News & Views, Volume 53 | Encoded Phased Array Ultrasonic Examination Services for Cast Austenitic Stainless Steel (CASS) Piping Welds


By:  John Hayden and Jason Van Velsor

The CASS piping welds present in many PWR plants provide numerous and complicated challenges to their effective ultrasonic examinations. To this point, a viable ultrasonic examination solution for the inspection of these piping components, as required by ASME Code Section IX,  had previously not been available. By leveraging our technical expertise in materials, technology development, and advanced NDE deployment, Structural Integrity Associates, Inc (SI) has developed a new system that will provide a meaningful solution for the examination of CASS piping components. The result of this program will be the first commercial offering for the volumetric examination of CASS components in the nuclear industry.

ASME Section XI Class 1 RCS piping system welds fabricated using CASS materials pose serious and well-understood challenges to their effective ultrasonic examination. For decades, utilities and regulators have struggled with the administrative and financial burdens of Relief Requests, which were, and still are, based on the inability to perform meaningful volumetric examinations of welds in CASS components. 

Many years of futility and frustration may have fostered the belief that technology allowing effective and meaningful examination of CASS materials would never be achievable. This is no longer the case.

The failure mechanism for CASS material occurs through the loss of fracture toughness due to thermal aging embrittlement. The susceptibility of CASS material to thermal aging embrittlement is strongly affected by several factors, primary of which are system operating time and temperature, the casting method used during component manufacture, and molybdenum and ferrite content. In addition to the existing ASME Section XI requirements for the examination of welds in CASS materials, the susceptibility to thermal aging embrittlement drives the requirement for additional examinations (including ultrasonic examinations) as directed by several NRC-published NUREGs required for plant license renewal. The existence of a viable, effective examination capability for CASS materials plays a very important part in both currently required Inservice Inspections (ISI) and plant license renewal.

Figure 1. An example of the widely-varying microstructure of a centrifugally cast piping segment. False-color imaging is used to aid visualizing grain variations. (Image from NUREG/CR-6933 PNNL-16292)

Metallurgical studies have revealed that the microstructure of CASS piping can vary drastically in the radial (through-wall) direction, as well as around the circumference and along the length of any given piping segment. Large and small equiaxed, columnar and mixed (combinations of equiaxed and columnar grains), and banding (layers of substantially different grain structures) are commonly observed in CASS piping materials. None of these conditions favor the performance of effective ultrasonic examinations.

Figure 2. PWR RCS Major Components

The very large and widely varying types (equiaxed, columnar, and randomly mixed), sizes and orientations of the anisotropic grains in CASS material are very problematic. Anisotropic is defined as an object or substance having a physical property that has a different value when measured in different directions. Such physical properties strongly affect the propagation of ultrasound in CASS material by causing severe attenuation (loss of energy through beam scattering and absorption), beam redirection, and unpredictable changes in ultrasonic wave velocity. These factors are responsible for the inability of ultrasonic examination to completely and reliably interrogate the Code-required volume (inner 1/3 Tnom) of welds in CASS piping material. Interestingly, CASS materials less than 1.6” Tnom (Pressurizer Surge Piping) can be effectively examined, while CASS materials over 2.00” (Main RCS Coolant Loop Piping) are less effectively examined.  Consequently, an ASME Section XI, Appendix VIII qualification program for CASS piping components has not been established and remains in the course of preparation. Nonetheless, ASME Section XI requirements to conduct inservice examinations of RCS piping welds fabricated from CASS components remain fully in force.

ASME Section XI Code Case N-824, “Ultrasonic Examination of Cast Austenitic Piping Welds From the Outside Surface,” was approved by ASME in October 2012 and by the NRC in October 2019. This Code Case provides the first approved direction for the ultrasonic examination of welds joining CASS piping components. The ASME B&PV Code, Section XI, 2015 Edition, incorporates Code Case N 824 into Mandatory Appendix III in the form of Mandatory Supplement 2. To date, these two ASME Section XI Code documents remain the sole sources approved by ASME and NRC that provide specific direction for the examination of CASS RCS piping system welds and, therefore, form the foundation of SI’s approach for the development of our CASS ultrasonic examination solution.

