New technologies for air-coupled ultrasonic transducers

Gaal, Mate; BAM Bundesanstalt fur Materialforschung und -prufung; Germany

Gaal, M.; Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM); Germany
Kotschate, D.; Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM); Germany

ID: ECNDT-0608-2018
Download: PDF
Session: Air-couppled UT
Room: G2
Date: 2018-06-14
Time: 11:10 - 11:30

Air-coupled ultrasonic testing (ACUT) has experienced rapid growth within the last years. It is especially well suited to inspection of lightweight structures consisting of composite materials and adhesive joints. Uniform coupling and easy maintenance are its advantages compared to contact technique. However, the impedance mismatch between the transducer and air poses a major challenge to the development of ACUT transducers. Commercially available air-coupled transducers consist of a piezocomposite material and matching layers. Their fabrication is difficult in handling and their signal-to-noise ratio sometimes not sufficient for various testing requirements. However, there are several innovative approaches using other materials and other physical principles to transmit and receive an ultrasonic pulse.
We present a review of the latest advances in research on air-coupled transducers for non-destructive testing, including previously unpublished results. We recognize two major directions as most promising: ferroelectrets and thermoacoustic transducers. Ferroelectrets are charged cellular polymers exhibiting piezoelectric properties. Their small acoustic impedance is matched to air better than matching layers applied in conventional air-coupled transducers. Applying bias voltage to a ferroelectret receiver is the latest development in this field, which increased the received signal by 12 to 15 dB. Thermoacoustic transducers use heat to initiate an ultrasonic wave, acting as transmitters. The working principle is known from nature as thunder and lightning: thermal energy of an electrically heated material, which can also be air, is converted into acoustic energy. Some thermoacoustic transmitters consist of a conductive layer with a thickness in the nanometer range deposited on a solid substrate. Another possibility is to use an electric spark. For the first time, measurements of the sound field of an electric spark up to 500 kHz were performed. Thermoacoustic transducers enable excitation of extremely broadband pulses while producing high pressure levels, which opens new possibilities for advanced signal processing.