The inspection of piping in nuclear plants is mainly performed in contact with ultrasonic wedge transducers. During the scanning, the fixed shape of wedges cannot fit the irregular surfaces and complex geometries of components (butt weld, nozzle, elbow). The variable thickness of the coupling layer, between the wedge and the local surface, leads to beam distortions and losses of sensitivity. Previous studies have shown that these two phenomena contribute to reduce the inspection performances leading to shadow area, split beam….
To improve such controls, a new concept of contact “Smart Flexible Phased Array” has been developed with the support of the French “Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire”. The phased array is flexible to fit the complex profile and to minimize the thickness of the coupling layer. The independent piezoelectric elements composing the radiating surface are mechanically assembled in order to build an articulated structure. A profilometer, embedded in the transducer, measures the local surface distortion allowing to compute in real-time the optimized delay laws and compensating the distortions of 2D or 3D profiles. Those delay laws are transferred to the real-time UT acquisition system, which applies them to the piezoelectric elements. This self-adaptive process preserves, during the scanning, the features of the focused beam (orientation and focal depth) in the specimen.
To validate the concept of the Smart Flexible Phased Array Transducer, two prototypes have been integrated to detect flaws machined in mock-ups with realistic irregular 2D and 3D shapes.
Inspections have been carried out on samples showing the enhancement performances of the "Smart Flexible Phased Array" and validating the mechanical and acoustical behaviours of these probes.