SI is developing the industry’s most well-conceived and capable ultrasonic system for the examination of welds in CASS piping components. To accomplish this objective, SI has drawn upon our internal knowledge and experience, supplemented by a careful study of numerous authoritative bodies of knowledge relating to the examination of CASS components. The development of the SI examination system has been guided by both SI’s industry-leading 17 years of experience conducting phased array examinations in nuclear power plants and the knowledge acquired through the careful study of the topical information contained within industry-recognized publications. These published results of extensive industry research provided both guidance for the selection of phased array system components and CASS-specific material insights that strengthen the technical content of our Appendix III-based procedure. 

Figure 3. RCS Coolant Pump and Crossover Piping

SI believes that the procedure, equipment and personnel featured in this program will be equivalent or superior to those that will form the industry-consensus approach for CASS ultrasonic examinations needed to successfully achieve Appendix VIII, (future) Supplement 9, “Qualification Requirements for Cast Austenitic Piping Welds.”

Ultrasonic Procedure – SI has crafted an ultrasonic examination procedure framework that is fully compliant with ASME Section XI, Mandatory Appendix III, Supplement 2, along with referenced Section XI Appendices as modified by the applicable regulatory documents.

Ultrasonic Equipment – SI has acquired and assembled the ultrasonic system components required by Code Case N-824 and Appendix III, Supplement 2, which includes the following:

  • Ultrasonic instrumentation capable of functioning over the entire expected range of examination frequencies. The standard examination frequency range extends from low-frequency, 500 KHz operation for RCS main loop piping welds through 1.0 MHz for pressurizer surge piping. 

SI has designed and acquired additional phased array transducers that meet the physical requirements of frequency, wave mode, and aperture size and are capable of generating the prescribed examination angles with the required focal properties. SI has designed and fabricated an assortment of wedge assemblies that will be mated with our phased array probes to provide effective sound field coupling to the CASS components being examined. SI’s wedge designs consider the CASS pipe outside diameter and thickness dimensions and employ natural wedge-to-material refraction to assure optimal energy transmission and sound field focusing.

SI also possesses several data encoding options that are necessary to acquire ultrasonic data over the expected range of component access and surface conditions. The encoding options will include:

  • Fully-automated scanning system, capable of driving the relatively large and heavy 500KHz phased array probes
  • The SI-developed Latitude manually-driven encoding system, which has been deployed during PDI-qualified dissimilar metal DM weld examinations in nuclear power plants

    Figure 4. Steam Generator Details

Examination Personnel – SI’s ultrasonic examination personnel are thoroughly trained and experienced in all elements of encoded ultrasonic data acquisition and analysis in nuclear plants. SI’s examiners have a minimum of 10 years of experience and hold multiple PDI qualifications in manual and encoded techniques. SI recognizes the challenges that exist with the examination of CASS piping welds and has developed a comprehensive program of specialized, mandatory training for personnel involved with CASS examinations. This training includes descriptions of coarse grain structures, their effect on the ultrasonic beam, and the expected ultrasonic response characteristics of metallurgical and flaw reflectors, as well as the evaluation of CASS component surface conditions.

Although not required by the ASME Code, SI has arranged for access to CASS piping system specimens from reputable sources to validate the efficiency of our data acquisition process and the performance of our ultrasonic examination techniques. The specimens represent various pipe sizes and wall thicknesses and contain flaws of known location and size to permit the validation and optimization of SI’s data acquisition and analysis processes. SI will thoroughly analyze, document, and publish the results of our system performance during the examination of the subject CASS specimens.

Figure 5. Pressurizer and Surge Line Details

Typical CASS Piping Weld Locations in PWR Reactor Coolant Systems
The following graphic illustrates the location and extent of CASS materials in the RCS of many PWR plants.

RCS Main Loop Piping Welds: This portion of the RCS contains large diameter butt welds that join centrifugally cast stainless steel (CCSS) piping segments to statically cast stainless steel (SCSS) elbows and reactor coolant pump (RCP) casings. RCS main loop piping includes the following subassemblies:

  • Hot leg piping from the Reactor Vessel Outlet to the SG Inlet
  • Cross-over piping from the SG Outlet to the RCP Inlet
  • Cold leg piping from the RCP Outlet to the RPV Inlet

Steam Generator Inlet / Outlet Nozzle DM Welds: These terminal end DM butt welds are present in PWR plants, both with and without safe ends between the SCSS elbows and the ferritic steel nozzle forgings. 

Pressurizer Surge Piping Welds: This portion of the RCS contains a series of butt welds fabricated using CCSS piping segments to SCSS elbows between the Pressurizer Surge nozzle end and the Hot Leg Surge nozzle. 

