.
Generally, the higher frequencies are used for medical imaging. The lower
frequencies, 1 MHz or less, have longer wavelengths and greater amplitude for a
given input energy, thus producing greater disruption of the medium.
Among the many important advances in recent years have been higher
resolution, real-time monitoring and color images.
Ultrasonic scanning has the big advantage over x-rays that there are apparently
no adverse health effects. For this reason, it has come into widespread use for
monitoring the condition of the fetus as it grows in the womb. The increasingly high
precision of such monitoring has made it possible to detect defects even at the very
early stages of pregnancy.
Ultrasonic scanning has also become extremely useful for obtaining information
about the flow of blood through the heart and about the condition of the heart valves.
Other important diagnostic applications are the detection of kidney stones, gallstones
and tumors.
An example of medical treatment applications is brain surgery, for which a
sharply focused, high intensity beam can destroy diseased tissue with high precision.
Ultrasound has also been used in the therapeutic treatment of arthritis, bursitis,
contusions, lumbago and neuroma.
There is still considerable controversy about the mechanism of such therapy.
However, there is little doubt that it can be effective. One theory is that the benefits
arise from the heating and possibly a "micromassage" resulting from the ultrasound.


Ultrasonic Testing

In ultrasonic testing (UT), very short ultrasonic pulse-waves with centre

frequencies ranging from 0.1-15 MHz and occasionally up to 50 MHz are launched
into materials to detect internal flaws or to characterize materials. A common
example is ultrasonic thickness measurement, which tests the thickness of the test
object, for example, to monitor pipe work corrosion.
Ultrasonic testing is often performed on steel and other metals and alloys,
though it can also be used on concrete, wood and composites, albeit with less

resolution. It is a form of non-destructive testing used in many industries including

aerospace, automotive and other transportation sectors.
In this ultrasound waves (mechanical vibrations) are passed through a
medium, which may be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. These waves will travel through a
given medium at a specific speed or velocity, in a predictable direction, and when
they encounter a boundary with a different medium they will be reflected or
transmitted according to simple rules. This is the principle of physics that underlies
ultrasonic flaw detection.

Ultrasonic inspection techniques are commonly divided into three primary

a) Pulse-echo
b) NormalBeam and Angle Beam
c) Contact and Immersion

a) Pulse-echo and Through Transmission

In pulse-echo testing, a transducer sends out a pulse of energy and the same or
a second transducer listens for reflected energy (an echo).
Reflections occur due to the presence of discontinuities and the surfaces of the
test article.
The amount of reflected sound energy is displayed versus time, which
provides the inspector information about the size and the location of features
that reflect the sound.
This is shown in the fig.6 below

Fig 6: Flaw detection using pulse-echo testing

b) Normal beam and angle beam

In normal beam testing, the sound beam is introduced into the test article at 90
degree to the surface.
In angle beam testing, the sound beam is introduced into the test article at
some angle other than 90.

Fig 7: Angle beam technique

c) Contact and Immersion

In contact testing (shown on the previous slides) a couplant such as

water, oil or a gel is applied between the transducer and the part.

In immersion testing, the part and the transducer are place in a water bath.
This arrangement allows better movement of the transducer while maintaining
consistent coupling.

With immersion testing, an echo from the front surface of the part is seen in
the signal but otherwise signal interpretation is the same for the two

Fig 8: Immersion testing


In this chapter a brief overview of fundamentals in ultrasonic sensing is
presented. Some advanced techniques and applications to nondestructive evaluation
and other fields are also introduced. The essentials of ultrasonic sensing are how to
drive an ultrasonic wave into an object and how to capture the ultrasonic wave from
the object. In addition, another essential is how to extract the information we want
from the captured ultrasonic wave. To accomplish these and to create a useful sensing
technique, it is indispensable to make an effective collaboration among researchers in
different fields of engineering and science such as electrical, electronics, information,
mechanical and materials. Actually, progress is being made in ultrasonic sensing
technology, but, it should be noted that classical techniques and methods are still
Ultrasonic methods of testing from an indispensible technique in the industry
for quality management, periodic checking of rail tracks to avoid derailing of trains,
in the defence system, in nuclear power stations etc, where along with the presence of
the defects in machinery it is also needed to judge whether such faults will lead to
failure of machinery. Such a judgement requires Qualitative NDT (QNDT) analysis,
in which the above mentioned industries are seriously involved in the development
QNDT techniques as the system reliability and security are their major concerns.


6. References

H. Kolsky (1963) Stress Waves in Solids, Dover Publications, New York.

W. C. Elmore and M. A. Heald (1985) Physics of Waves, Dover Publications,
New York.
D. Royer and E. Dieulesaint (2000) Elastic Waves in Solids I & II, SpringerVerlag, Berlin.
A. R.Selfridge. Approximate material properties in isotropic materials.
IEEE Transactions on Sonics and Ultrasonics, SU-32:381-394, 1985
L. M. Brekhovskikh, Waves in Layered Media 2nd Edition, Academic press,
New York, 1980.