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Faster Process Developed for Ultrasound Materials Testing

Steel manufacturing (Library of Congress)

Steel manufacturing: one industry where new ultrasound process can be applied (Library of Congress)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing (IZFP) in Saarbrücken, Germany have developed a faster process for testing industrial materials with ultrasound. The new methods provide three-dimensional images at up to 100 times the speed of conventional ultrasound.

Ultrasound now has the technical capability to be a quality assurance tool for industrial materials — such as those used in construction, transportation, or power generation — to find small fissures or imperfections that cause failures once put on the job. The problem is its slow speed that prevents ultrasound from being used in high-volume production processes. Traditional ultrasound sends out single beams, which require many scans per test, followed by an assembly of those scans to form a composite image.

Andrey Bulavinov and his team at IZFP developed a new approach that they say works at up to 100 times the speed of traditional ultrasound. Bulavinov’s method uses a scanning device that sends out beams simultaneously in all directions to generate a defocused, non-directional wave that penetrates the material. The multiple beams return signals from all directions that software routines then use to reconstruct a composite, 3-D image.

These methods are somewhat similar to seismic testing for oil or minerals, which analyze changes in waves when they encounter new underground reserves. And like computer tomography in medicine, the process returns 3-D images of the examined object where imperfections are easy to identify, even if not aiming specifically at a location looking for problems.

I-Deal Technologies, a company spun off from IZFP, markets testing systems based on this technology. Bulavinov, who also serves as the company’s managing director, says the process “is suitable for virtually all materials used in the aerospace as well as the automobile industry, particularly for lightweight materials.” The process can even work with austenitic steel, says Bulavinov, a type of stainless steel for which traditional ultrasound works only to a limited degree.

Read more: Ultrasound System Developed for Submarine Data, Power

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