The CASS piping welds present in many PWR plants provide numerous and complicated challenges to their effective ultrasonic examinations. SI’s new CASS ultrasonic examination system will provide a new and meaningful solution.

SI is working to complete the development, integration and capability demonstrations of the CASS ultrasonic examination system described in this document for limited (emergent) fall 2023 and scheduled deployments beginning in spring 2024.

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News & Views, Volume 53 | Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing (PAUT) Monitoring with Ultrasonic Thick-Film Arrays

Traditional nondestructive examination (NDE) activities are planned based on hours of service, number of load cycles, time elapsed since previous inspections, or after the emergence of clear and obvious damage in a component. While engineering judgment and risk analysis can, and should, be used to prioritize inspections, these prioritizations are not based on the actual physical condition of the component or material it is constructed from but on precursory conditions that may or may not lead to eventual damage. Alternatively, continuous monitoring approaches can facilitate advanced planning and the optimization of Operations and Maintenance (O&M) spending by enabling the prioritization of inspections based on a component’s actual current condition. Furthermore, continuous monitoring enables earlier detection, which allows the extension of the component’s remaining useful life through modified operation. 

SI’s recent advances with thick-film are breakthrough technologies for long-term monitoring and imaging of crack growth in critical components.

Figure 1. Installed thick-film UT sensors for thickness monitoring of elbows.

Given the trend of fewer on-site resources and tighter O&M budgets, the energy industry has a strong motivation to progress toward condition-based inspection and maintenance. To facilitate this evolution in asset management strategy, new monitoring sensor technologies are needed, ones that provide meaningful monitoring data directly correlated to the condition of the material or asset. To support this need Structural Integrity has developed a novel thick-film ultrasonic sensor solution. Initially developed for basic applications, such as thickness monitoring, SI’s recent advances with this technology make long-term monitoring and imaging of crack growth in critical components possible.

Ultrasonic thick-films are comprised of a piezoelectric ceramic coating that is deposited on the surface of the component that will be monitored. A conductive layer is then placed over the ceramic layer, and the ceramic layer deforms when an electric potential is applied across the film. When a sinusoidal excitation pulse in the ultrasonic frequency range is applied across the film, the vibration of the film is transferred into the test component as an ultrasonic stress wave.   

Structural Integrity initially developed our thick-film ultrasonic sensors for real-time thickness monitoring and has demonstrated the performance and longevity of this technology through laboratory testing and installation in industrial power plant environments, as seen in the photograph in Figure 1, where the sensors have been installed on multiple high-temperature piping components that are susceptible to wall thinning from erosion. In this application, the sensors are fabricated directly on the pipe’s external surface, covered with a protective coating, and then covered with the original piping insulation. Following installation, data can either be collected and transferred automatically using an installed data acquisition instrument, or a connection panel can be installed that permits users to acquire data periodically using a traditional off-the-shelf ultrasonic instrument. Example ultrasonic datasets are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Ultrasonic datasets from an installed thick-film UT sensor at two different points in time.

Recently, SI has demonstrated the ability to create thick-film sensors with complex element arrays that can be individually controlled to steer and focus the sound field, as with traditional phased-array ultrasonic testing (PAUT). Moreover, data from individual array elements can be acquired and post-processed using full-matrix capture (FMC) techniques. FMC is a data acquisition technique where all elements in the array are used to both transmit and receive ultrasonic waves. The result is a large data matrix that can be used for further processing with various post-processing techniques. Compared to more traditional active focusing, FMC is well-suited for a fixed transducer array, as scanning speed is not a concern. Another advantage is that the electronics needed for data acquisition can be simplified – requiring only a single pulsing channel.

A thick-film Linear-Phased Array (LPA) installed on a standard calibration block is shown in Figure 3. The two images shown on the right were generated using the Total Focusing Method (TFM) post-processing algorithm, with the image on the far right having an adjusted color scale to highlight the imaging of the notches toward the bottom of the calibration block. TFM is an amplitude-based image reconstruction algorithm where the A-scans from the FMC dataset are used to synthetically focus on every point in a defined region of interest.

Figure 3. FMC TFM results from a thick-film linear phased array installed on a calibration block.

