Industrial Ultrasonics

Ultrasonics is the industrial version of ultrasound. Many of us are familiar with the use of ultrasound as a medical imaging tool and as a diagnostic tool with a frequency range of 2-10MHZ (million cycles per second) which is high enough to obtain ultrasound images, but still low to not cause tissue damage.

Ultrasound is cyclic sound waves with a frequency greater than the upper limit of human hearing. Although this limit varies from person to person, it is approximately 20 kilohertz (20,000 hertz) in healthy, young adults and thus, 20 kHz serves as a useful lower limit in describing ultrasound.

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As the sound waves were studied and experimented with, more uses were found for them. Today, ultrasonics is used in various industrial settings as well as in the home. Examples include stress testing or metals, humidifiers flowmeters, welding, cleaners, degreasers, pest control and even liposuction. More uses are being devised all the time.Although ultrasound has been around for over 80 years in medical diagnostics and pre-natal applications, it has only been in the last two or three decades the industry has started to see the benefits of it.

Industrial ultrasound has been used in water and soil remediation or the destruction of bacteria, and organics, heavy metal removal such as silver from photographic wastes, production of bio-diesel, crystallization and precipitation of organic and inorganic compounds, drilling, soldering, cutting and plastic welding. It is used in food ingredients manufacturing and processing as well. Ultrasound has been successfully demonstrated in industry as intensification systems to treat water effluents. The systems are used as non-chemical processes to control and eradicate microbes and bacteria (microbial activity) in contaminated waters mainly in the water treatment industry. It has been demonstrated to produce pharmaceutical materials and has been used to produce micro- and nano-sized ingredients (process known as Sonocrystallization) in the fine chemicals.

The ultrasonic cleaner for parts has become a major industry by itself. By using an electrical generator that puts out a high frequency signal [20 to 250 kHz] the transducer rapidly induces compression and rarefaction waves in the liquid. Millions of tiny bubbles are produced to clean the parts in a tank of liquid. This technique keeps us from using dangerous chemicals.

In testing, very short pulse-waves with center frequencies ranging from 0.1-15 MHz and occasionally up to 50 MHz are directed into materials to detect internal flaws or to characterize materials. This is used to find the thickness of a pipe, for example, to determine the amount of corrosion. It is useful when looking at the metal skin of an aircraft to find flaws from metal fatigue. Testing can also be done on buildings to detect weaknesses during construction and after an earthquake.

Welding is another industry benefiting from it. The technique involves high-frequency ultrasonic acoustic vibrations that are locally applied to workpieces being held together under pressure to create a solid-state weld. there are no connecting bolts, nails, soldering materials, or adhesives necessary to bind the materials together. This can be done to metals ans plastics. The patent for the ultrasonic method for welding rigid thermoplastic parts was awarded to Robert Soloff and Seymour Linsley in 1965.

Pest control is also getting into the act. Although pests like mice, rats and roaches don't like the sound of the high frequency waves, they get used to it and move back in quickly. The way to use it is to obtain a window of opportunity if you know where they came in and seal it off before they can find the way back in. The drawback is that the household pets don't like it either.

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Thanks to:

Dr Bruno G. Pollet


The Ultrasonic Industry Association

Encyclopedia Britannica

Elsevier Journals