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[ EN ]



The present invention relates to a device for inspecting components. More specifically, the present invention relates to a device for the ultrasound scanning of composite aircraft components.


Non-visible areas of materials, such as the interiors of components, welds and composite materials can be analysed using ultrasonic testing. This type of nondestructive testing (NDT) utilises the reflection of sound waves to detect faults and features which would otherwise be very difficult to detect without destroying the component. Ultrasonic testing is a common technique in the aerospace sector to test the integrity of materials at manufacture and during service.

Scanners tend to be of the portable type (i.e. more suited to in-service scanning) or non-portable type (specifically for production).

A feature of ultrasonic testing is that a couplant is required to aid transmission of the ultrasonic energy to the test specimen because the acoustic impedance mismatch between air and solids (i.e. such as the test specimen) is large. This mismatch causes reflection of the sound waves and a loss in scan quality if a couplant is not used. Couplants generally take the form of water or gel or a deformable solid such as a low acoustic loss elastomer.

Another feature of ultrasonic testing is that the ultrasonic transducer needs to be correctly orientated (usually perpendicularly orientated) with respect to the entity or fault to be detected. In laminar composite materials, these faults exist in a primarily parallel orientation to the surface of the workpiece. As such, correct orientation of the scanner with its scanning direction perpendicular to the surface of the workpiece is important.

Traditionally, ultrasonic testing has been limited in terms of inspection speed as the operation had to be carried out on a point-by-point basis. Improvements have led to the development of array scanning, or "paintbrush" scanning which permits a continuous scan over a surface to produce a two dimensional image of the desired region of the test component. Such equipment however is bulky and limited to use in a production (as opposed to service) environment and is not considered portable.

A problem is that low acoustic loss elastomers have a relatively high coefficient of friction making it difficult to move them across a surface to be scanned. Generally speaking, lower friction materials generally do not have the desired acoustic properties.

It is an aim of the invention to provide an improved inspection device.


According to the present invention there is provided an ultrasonic scanner for scanning a workpiece comprising: an ultrasound transducer, a solid coupling component defining a transducer contact surface for contact with the transducer and a workpiece contact surface for contact with a workpiece to be scanned, in which the solid coupling component at least partially surrounds the transducer to locate the transducer relative to the workpiece contact surface.

Advantageously, the interface between the transducer and the coupling component acts to orient the transducer correctly with respect to (e.g. normal to) the surface to be scanned.

According to a second aspect of the invention there is provided a coupling component for an ultrasonic scanner comprising a body constructed from an elastomeric polymer and comprising a layer of low friction material at least partially covering the body to form a workpiece contact surface with a coefficient of friction less than 0.5.

Advantageously, a layer of low friction material assists the coupling component in moving across the surface of a workpiece.

By "coefficient of friction" we mean coefficient of friction as measured in the standard way for polymers- i.e. against polished steel.


An example scanner will now be described in detail with reference to the accompanying figures in which:

Figure Ia is a perspective view of a first scanner in accordance with the present invention,

Figure Ib is a perspective view of the scanner of figure Ia, Figure Ic is a side view of the scanner of figure Ia in use,

Figure 2a is a perspective view of a second scanner in accordance with the present invention,

Figure 2b is a side view of the scanner of figure 2a in use,

Figure 3a is an exploded perspective view of a third scanner in accordance with the present invention,

Figure 3b is a perspective view of the scanner of figure 3 a,

Figure 3 c is a top view of the scanner of figure 3 a in use,

Figure 3d is a side view of a part of the scanner of the scanner of figure 3a, and

Figure 4a - 4c are perspective views of low friction coating methods of a fourth scanner in accordance with the present invention.


Referring to figures Ia to Ic, a scanner 100 comprises a couplant block 102 and an ultrasound array 104. The couplant block 102 is constructed from a low acoustic loss elastomer, and is generally cuboid shaped. The block 102 defines a workpiece contact surface 106. An array receiving formation 108 in the shape of a cuboidal recess is defined in the block 102 and is open to an insertion orifice 110.

The ultrasound array 104 is of the type well known in the art and is generally cuboidal, comprising a port 112 for connection of a data line 114. The array 104 is capable of emitting and receiving ultrasound in order to scan a component as will be described below. The array has a scanning direction 116.

The scanner 100 is assembled by sliding the array 104 into the array receiving formation 108 through the insertion orifice 110. The array receiving formation 108 is dimensioned to the approximate external dimensions of the array 104, and as such can support the array 104 in a desired position. It is desirable that the scanning direction 116 is perpendicular to the contact surface 106 and as such the receiving formation is oriented with this in mind.