Using other information from the FMC dataset, such as the phase of the waveforms, has proven to be beneficial in certain cases. At each focal point in the region of interest, a large phase coherence among all the waveforms can be indicative of a focused reflector. This can then be applied to the TFM image at each focal point as a weighting factor (also known as the Phase Coherence Factor (PCF)) to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. 

Figures 4 and 5 illustrate the results of applying the phase coherence imaging technique to the FMC datasets collected with thick film transducer arrays. The sample is a section of high-energy piping approximately 1.7 inches thick with cracking at various positions along a girth weld. The sample has a counterbore with ID-initiated cracks up to approximately 0.5 inches in length coming from the taper of the counterbore. The thick film transducer arrays were located at different positions along the weld.

The energy industry is moving away from traditional scheduled-based planning for inspection and maintenance activities and toward “smart plant” concepts that rely more heavily on data correlated to actual component conditions. To accomplish this, there is a need for new and novel monitoring technologies that are both unobtrusive and able to withstand the harsh conditions of industrial facilities. Collecting robust and meaningful monitoring data will be critical in ensuring that safety and asset reliability are maintained and even improved. Structural Integrity’s thick-film UT technology has been developed to achieve this goal and continues to evolve for higher-temperature components and more advanced applications. We are ready to support a variety of in-field applications, contact one of SI’s experts if you have questions or a potential application that could benefit from installed thick-film UT sensors.

Figure 4. Phase coherence imaging result from a thick film transducer array on a cracked weld sample.

Figure 5. Phase coherence imaging result from a thick film transducer array on a cracked weld sample.

News & Views, Volume 51 | Drone Inspections


By:  Jason Van Velsor and Robert Chambers

Structural Integrity (SI) has recently added drones to our toolbox of inspection equipment. Using drones, inspectors are able to complete visual inspections safely and more efficiently. Applications of drones for visual inspections include plant and piping walkdowns, structural inspections and atmospheric corrosion monitoring (ACM) of exposed pipeline.

Figure 1. Drone image of a dent on an elevated section of pipeline

Pipe hanger walkdowns at fossil and combined cycle plants are part of a routine inspection process. During these inspections, the inspector is required to view and mark down pipe hanger positions and assess their condition. While some hangers provide easy access for the inspector, this is not always the case. Some of these may be located in elevated positions that require the plant to build out scaffolding, which not only increases the cost, but also can put the inspector at risk when working at elevation. With the use of drones, the inspector can fly up to the pipe hangers from a safe location and get a live high-resolution video feed from the camera mounted on the drone. Saving pictures and the video footage can also allow the inspector to go back and review the footage at a later time.

ACM is another example where drones have proven to be a useful tool. ACM inspections of outdoor above ground pipelines are typically done by

walking down the pipeline and recording any signs of atmospheric corrosion. There are many occasions where the pipeline will be elevated or cross over rivers and railroads, requiring scaffolding or fall protection. By using a drone to fly along the pipeline, the inspection can be completed much more efficiently and safely. In situations where a GPS signal is available, such as outdoor pipeline inspections, the GPS coordinates can be saved with each photo. Custom SI-developed software can then automatically compile the acquired images and create a KML file to be viewed in Google Earth, allowing the client to get an overview of the inspection results. 

Figure 2. Google Earth view of image locations

Moving forward, SI plans to utilize these drones for more than just visual inspections. Possible applications could include using drones to perform ultrasonic thickness testing or Structural Integrity Pulsed Eddy Current (SIPEC™) examinations. All of SI’s pilots in command hold valid FAA Part 107 certificates and pilot registered drones.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing Streamlining Requalification of Heavy Lift Equipment

News & Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing


By:  Mike Battaglia and Jason Van Velsor

Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing Streamlining Requalification of Heavy Lift Equipment

Figure 1. Heavy lift rig attached to reactor head in preparation for removal.

Proper control of heavy loads is critical in any industrial application as faulty equipment or practices can have severe consequences.  The lifting technique, equipment, and operator qualifications must all meet or exceed applicable standards to ensure industrial safety.  The significance of heavy lifts at commercial nuclear facilities is, perhaps, even greater.  In addition to the consequences of an adverse event that are common to any industry (bodily injury or human fatality, equipment damage, etc.), the nuclear industry adds additional challenges.  Such an adverse event in the nuclear industry can also affect (depending on the specific lift) fuel geometry / criticality, system shutdown capability, damage to safety systems, etc.  One example of a critical lift in nuclear power facilities is the reactor vessel head / reactor internals lift.  

