5 Cool, Practical Uses for Phased Array Antennas and Transducers

Commercial airplane

Phased Arrays Explained – the Really Short Version

So what is a phased array antenna? Any antenna, from the one in your smartphone to a thousand-foot diameter radio telescope, does just two things – it sends out or receives electromagnetic energy waves like radio, radar, TV, microwave, etc.  Conventional antennas have a limited ability to direct their beams. That’s one reason many radar antennas rotate – to scan the entire sky they must physically move the beam.

A phased array antenna is different. It combines an array of small, fixed, individually controlled antennas that can direct the beam in multiple directions. It can also be used to improve reception.  

So what’s a phased array transducer? Basically, it’s the ultrasonic version of a phased array antenna – it beams (and acquires) ultrasonic waves using a multiple transducer array.

1. Sit Back and Enjoy the Flight

Ever wonder how your airline keeps you hooked-up to the internet at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic?  It may well be a phased array antenna.

Here’s the problem – as your jam-packed jetliner is winging its way to your next tiny hotel room, the satellites it’s using to stay connected to the internet are changing their relative positions. Conventional, fixed antennas can’t handle that kind of variation, but a phased array antenna is just the thing for ensuring clear reception – even over Greenland.    

2. Non Destructive Inspection – of Course!

Phased array transducers are the core of advanced ultrasonic inspection. Used for inspecting welds and other high value structures, phased array ultrasonic systems directionally beam waves of ultrasonic energy through the inspection piece. This enables the phased array transducer to be mounted in one or a limited number of positions. In contrast, a conventional ultrasonic inspection system uses a transducer that must be manually moved over point on the test piece. This can lead to inaccuracies and even missed defects, especially if the inspection piece has a complex geometry.

Phased array transducers – suddenly a complicated inspection task is lot more simple and accurate.

3. Talk Radio? Yeah, We’ve Got That.

Ever wonder why AM radio stations frequently use multiple antennas to broadcast their signal? All those towers actually form one big phased array antenna. Why do it? One, it lets broadcasters direct their signal towards the geographic area that holds their prime listeners. Two, as the sun sets listener reception can be improved by switching phases and power levels in individual antennas.

Sports, politics, news, oldies – all brought to you by phased array antennas.

4. Admit it – You Want a Phased Array Radar for Your Car

That day may not be far off. Researchers at a major automotive company have demonstrated a small phased array radar designed to detect and identify pedestrians. With over 4,000 pedestrian fatalities every year in the US, it’s a problem in need of an effective solution.   

Phased arrays provide a wide detection angle and rapid object acquisition. Hooked up to the vehicle’s control system, it can bring a car or truck to a hard stop before the driver even realizes that a pedestrian stepped into the danger zone.

5. The Ultimate Stormchaser

While not yet in widespread use, phased array radars may provide the ultimate early warning system for tornados and other dangerous weather. The Navy even built a mobile unit mounted to a tricked-out truck. Think of it as your ultimate pimp-my-ride for the stormchasing crowd.

More than a science project, phased array weather radars promise faster, deeper scans of weather systems and that means earlier, more accurate weather warnings.

Why the World Would End Without Leak Detection Equipment

close up image of electric bulb explosion

Leak detection equipment is a vital part of nondestructive testing. This type of testing is used to check for pressurization and other related concerns without doing any damage to the parts that are being tested. If it wasn’t for this kind of equipment being used on a regular basis, there are plenty of bad things that could happen. Here are just a few of the concerns that end users would have to deal with if they didn’t have the benefit of knowing that the systems and parts they need were thoroughly tested for leaks before they received them.

1). Parts and systems would explode

Without proper leak detection techniques and the equipment that makes them possible, the parts and systems that are created wouldn’t get tested properly. These parts and systems would then be in danger of exploding when they were put under pressure, which could cause serious problems. Not only could people be at risk, but the structures into which these systems were installed would also be at significant risk of damage due to explosions. Even the leaks themselves could cause high levels of harm.

2). People would be hurt or killed

Not only the explosions that could result, but the leaks that would occur, could be very dangerous to people working and living in the structure or in the immediate area. Depending on what was leaking, there could be toxic or dangerous substances spilling out of a part or a system that was designed to keep that substance contained. Over time, these kinds of substances could end up poisoning people through contact with the substance or through the inhalation of a chemical that is dangerous to human beings. The number of people injured or killed could be significant.

3). Costs would soar due to damage and replacement issues

With leaks and the potential for explosions to consider, there are serious costs that could occur without the use of equipment for leak detection. Not only would the parts and systems where the leaks occurred become damaged and have to be replaced, but the structures around them could also have problems. That’s an important issue to consider, and one of the reasons that the world would probably end if there wasn’t good equipment that could be used for leak detection. With the right kind of equipment, no one has to worry about the potential for significant cost and damage.

The world might not technically end without the equipment used for leak detection, but it could definitely be a more frightening and dangerous place to live in. Rather than take that kind of risk, it’s much better to have proper leak detection equipment in place, so everyone from the creators and testers of the parts and systems to the end users have less to worry about. The safety and peace of mind that come with proper equipment for the detection of leaks goes a very long way toward keeping nondestructive testing methods up to date and successful.