A small amount of couplant liquid (e.g. water or a gel) may be added to the orifice 110 to aid transmission of ultrasound energy across the array-couplant boundary and also to aid insertion and removal of the array 104.

Referring to figure Ic, a workpiece 10 comprises a stiffener 12 comprising a flange 14 projecting at 90 degrees to a base 16. The flange 14 joins the base 16 at a pair of opposing fillet radii 18 of 2 degrees radius.

The flange 14 comprises a defect 20 for detection.

To detect the defect 20, the scanner 100 is positioned on the flange 14 with the contact surface 106 fully abutting the flange 14. As such the scanning direction 116 is perpendicular to the flange 14. This provides the optimum orientation between the array 104 and the defect 20 for detection and analysis. Data is collected via the line 114 and analysed appropriately.

The scanner 100 may also be used to detect faults in the base 16.

A fine water spray mist (not shown) is also applied to the scanner and workpiece to reduce friction and increase the efficiency of transmission of ultrasound between the two components.

Turning to figures 2a and 2b, a scanner 200 is shown. Components similar to the scanner 100 are numbered 100 greater.

The couplant block 202 is generally cuboid and comprises an arcuate surface 218 opposite the contact surface 206. The arcuate surface makes the scanner 200 more comfortable to hold in a user's hand.

The couplant block defined a recess 220 in which a rotary encoder 222 is positioned.

The rotary encoder 222 comprises an encoder wheel 224 and an encoder data line 226.

The encoder 222 is used to determine the distance travelled by the scanner 200.

Figure 2b shows the scanner 200 in use. Compared to the scanner 100, the scanner

200 uses contact between the encoder wheel 224 and the flange 14 to determine the distance travelled by the scanner 200 over the flange 14. The scanner 200 may also be used to detect faults in the base 16.

Referring to figures 3 a to 3 c, a scanner 300 is shown. Components similar to the scanner 100 are numbered 200 greater.

The scanner 300 comprises a housing 328 constructed from a plastics material. The housing 328 is generally C-shaped comprising a base portion 330, a first arm 332 and a second arm 334. Each arm 332, 334 defines an encoder mounting arrangement 336, 338 respectively. The housing is ergonomically shaped to be comfortably received in a user's hand.

The scanner 300 comprises a first encoder 340 and a second encoder 342 each similar to the encoder 222. The encoders 340, 342 are mounted to the housing 328 via the encoder mounting arrangements 336, 338. The encoder mounting arrangements 336,

338 are arranged to allow the encoders 340, 342 to move in use but remain resiliently biased towards the workpiece to main contact therewith. Allowing the encoders 340,

342 to move relative to the housing 228 allows the scanner 300 to traverse uneven surfaces with greater effectiveness, as contact is maintained between the contact surface 306 and the workpiece 10.

In use, the housing 328 fits around the couplant block 302 as shown in figure 3b. The housing 328 is shaped to retain the couplant block 302 as the first arm 332 and the second arm 334 are tapered inwardly. The arms 332, 334 therefore retain the tapered couplant block 302.

As shown in figure 3c, the scanner 300 is moved in direction D along the flange 14 of the workpiece 10. Throughout most of the scanning operation both encoders 340, 342 contact the flange 14, however approaching the ends one of the encoders 340, 342 will lose contact. Under these circumstances, the distance travelled over the flange 14 is determined from a single encoder. In this way, the scanner 300 is capable of scanning the entire length of a workpiece 10. The scanner 100 may also be used to detect faults in the base 16.

Figure 3d shows a side view of the couplant block 302 of the scanner 300. As can be seen, the couplant block 302 comprises a chamfered end portion 344 of angle A. The end portion 344 therefore allows scannig of flanges 14 at angles of less than 90 degrees to the base 16.

Figure 4a shows a scanner 400 comprising a couplant block 402 and a transducer 404. The scanner 400 comprises a plurality of flexible self-adhesive PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) strips 406. The strips are adhered to the base of the couplant block 402 to provide a low friction layer between the couplant block and a workpiece (not shown).

It has been shown that although PTFE does not generally exhibit favourable acoustic properties for the propagation of ultrasonic waves, using a thin layer of PTFE in the order of 0.05 to 0.2mm does not significantly inhibit the performance of the scanner.

Turning to figure 4b and alternative arrangement is shown whereby the strips of PTFE tape 406 are overlapped.

Turning to figure 4c, a PTFE sheath 408 is provided which conforms substantially to the exterior profile of the couplant block 402. As such an even layer of PTFE is provided which eliminates any effects that may be caused by having the edges of the PTFE tape 406 in the scanning field.