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Guidelines for Automated Ultrasonic Inspection

Austenitic Welds
Michael Moles and Sebastien Rigault
Olympus
Austenitic welds present major inspection problems due to their large grain
structure. Radiography does not work well, so ultrasonics is the main choice for
inspecting austenitic welds, LNG tank welds, cladding and centrifugally-cast
stainless steel pipe. For ultrasonics, the large austenitic grains cause beam
skewing, splitting and attenuation. This paper will review the R&D results on
austenitics (including stainless steel welds, cladding, dissimilar metal welds, 9%
nickel LNG welds, and centrifugally-cast stainless pipe). The R&D results, and
practical experience, show that longitudinal waves are significantly less affected
by the large austenitic grains than shear waves, and are generally used.
However, ultrasonic inspections are further complicated by mode conversion
(from longitudinal to shear waves) on reflecting surfaces, so only half skip
procedures are practical. There is a hierarchy of approaches that can be used for
developing inspection techniques, starting with shear waves and ending with dual
matrix phased array probes. Phased array approaches are the "high end" of the
inspection process, and are now competitive economically and technically.
Typical techniques use phased array S-scans for multiple coverage, often with
multiple passes. The actual inspection approach will depend on the material
thickness, amount of weld/clad material, defects to be detected, structural
requirements, rejectable defect size, time available, budget - and above all, on
the grain size of the weld or cladding. The paper will give some specific
recommendations on ultrasonic inspection strategies. In addition, the paper will
make recommendations to improve inspectability.

Introduction
Cladding, dissimilar metal welds, austenitics all present similar ultrasonic
inspection problems due to beam steering, splitting, refraction and absorption.
Most of the published ultrasonic inspection work has been performed within the
nuclear industry, as expected. Nuclear was the first industry to establish the
source of problems from cast stainless steel pipes (specifically, large, oriented
grains), and the first to model and analyze it. In general, they have shown that

Shorter ultrasonic wavelengths but slightly larger than the grain size work best;
Longitudinal waves penetrate better than shear waves;
SH waves work (but EMAT devices have low signal-to-noise resolution); and
Dual (or twin) probes are the best ways to inspect. (Dual probes pulse on one
side of the array, and receive on the other to minimize near-surface reflections).

The nuclear industry has been primarily interested in cast stainless steels, which
have huge grains. Experimental trials showed here that the probability of defect
detection was very low. To a large extent, these results apply to Inconel and
related welds (cladding, dissimilar metal welds) as the problems are the same;
large, oriented austenite grains, that refract, absorb and reflect the ultrasound.
Radiography suffers from similar problems to ultrasonics; the large grains cloud
the image, making defect detection very difficult. The petrochemical industry also a large user of CRA (Corrosion Resistant Alloys) - is a different issue. There
is little published on pipeline cladding and dissimilar metal welds; this is not a
surprise as any information is typically considered commercial and proprietary.
The problem can be summarized as follows: ferritic materials undergo a phase
transformation on cooling, which produces a quasi-random body-centered cubic
structure. Austenitic welds, on the other hand, do not transform, so the austenitic
microstructure is:
--Fe (cubic face centered), non-magnetic -Coarse-grain structure (up to
several mm) -Anisotropic: physical characteristics of the material (sound
velocity, attenuation, beam skewing) depend on crystal orientation.
In practice, the microstructure dictates inspectability for austenitics.

Developments to Date
Nuclear: The nuclear industry has performed a significant amount of R&D on
austenitic materials, including extensive modeling (1); the problem with modeling
is that the microstructure can vary, so there are distinct limits to the application.
The main target was centrifugally cast stainless steels (CCSS). Typical results
are shown in Figure 1, though actual results will - again - depend heavily on
microstructure. Cast stainless steel grains tend to be significantly larger than
other austenitics, with associated inspection issues. Another problem with CCSS
is that the grain size varies with cooling rate, position in the pipe, procedure etc.,
unlike better controlled welding processes.

Figure 1: Sampled model beam propagation in austenitic welds for different wave
modes.
The nuclear inspection techniques typically uses a low frequency L-wave
transducer (or array), e.g. 1 MHz for walls up to 50 mm (2, 3), or even less. This
reduces sensitivity. In the early days, longitudinal wave raster inspections were
used at fixed angles, as per ASME. Conventional probes suffer from the
limitations of a limited focal zone, and fixed angles. More recently, the nuclear
interest in phased array S-scans has taken over, and a multiple S-scan approach
is used (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Schematic showing multiple pass scanning on weld.


More recently with the arrival of phased arrays, TRL (Transmit-Receive
Longitudinal) arrays have been developed (4, 5). The TRL PA probe uses a
limited matrix to provide some focusing and some lateral beam steering to adjust
the focal depth. Probes typically consist of a dual array, with two rows in each
side and a variable number of elements defining the length. A typical TRL PA

probe might consist of 4x15 elements in two pairs of rows, as shown


schematically in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Schematic of TRL-PA probes, showing dual array and angled beams.
The TRL PA probes offer significant advantages over single transducers:

First, the dead zone at the surface is minimized.


Second, the noise level near the surface is significantly reduced.
Third, phased arrays can perform S-scans at a variety of angles and positions.
Fourth, the matrix TRL probe can provide variable depth focusing.
The TRL PA probe using multiple S-scans produces much better detection results
than conventional UT or a single linear array (see Figure 4). The TRL PA probe
also offers the best lateral sizing due to its controlled beam shaping. However,
TRL-PA probes are difficult to calibrate and use, relative to linear arrays, and will
be tailored to the application.

