Liquid Penetrant Inspection For Detecting Surface-Breaking Flaws

Liquid Penetrant Inspection

Liquid Penetrant Inspection (LPI or PT) is a very effective method of detecting flaws that are open to the surface of the test piece, such as fatigue, quench or grinding cracks; forging cracks and bursts; overload and impact fractures; porosity; laps and seams. Liquid penetrant inspection is a nondestructive testing method that does not harm the test piece and is commonly used on materials such as metals, glass, plastics and fired ceramics. This nondestructive testing method relies on the liquid penetrant seeping into the flaw, then forming a surface indication that is observed under special lighting after the penetrant is given time to "bleed out" from the flaw.

Liquid Penetrant Inspection Process 
The first step in Liquid Penetrant Inspection is to thoroughly clean the surface that will be inspected to be sure it is free of oil, grease, water, heat-treat scale, paint, plating and other contaminants that may prevent liquid penetrant from entering flaws. The test piece may also require etching if mechanical operations such as machining, sanding, or grit blasting have been performed because they can smear metal over the flaw opening and prevent the penetrant from entering.

Next, a red visible or fluorescent dye liquid penetrant is applied to the part by spraying, brushing or immersing in a penetrant bath. The liquid penetrant is left on the surface for a sufficient time to allow as much penetrant as possible to seep into a defect. Penetrant dwell time is the total time that the penetrant is in contact with the surface of the test piece.

After the dwell time has elapsed, the excess liquid penetrant is removed from the surface. Depending on the penetrant method used, this step may involve cleaning with a solvent (solvent-removable), direct rinsing with water (water-washable), or first treating the part with an emulsifier (post-emulsifiable) before rinsing with water. When using the water-washable or post-emulsifiable methods, the part is placed in a low-temperature oven and allowed time to dry after rinsing.

A thin layer of developer is applied to the part to assist in drawing penetrant trapped in flaws back to the surface where it will be visible as indications. Developers may be applied by dusting (dry powder) or spraying (wet developers). These indications are larger than the actual flaw, and therefore, are more visible. When using fluorescent penetrants, indications must be viewed under darkened conditions with a high-intensity UV lamp. The final step in the process is to thoroughly clean the surface to remove any residues.

Advantages and Limitations 
Liquid Penetrant Inspection is a fairly efficient means of surface inspection since large areas and quantities of parts or materials can be inspected quickly. The process is flexible for inspecting parts of almost any shape and for most materials that are not extremely rough or porous. This process is a nondestructive testing method which does not cause harm to the parts or products being tested. Indications are produced directly on the surface of the part and provide a visual representation of the flaw. Liquid penetrant inspection is highly sensitive to small surface discontinuities.

One of the main limitations of a penetrant inspection is that flaws must be open to the surface. Also, surface finish and roughness can affect inspection sensitivity. Pre-cleaning of parts is critical since contaminants can mask defects, and post-cleaning is required to remove residues.

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