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The Importance of Ultrasonic Crack Detection Equipment in Infrastructure and Transportation

TOPAZ family of phased array ultrasonic instruments for industrial inspections

A recently published study of train derailments in the United States from 2001-2010 revealed that over 15% of all derailments (and over 22% of all cars derailed) were caused by broken rails or welds. Obstructions, human error, and track geometry were in the low, single-digit percentages as causes. 

These findings show the importance of maintaining weld and rail integrity through ultrasonic crack detection. Detecting cracks before they lead to major issues is vital throughout the transportation industry and in any field with critical infrastructure. 

The reliability and consistency offered by ultrasonic crack detection equipment is necessary for safe and successful operations. Ultrasonic crack detection using phased array protects infrastructure and equipment by offering a fast, efficient, and accurate way to conduct volumetric testing, without causing major interruptions in operations. 

The Importance of Infrastructure Crack Detection 

There are many ways the integrity of a structure can be comprised. When a material, such as metal, is exposed to air, water, or any other elements, a chemical reaction can occur that depletes its surface. Stresses during the welding process can lead to microfractures that, when subject to the stress of motion, can begin to widen. Composites can fracture or splinter when subject to the pressures of flight. 

When dealing with structures that are vital to transportation, the room for error is small. Derailments or crashes can cost money, delay shipments, incur the heightened scrutiny of regulators, and, most importantly, risk the safety and lives of operators and passengers. To mitigate these risks, it’s important to leverage crack detection equipment that is accurate and reliable.  

Crack Detection in Transportation Production & Operations

Proper inspection takes time but that doesn’t mean operations have to halt during routine inspections. The transportation industry has increasingly turned to non-destructive testing (NDT) methods in order to ensure little to no downtime during inspections. 

NDT testing is a way to quickly and efficiently detect cracks in infrastructure and equipment without having to cease operations. This is important in a factory setting, but it is especially important in the field. The global economy depends on the smooth operation of the transportation industry; a shutdown for testing can be just as detrimental as a shutdown due to failure. 

Here’s a list of some of the transportation industries that rely on phased array ultrasonic crack detection equipment for NDT:  


For good reason, the aerospace industry is subject to a wide variety of regulatory pressures. Whether passenger, commercial, or military, there are federal and industry regulations that manufacturers and companies must meet before components can be placed in service. NDT in the aerospace industry—such as crack detection in turbine blades—helps companies maintain routine inspections to meet regulations without having to shutdown operations.  


Vehicles are a collection of thousands of components that operate together. Because there are so many components, the potential for flaws and cracks can be numerous. NDT in the automotive industry promotes crack and flaw detection, along with many other benefits. By making sure there aren’t cracks and flaws when leaving the assembly line, NDT helps ensure reliability and safety when drivers get behind the wheel. 


The railway industry is probably the field with the most exciting developments in NDT. Crossing points and wheels and axles have been beneficiaries of rapid, efficient inspection for years, but the rails themselves were much harder to comprehensively inspect without inhibiting operations. 

The use of ultrasonic technology in NDT in the railway industry allows for the inspection of the hundreds of thousands of miles of rails with a comprehensiveness that helps maintain rail integrity. 

Efficient Ultrasonic Crack Detection Solutions

There are various types of non-destructive testing methods to suit specific industry needs. When it comes to volumetric crack detection, ultrasonic technology, specifically, phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) is an NDT method that is well-suited for the transportation industry. 

PAUT methodologies are particularly attuned toward finding micro-fissures in metal and composite materials. PAUT uses multiple transducers to create images of a large area in a short amount of time. This kind of rapid and wide testing is crucial when covering a large surface, such as an airplane wing or miles of railway track. 

Like many NDT methods, the use of PAUT equipment depends on the specific inspection application. For example, the TOPAZ family of instruments can be used for both in-rail testing and turbine crack detection, though it’s critical to understand the specific needs for determining the optimal instrument and solution to apply. 

It’s important to work with a partner who can help you find ultrasonic crack detection equipment specific to your industry needs. Protecting transportation infrastructure and equipment with crack detection can save money and lives.

Zetec is a trusted name in NDT, and proudly provides companies in a variety of industries with cutting-edge ultrasonic crack detection equipment. Contact us today to learn more about how to improve crack detection with advanced UT equipment and software.