Welding Wonders: 4 Fun Facts About Magnetic Particle Inspection

WeldingEveryone loses from low-quality manufacturing, which is why welders and metal manufacturers have developed magnetic particle inspection or MPI. Designed to detect cracks and flaws, MPI is one of the most popular quality assurance methods in the metals industry. If you work or take an interest in metals manufacturing, you should know that MPI:

1. Saves Lives

MPI involves sending a magnetic field metal structures. If there are any weaknesses on or within the metal’s surface, they will disrupt the magnetic field, causing iron particles to gather in those areas. Welders can thus detect and fix damage that is too small for the eye to see. Such damage can quickly compromise the metal in high-stress situations, which can be life-threatening when it occurs on cars, planes, military equipment, and other devices. Thanks to MPI, however, manufacturers can fix or scrap weak metal before it goes into service. This likely saves thousands of lives all over the world.

2. Relies On UV Rays

Though we often hear about it as an environmental and public health threat, UV light is a metal inspector’s best friend. Inspectors have to detect fluorescent particles during MPI, but such particles are not visible in white light. When exposed to UV rays, these particles begin to glow, allowing inspectors to identify them with ease. UV light is available in different intensities depending on the specific particles.

Prospective inspectors need not worry: there’s nothing dangerous about this task. MPI lights rely entirely on UV-A rays, which do not cause the eye and skin damage often associated with ultraviolet radiation.

3. Can’t Work Without Cleanliness

When inspectors perform MPI, cleanliness really is close to godliness. For all the sophisticated equipment and science, inspections cannot be performed correctly unless the product being inspected is pristine. It is particularly important to remove paint, grease, and oil, as these substances trap ferrous particles and prevent them from moving to weak parts of the metal. This produces false positives, causing welders and manufacturers to use metals that are not safe. MPI experts are thus urging their colleagues to better clean the metal prior to inspection.

4. Is On The Move

MPI is currently the most common form of metal surface testing in the United States and Europe, and has been so for more than half a century. As other forms of metal testing are being developed, however, the popularity of MPI in the West has begun to decline. At the same time, the use of MPI is growing in India, China, and other emerging economies, where it provides a convenient and inexpensive way to test metal. Those who specialize in MPI and companies that make the technology will thus have increasing opportunities for work and consulting in middle-income countries.

Steel City NDT provides magnetic particle inspection and other non-destructive testing services for metals of all types and purposes. For more information about improving the safety and quality of your wares, visit our website today.

4 Common Misconceptions About Certified Welding Inspectors

Welder at work

For such an important profession, welding inspection is not well understood. Inspectors save thousands of lives and billions of dollars, yet many companies do not know how to use their skills properly. If you plan to become a certified welding inspector or work with one, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they:

1. Can Judge By Sight

Many underestimate the complexity of welding inspection, assuming that inspectors can find flaws just by looking at the metals. In fact, most metal flaws are far too subtle for the human eye to detect. Inspectors must instead rely on:

  • Magnetic Particle Testing, or the use of magnetic fields to find discontinuities in the metal.
  • Ultrasonic Testing, which involves detecting flaws with acoustics.
  • Other Non-Destructive Methods, including testing with liquid penetrants, radiation, and infrared technology.

Failing to understand the complexity of welding inspection is as harmful for manufacturers as it is for prospective inspectors. Many companies underestimate the task, don’t vet their inspectors properly, and end up with sub-par inspections.

2. Are Lone Wolves

Besides underestimating the complexity of inspection, many companies don’t realize that inspectors cannot stand alone. Testing is only as accurate as the conditions allow it to be, and even the most skilled inspector cannot test properly if the company doesn’t take proper precautions. Cleanliness, for example, is necessary for an accurate test; if the metal is greasy or oily, it will trap magnetic particles, undermining that form of testing. Manufacturers must thus keep their metal products as clean as possible and obey all of their inspector’s other instructions.

3. Can Switch From Job To Job

Not only is welding inspection a highly skilled profession, but the specific skills needed vary from company to company. Many companies create their own tests to certify welders and welding inspectors, which often differ significantly from the standard American Welding Society ones. This can often make it difficult for inspectors to switch to other companies if they don’t like their current jobs. At the same time, it means that certified welding inspectors become invaluable to companies once they are hired, giving them substantial bargaining power. In any dispute, a company is far more likely to accommodate its current inspector than it is to undertake the cost of hiring and training a new one.

4. Only Need Technical Skills

Although inspection is a highly technical job, communication is every bit as important to an inspector’s work. Inspectors must explain to welders and the broader company what flaws they detect, how to fix them, and how to avoid similar problems in the future. This means breaking complex scientific and engineering terms down into language that the uninitiated can understand. It takes great rhetorical skill to do this effectively.
Steel City NDT provides high-quality inspections on all types of metal. We carefully vet each certified welding inspector we hire, making sure everyone has the skills and experience to do the job correctly. For more information, visit our website today.