The requirement to inspect the heavy lifting equipment for structural integrity is prescribed in NUREG-0612, Control of Heavy Loads At Nuclear Power Plants, as enforced by NRC Generic Letter 81-07. The aforementioned NUREG document describes specific requirements for special lifting devices.  The requirements prescribed include: 

  • Special lifting devices are subject to 1.5X rates load followed by visual inspection, or
  • Dimensional testing and non-destructive examination (NDE) of the load bearing welds

In the case of the former requirement, it can be difficult or even dangerous to test these lift rigs, which are designed to carry over 150 tons, at a factor of 1.5x.  In the case of the latter requirement, employing the more traditional NDE techniques of MT, PT, and UT to inspect the lift rigs can be costly (both in terms of labor and radiological dose) and time consuming, in terms of impact to outage critical path, depending on when the inspection is performed.  In PWRs or BWRs, inspections are performed in the reactor containment, or radiation-controlled area, and are typically only performed during the outage.   

Ultimately, the NRC requires licensees to determine how they will comply with the NUREG requirements.  One method that has been adopted (primarily by PWR plants) is Acoustic Emission (AE) testing.  AE testing is a non-destructive testing process that uses high-frequency sensors to detect structure-borne sound emissions from the material or structure when under load.  The process detects these acoustic emission events and, based on sensor locations and the known sound velocity and attenuation, can identify the approximate location of the sources or areas of concern.  If such areas are identified, based on analysis of the data captured under load, those areas must be further investigated to characterize the indication.  Such additional techniques may include surface examination (MT or PT), or volumetric UT to precisely locate, characterize, and size any indications.  

Employing an advanced technique such as AE can significantly reduce the time required to perform this evolution, also reducing both the cost and dose associated with meeting the NUREG requirements.  

The original deployment of this method was championed by a utility in the mid-1980’s and has since been adopted by many of PWR plants as the preferred inspection method.  

In 2021, SI began offering AE testing services for reactor head lift rigs, including the qualified personnel, equipment, and tooling necessary to perform this work.  Our first implementation was at a nuclear plant in the Southeast US in the fall of 2021, and additional implementations are contracted in the spring and fall of 2022, and beyond.  

There are several advantages to AE testing that make it uniquely suited for the vessel head (or internals) lift application.  First, AE is a very sensitive technique, capable of picking up emissions from anomalies that cannot be detected by traditional techniques.  This allows for identifying areas of potential / future concern before they are an imminent safety danger.  Second, AE sensors are capable of sensing relevant emissions from a reasonable distance (up to 10 ft or more) between source emission and sensor placement.  As such, AE testing can monitor the entire lifting structure with a reasonable number of sensors (typically less than 20) placed on the structure.  Thus, sensors are strategically placed on the structure where failure is most likely – i.e., the mechanical or welded connections (joints) between structural members.  

This strategic sensor placement has another inherent advantage unique to the AE process.  If an indication is noted, the system has the capability to isolate the approximate source location (generally within a few inches) of the emission.  This is accomplished using a calculation that considers the arrival time and intensity of the acoustic emission at multiple sensor locations.  This is very beneficial when an indication requiring subsequent traditional NDE is noted as specific areas can be targeted, minimizing the scope of subsequent examinations.  

The ability of AE testing to rapidly screen the entire lift structure for active damage growth saves time and money over the traditional load testing and comprehensive NDE approaches.   

Figure 2. Lift rig turnbuckle outfitted with AE sensor.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the test duration is minimal and is, effectively, part of the standard process for reactor vessel head removal.  Sensor placement is performed during the normal window of plant cooldown and vessel head de-tensioning, so outage critical path is not compromised.  The actual test itself is performed as part of the head (or internals) lift; that is, when the head breaks from the vessel flange (and maximum load is achieved), the load is held in place for 10 minutes while monitoring for and recording acoustic emission activity.  Each sensor (channel) is analyzed during the hold period and a determination is immediately made at the end of the 10-minute period as to whether the lifting rig structure is suitable for use.  Unless evidence of an imminent failure is observed, the lift immediately proceeds to the head (or internals) stand.  The gathered data are also analyzed on a graded basis.  Depending on the energy intensity of the events detected at each sensor, subsequent recommendations may range from:  ‘Good-as-is’, to ‘recommend follow-up NDE post-outage’. 

