Ultrasonic Inspections

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Nondestructive testing (NDT) methods are vital to many industries. From oil and gas to manufacturing and aerospace, ultrasonic testing and inspection is a popular NDT technique that is utilized in a variety of fields.

Acoustical physicist Floyd Firestone patented the first practical ultrasonic testing (UT) device back in the early 1940s, and the method has been utilized and continuously improved upon ever since. Thanks to ongoing advances in technology, NDT careers are abundant, and the need for ultrasonic inspections is on a steady rise.

Ultrasonic inspection defined

NDT is a non-invasive testing method that allows inspectors to examine a system or its components to ensure its usability, safety, and reliability without causing damage to the system, parts, or materials. Various methods and processes are used to ensure the system is structurally and mechanically sound. Ultrasonic inspection is one such method, utilizing a transducer to generate high-frequency sound energy to perform inspections, detect flaws, and take measurements without compromising the system’s operation.

An ultrasonic inspection device is equipped with a pulser-receiver that produces electrical pulses. Inspection equipment also includes an energy-converting transducer, as well as a display device. Inspectors use sound energy to identify any defects, using signal strength and travel time as guides. Signals can clue inspectors in on important information, including the location of any discontinuities, along with the orientation and size.

There are two main methods of ultrasonic inspection: reflection and attenuation. Reflection involves the transducer sending and receiving sound waves, in which the diagnostic device receives a signal indicating the distance and intensity of the reflection.

Attenuation involves a transmitter that sends high-frequency sound waves through a surface, in addition to a receiver that indicates the amount of transmitted sound after it has traveled through the object.

Advantages and limitations of ultrasonic inspections

UT is widely used, largely due to the method’s accuracy, versatility, and quick results. Other advantages include:

Along with the many advantages of ultrasonic inspections, this method has a few limitations worth noting. Individuals who conduct ultrasonic inspections typically complete extensive training and must keep up with the ever-evolving field of UT. Other potential limitations include:

It’s important to note that there are benefits and drawbacks with any NDT method. In many cases, inspectors utilize multiple methods to ensure accurate results.

Industries that use ultrasonic inspections

As mentioned previously, ultrasonic inspections are used for a wide array of materials, making this testing method ideal for many industries. Fields that require precision and critical safety measures often rely on UT methods. These industries include:

How to become an ultrasonic inspector

Many colleges, technical schools, and commercial training companies offer NDT programs, including specialized tracks for specific NDT methods. Additionally, some companies offer training programs on-site, and certification can also be obtained through the U.S. military.

A combination of education and work experience is often required to become certified in ultrasonic inspection. While some NDT methods require as little as eight hours of training and just 70 hours of on-the-job training, certification to become an ultrasonic inspector requires much more training and experience. Keep in mind that the following information is an estimate, and requirements may vary depending on industry, location, etc.

Ultrasonic inspection requirements generally include 40 hours of NDT training to obtain a level I certification, or 80 hours of training for Level II certification. These estimates are for individuals with a high-school diploma or equivalent certificate.

Men and women with 2+ years of higher education in the science or engineering field may be required to complete 30 to 40 hours of training for Level I and Level II certifications, respectively.

Regardless of education level, certification typically requires 400 minimum work hours in the ultrasonic inspection field for Level I inspectors, and up to 1,600 hours to complete Level II certification. Individuals pursuing Level I certification have 1.5 to 9 months, on average, to complete the required 400 hours, while those on track to obtain Level II certification have an average of 4.5 to 27 months to complete the mandatory 1,600 hours of on-the-job training.

After completing the required education, training, and work experience, students pursuing NDT certification must take a trio of exams to ensure they are ready to work independently. These tests include a general, specific, and practical exam. A vision test is also required to ensure optimal near vision, as well as color vision, both of which are essential in NDT professions.

Individuals interested in obtaining a Level III certification must have completed at least two years of science or engineering education at a college or technical school, along with on-the-job training equivalent to that of someone with Level II experience. Work experience may also be evaluated in lieu of education.

Additional skills and abilities needed to become an ultrasonic inspector

Along with training and education, UT professionals should possess the following abilities and additional skills, including: 

Career prospects in the ultrasonic inspection field

There are countless openings for NDT professionals coast-to-coast and worldwide, and there’s certainly no shortage of positions for those individuals looking to begin or advance their career in ultrasonic inspection. From New York to California, and everywhere in between, there are opportunities available for folks of all skill levels.

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Growth opportunities for ultrasonic inspectors

The growth potential for ultrasonic inspectors is virtually limitless, with plenty of open positions for entry-level technicians to quality specialists and engineers. Whether you’re looking for a level I position, or you’re ready to advance to level II or III, this ever-evolving field can provide stability and job security, along with a competitive salary.  

Average salary of ultrasonic inspectors

As with almost every profession, the salary of an ultrasonic inspector is based on a variety of factors. Job type, company, certification level, education, experience, and location may impact salary. With that being said, the average pay rate makes this a lucrative career path.

According to Payscale.com, the average level I ultrasonic testing professional earns about $72,000 per year. That breaks down to $6,000 per month, or $36 per hour. Individuals in level II and level III positions could make upwards of $100,000, earning more than $8,300 monthly, or $50 per hour.

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