Figure 4: TRL-PA probe results on 5 mm SDH on cast stainless steel


In contrast, Time-Of-Flight Diffraction does not offer good inspection capabilities
as the grain size tends to be too large for satisfactory defect detection (6).
Petrochemical Applications: These include cladding, pipelines, LNG tanks and
dissimilar metal welds. By and large, these are more recent applications, and
tend to use more controlled grain sizes with automated welding procedures. As
such, they tend to be relatively straightforward compared with castings. Almost all
the applications are "proprietary", even though the basic physics is well defined.
Figure 5 shows an example of a dissimilar metal weld inspection, using a
proprietary phased array calibration technique with the reflectors through the
weld material. Combined shear and longitudinal waves are used in this
procedure. Reflections from the clad surface are clearly visible in Figure 5 (7).

Figure 5: DSM weld inspection using phased array S-scan. Notch above cladding
is clearly visible (arrowed).
Cladding presents similar issues, as beams cannot be skipped due to mode
conversion. Again, a combination of S-scans with either shear waves or
longitudinal waves is recommended. Figure 6 shows a clad plate with embedded
notches for reference. The notches are clearly visible with low noise level.

Figure 6: Clad plate with notches of 0.5, 1, and 1.5 mm depth


Being able to inspect through the weld is a major asset, though typically the weld
crowns would need to be removed. Liquid Natural Gas tanks use 9%-nickel
austenitic steels for low temperature toughness. Again, the same physics applies:
L-waves work better than S-waves. Figure 7 shows an example of a (patented)
zone discrimination approach for LNG tanks, which is similar to pipeline
approaches (8).

Figure 7: Strip chart technique for LNG tank inspection Courtesy of CB&I.

Other companies are also developing unique techniques for inspection. Applus
RTD uses a similar zone discrimination approach to 7 (9). AIT uses an E-scan
approach with weld overlay for positioning, as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8: E-scan and A-scan (left) of lack of sidewall fusion in LNG weld.
Courtesy of AIT (7).
The zone discrimination approaches tend to be more rapid, though give poorer
imaging. Recent developments in more advanced systems will permit everyday
inspections of pipeline welds under the usual demanding in-service conditions
(10). The new PipeWIZARD v4 can drive a dual matrix array (e.g. a TRL-PA).
Superaustenitic weld inspections performed at EWI came to similar conclusions
on inspectability (11).

Recommended Ultrasonic Inspection Strategy


As hopefully is clear from this paper, there are techniques available for inspecting
austenitics, and they are generally known. The dominating feature is grain size;
large grains present skewing, splitting and attenuation problems. In that respect,
the more recent petrochemical applications tend to be a lot more inspectable
than the older, nuclear CCSS pipes.
As for an inspection strategy, there is a simple approach that any capable AUT
inspection company can follow.
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Try inspecting the weld with "off the shelf" conventional shear waves
If these don't work, obtain a longitudinal wave wedge, and try that.
Reduce the frequency from, say, 5 MHz to 2 MHz or 1 MHz (depending on
thickness)
If near surface noise is high, try a dual probe approach
When suitable wave and frequency have been determined from conventional UT,
switch to phased arrays using the same wave mode, frequency and aperture
Develop a procedure using encoded arrays and S-scans to give full coverage at
multiple angles.
If noise levels permit, merge the data to optimize interpretation.
Note that this comprehensive approach may be unnecessary if the grain size is
small. For example, Figure 9 shows phased array S-scans from a thin austenitic

pipe welded using autogenous welding. The cooling rate was high, so the grains
were small - and traditional shear waves were adequate for the inspection.

Figure 9: S-scan shear wave inspection of austenitic SS weld (11)

Possibilities for Reducing Grain Sizes


Reducing grain size is obviously the key for improved inspectability of austenitics.
However, any of the techniques suggested below are likely to increase costs, and
maybe increase the probability of producing defects like LOF (lack of fusion) (11).
1. Lower Heat Input: The key issues on heat input are current and travel speed.
Voltage has only a minor effect. The grain size is dependent on cooling rate. The
big effects on cooling rate are heat input, plate thickness, preheat. Overall,
preheat is not a practical issue to control austenite grain size. It seems that heat
input, and in particular, current and travel speed are the most likely parameters to
control if reduced grain size is of interest.
2. Smaller Diameter Wire: Smaller wires will also provide smaller grains due to
lower heat input. They should provide better fracture toughness, but will take
longer to weld. If time is a critical factor, smaller wires could present a problem.
3. Change the Welding Process: Apparently some processes produce smaller
grains than others. PGMAW uses pulsing to reduce heat input while still
maintaining good fusion capabilities. Any of the higher intensity processes like
plasma or PGMAW will be better than, say, TIG.
4. Vary the Weld Metal Composition: More ferritic metal produces smaller grain
sizes. This must have implications for corrosion resistance, if not for strength. If

an austenitic was chosen in the first place, it's doubtful that any ferritic will be a
suitable substitute.
5. Seeding: Since grain size is really a function of nucleation and growth, seeding
should offer some potential for reducing grain sizes. B (boron) has been
suggested, though apparently it can lead to cracking. This is an unlikely solution.

Summary
1.
2.
3.

There does not seem to be a single "perfect" solution for austenitics, cladding
and dissimilar metal welds, and there may never be one.
The key is the microstructure of the welds; if the grains are large and oriented,
there will be problems.
The current solution is to try several techniques in a hierarchy, and chose the
most appropriate technique.

References
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11.

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12.

AUT Girth Weld Inspection System", Materials Australia, Surfer's Paradise,


Australia, August 2009.
D. Fairchild, private communication.