The basic process of implementation is:

  • Calibrate and test equipment offsite (factory acceptance testing)
  • Mount sensors and parametric instrumentation (strain gauges, impactors) during plant cooldown and de-tensioning
  • System check (Pencil Lead Breaks (PLBs), and impactor test)
  • Lift head to the point of maximum load
  • Hold for 10 minutes
  • Continue lift to stand (unless evidence of imminent failure is observed)
  • Final analysis / recommendations (off line, for post-outage consideration)

During our fall 2021 implementation, SI introduced several specific process improvements over  what has been historically performed.  These advances have enhanced the process from both a quality and schedule perspective.  A few of these enhancements are:

SI developed and deployed a commercial grade dedication process for the system and sensors.  Often, licensees procure this work as safety-related, meaning the requirements of 10CFR50 Appendix B apply.  The sensors and processing unit are commercially manufactured by a select few manufacturers that typically do not have QA programs that satisfy the requirements of 10CFR50, Appendix B. For this reason, SI developed a set of critical characteristics (sensor response, channel response to a simulated transient, etc.) and corresponding tests to validate that the system components are responding as-expected and can be adequately deployed in a safety-related application. 

Figure 3. Close-up of AE sensor.

The arrival time of an acoustic emission at one of the installed sensors is measured in milliseconds. For this reason, it is critical to initiate the 10-minute hold period precisely when peak load is reached. The historical method for synchronizing peak-load with the start of the hold period relied on the use of a stop-watch and video feed of the readout from the containment polar crane load cell.  When the load cell appears to max out, the time is noted and marked as the commencement of the test.  This approach can be non-conservative from a post-test analysis perspective as the data before the noted start time is typically not considered in the analysis. As the strain gauge correlation provides a much more precise point of maximum load that is directly synchronized with the data acquisition instrument, it is more likely that early acoustic emissions, which are often the most intense and most relevant, are correctly considered in the analysis.

One of the methods used in AE testing to ensure that the sensors are properly coupled and connected is a spring-loaded center punch test.  This test employs a center punch to strike the component surface, resulting in an intense sound wave that is picked up by all the sensors.  However, this test has historically been performed manually and required someone to physically approach and touch the lifting equipment.  In certain applications, this can be a safety or radiological dose issue and, additionally, can add time to an already time-critical plant operation.  For this reason, SI has introduced the use of remotely actuated impactors to perform this function. The result is equivalent but entirely eliminates the need to have personnel on the lift equipment for the test as this task is performed remotely and safely from a parametric control center.

Figure 4. Strain gauge output showing precise timing of peak load on lift rig.

Employing cutting-edge AE testing for your vessel head / internals heavy lift can save outage critical path time, reduce radiological dose, and identify structural concerns early in the process.  All of this leads to inherently safer, more efficient verification of heavy lift equipment.   

SI has the tools, expertise, and technology to apply cutting-edge AE testing to your heavy lifts.  SI is committed to continually improving the process at every implementation.  Improvements in software processing time, and setup / preparation time are currently in-process.  Finally, other potential applications for the method are also possible, and we stand ready to apply to the benefit of our clients.

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Structural Integrity Associates | Wireless Sensor Node Featured Image

High Energy Piping Monitoring

High Energy Piping Monitoring

SI moves beyond the pilot application of a High Energy Piping monitoring program designed to reduce operational risk and optimize maintenance activities.

Structural Integrity Associates | Wireless Sensor Node 6.17ESI has successfully implemented the initial application of an integrated monitoring solution that provides insight into damage evolution and operational risk using real-time data and automated engineering intelligence. This solution will assist in the optimization of maintenance activities and downtime, helping utilities get the most out of their O&M budgets.  “This is a decisive step toward a more modern asset management approach that will lower O&M cost for our clients,” said Steve Gressler, Vice President, SI Energy Services Group, a division of Structural Integrity Associates, Inc. (SI) focused on power plant asset integrity.

Informed by decades of material performance knowledge, the SI team has refined a proprietary risk-ranking method to optimize sensor placement and deliver a high-value monitoring platform supported by the PlantTrack™ asset data management platform.  The integration of monitoring information into the platform further enhances equipment asset integrity data to simplify stakeholder decision making.   The SI solution incorporates various sensors working on a distributed wireless network to feed real-time data to SI’s state-of-the-art algorithms and is also capable of integrating with existing plant data historians to pull in other valuable operational data. The outcome is a cost-effective damage monitoring approach to focus resources and the timing of comprehensive field inspections.

“The architecture enables asset managers to obtain real-time feedback, alerts, and trends that clearly link actual operating conditions to the lifecycle of critical components.,” said Jason Van Velsor, Director of Integrated Monitoring Technology at SI.

“We have supported clients with asset integrity insights for decades and now offer enhanced monitoring technology that will help automate risk management for high energy piping and help obtain the most value out of field inspection and other maintenance activities during outages.”

Unique Features of the SI Solution include:

  • Design and application of a monitoring program that focuses on safety and reliability and is consistent with guidance contained in the ASME B31.1 regulatory code.
  • Expert assessment (or Gap Analysis) to optimize monitoring including health checkups to validate optimum monitoring for plant operation.
  • Decades of material analysis insights as algorithms to expertly inform decision making.
  • Customized automated alerts to notify operators of abnormal or undesirable operating conditions affecting the life of high-energy components.

Contact Steve or Jason to learn more (

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | High Temperature Ultrasonic Thickness Monitoring

News & Views, Volume 51 | High Temperature Ultrasonic Thickness Monitoring


By:  Jason Van Velsor and Robert Chambers

Figure 1 – Photograph of an ultrasonic thick-film array for monitoring wall-thickness over a critical area of a component.

The ability to continuously monitor component thickness at high temperatures has many benefits in the power generation industry, as well as many other industries. Most significantly, it enables condition-based inspection and maintenance, as opposed to schedule-based, which assists plant management optimizing operations and maintenance budgets and streamlining outage schedules. Furthermore, it can assist with the early identification of potential issues, which may be used to further optimize plant operations and provides ample time for contingency and repair planning.

Over the last several years, Structural Integrity has been working on the development of a real-time thickness monitoring technology that utilizes robust, unobtrusive, ultrasonic thick-film sensor technology that is enabling continuous operation at temperatures up to 800°F. Figure 1 shows a photograph of an installed ultrasonic thick-film array, illustrating the low-profile, surface-conforming nature of the sensor technology. The current version of this sensor technology has been demonstrated to operate continuously for over two years at temperatures up to 800°F, as seen in the plot in Figure 2. These sensors are now offered as part of SI’s SIIQ™ intelligent monitoring system.


ultrasonic signal amplitude

Figure 2 – A plot of ultrasonic signal amplitude over time for a sensor operating continuously at an atmospheric and component temperature of 800°F.

In addition to significant laboratory testing, the installation, performance, and longevity of Structural Integrity’s thick-film ultrasonic sensor technology has been demonstrated in actual operating power plant conditions, as seen in the photograph in Figure 3, where the sensors have been installed on multiple high-temperature piping components that are susceptible to wall thinning from erosion. In this application, the sensors are fabricated directly on the external surface of the pipe, covered with a protective coating, and then covered with the original piping insulation. Following installation, data can either be collected and transferred automatically using an installed data acquisition instrument, or a connection panel can be installed that permits users to periodically acquire data using a traditional off-the-shelf ultrasonic instrument.

Figure 4 shows two sets of ultrasonic data that were acquired approximately eight months apart at an operating power plant. The first data set was acquired at the time of sensor installation and the second data set was acquired after approximately eight months of typical cycling, with temperatures reaching up to ~500°F. Based on the observed change in the time-of-flight between the multiple backwall echoes observed in the signals, it is possible to determine that there has been approximately 0.005 inches of wall loss over the 8-month period. Accurately quantifying such as small loss in wall thickness can often provide meaningful insight into plant operations and processes, can provide an early indication of possible issues, and is only possible when using installed sensors.

Other potential applications of Structural Integrity’s ultrasonic thick-film sensor technology include the following:

  • Real-time thickness monitoring
    • Flow Accelerated Corrosion (FAC)
    • Erosion / Corrosion
  • Crack Monitoring
    • Real-time PAUT
    • Full Matrix Capture
    • Critical Area Monitoring
  • Other Applications
    • Bolt Monitoring
    • Guided Wave Monitoring

In addition to novel sensor technologies to generate data, Structural Integrity offers customizable asset integrity management solutions, as part of the SIIQ platform, such as PlantTrackª, for storing and managing critical data. Many of these solutions are able to connect with plant historians to gather additional data that feed our engineering-based analytical algorithms, which assist in converting data into actionable information regarding plant assets. These algorithms are based on decades of engineering consulting and assessment experience in the power generation industry.

Reach out to one of our NDE experts to learn more about SI’s cutting-edge thick-film UT technology.

Figure 3 – Photograph showing Structural Integrity’s thick-film ultrasonic sensor technology installed on two high-temperature piping elbows that are susceptible to thinning from erosion.


Ultrasonic waveforms acquired approximately 8 months

Figure 4 – Ultrasonic waveforms acquired approximately 8 months apart showing 0.005 inches of wall loss at the sensor location over this period.


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News & Views, Volume 49 | Rapid Assessment of Boiler Tubes Using Guided Wave Testing

News & Views, Volume 49 | Rapid Assessment of Boiler Tubes Using Guided Wave Testing

News & Views, Volume 49 | Rapid Assessment of Boiler Tubes Using Guided Wave TestingBy:  Jason Ven Velsor, Roger Royer, and Ben Ruchte

Tubing in conventional boilers and heat-recovery steam generators (HRSGs) can be subject to various damage mechanisms.  Under-deposit corrosion (UDC) mechanisms have wreaked havoc on conventional units for the past 40-50 years and have similarly worked their way into the more prevalent combined cycle facilities that employ HRSGs.  Water chemistry, various operational transients, extended outage periods, etc. all play a detrimental role with regards to damage development (UDC, flow-accelerated corrosion, pitting, etc.).


News & Views, Volume 49 | Attemperator Monitoring with Wireless Sensors - Risk and Cost Reduction in Real Time

News & Views, Volume 49 | Attemperator Monitoring with Wireless Sensors: Risk and Cost Reduction in Real Time

News & Views, Volume 49 | Attemperator Monitoring with Wireless Sensors - Risk and Cost Reduction in Real TimeBy: Jason Van Velsor, Matt Freeman and Ben Ruchte

Installed sensors and continuous online monitoring are revolutionizing how power plants manage assets and risk by facilitating the transformation to condition-based maintenance routines. With access to near real-time data, condition assessments, and operating trends, operators have the opportunity to safely and intelligently reduce operations and maintenance costs and outage durations, maximize component lifecycles and uptime, and improve overall operating efficiency.

But not all data is created equal and determining what to monitor, where to monitor, selecting appropriate sensors, and determining data frequency are all critical decisions that impact data value. Furthermore, sensor procurement, installation services, data historian/storage, and data analysis are often provided by separate entities, which can lead to implementation challenges and disruptions to efficient data flow.


News & Views, Volume 49 | Hydroelectric Penstock Inspection - Field NDE Services

News & Views, Volume 49 | Hydroelectric Penstock Inspection: Field NDE Services

News & Views, Volume 49 | Hydroelectric Penstock Inspection - Field NDE ServicesBy:  Jason Van Velsor and Jeff Milligan

Our talented experts, using the latest technology and methods, deliver unmatched value, actionable information, and engineering knowledge for the management of your most critical assets.

Many of the penstocks used in the hydroelectric power industry have been in service for over 50 years.  Often with older components, historical documents like, as-built drawings and proof of material composition no longer exist.  This information is critical for inspection, repair and replacement decisions.  SI has the expertise to assist hydro clients with everything from material verification, inspection, and fitness-for-service analysis to keep penstock assets in-service for many more years to come.


News & View, Volume 46 | Turnkey Rapid-Response Plant Support Disposition of Wall Thinning in Standby Service Water Piping

News & Views, Volume 46 | Turnkey Rapid-Response Plant Support Disposition of Wall Thinning in Standby Service Water Piping

By:  Jason Van Velsor, Roger Royer, and Eric Houston

News & View, Volume 46 | Turnkey Rapid-Response Plant Support Disposition of Wall Thinning in Standby Service Water PipingStructural Integrity recently had the opportunity to support a client’s emergent needs when their Standby Service Water (SSW) piping system experienced a pinhole leak just downstream of a valve. Concerned about other locations in the piping system with similar configurations, the site asked SI to assist with the expedited development of assessment and disposition plans for these other components. In response, SI was able to lean on our core competencies in failure analysis, advanced NDE inspection, and flaw evaluation to develop and deploy a comprehensive solution that met our client’s expedited timeline and helped them to mitigate the threat of future unplanned outages. The following sections outline how SI utilized our in-depth knowledge, cutting-edge technology, and world-class engineering to meet our client’s needs.