It is essential to have a quality weld inspection program to ensure quality welds. A company must understand how to evaluate weld characteristics, determine weld quality, and have a welding inspector capable of performing several different testing methods.

There are several reasons to inspect a weld; the most fundamental is determining whether its quality is good enough for its intended application. To evaluate the quality of a weld, it is necessary to have a form of measurement to compare its characteristics and a qualified individual to perform the evaluation. It is not practical to evaluate quality without some form of specified acceptance criteria. It’s also not suitable for a person who is not well-versed in the necessary procedures to perform this task

Evaluation of weld characteristics includes the weld’s size and discontinuities’ presence. The size of a weld can be essential, as it often correlates directly to the strength and associated performance. Undersized welds may not withstand stresses applied during service, and oversized welds can produce stress concentrations or contribute to the potential for distortion of a welded component.

Uncovering weld discontinuities also is vital because imperfections within or adjacent to the weld, depending on their size or location, may prevent the weld from meeting its intended function. When discontinuities are an unacceptable size or in the wrong place, they are called welding defects. They can cause premature weld failure by reducing strength or producing stress concentrations within the welded component.

Determining Weld Quality

Weld quality acceptance criteria can originate from several sources. First, the welding fabrication drawing, or blueprint, provides weld sizes and dimensional requirements such as length and location. These dimensional requirements are established through design calculations or are taken from proven designs that meet the performance requirements of the welded connection.

The number of acceptable and unacceptable weld discontinuities for welding inspection usually is obtained from welding codes and standards. Welding codes and standards have been developed for many welding fabrication applications. Therefore, choosing a welding standard for use within the particular industry or application you are involved in is crucial.

Weld Inspector Responsibilities

Welding inspection requires knowledge of weld drawings, symbols, collaborative design, procedures, code and standard requirements, and inspection and testing techniques. For this reason, many welding codes and standards require that the welding inspector be formally qualified or have the necessary knowledge and experience to conduct the inspection.

Weld inspection is only as good as the person running the tests. Here are a few things that a welding inspector should know and tasks he should be able to perform:

  1. Welder Performance and Welding Procedure Qualification. Specific procedures must be followed to qualify welders and welding procedures. The qualification process is an integral part of the overall welding quality system, and the welding inspector is often required to coordinate and verify these qualification tests.

These qualifications typically involve producing welded samples representative of the welds used in production welding. In addition, these welded samples usually are required to be tested after completion. Some tests are radiographic, micro etching, guided bends, transverse tension, and nick-break fracture. The test results must meet or exceed the minimum requirements stipulated in the welding code or standard before the procedure can be qualified.

  1. Visual Inspection. This is often the most accessible, least expensive, and most effective method of welding inspection for many applications if performed correctly. The welding inspector must be capable of identifying all the different welding discontinuities during visual inspection. He also must be able to evaluate the significance of identified discontinuities in terms of the relevant welding code or standard to determine whether to accept or reject them during testing and production.

A welding inspector with good eyesight can be trained relatively quickly by a competent instructor and prove to be a significant asset to the welding quality system (good vision is essential for visual inspection).

  1. Surface Crack Detection. A welding inspector sometimes is required to conduct weld testing by surface crack detection methods. He also may have to evaluate the test results of these testing methods. Therefore, the inspector should understand testing methods, such as liquid penetrant and magnetic particle inspection. Additionally, he must know how the tests are used and what they will find.
  1. Radiographic and Ultrasonic Weld Inspection. These two inspection methods are in a group known as nondestructive testing (NDT). These inspection methods are used to examine the internal structure of the weld to establish the weld’s integrity without destroying the welded component. The welding inspector may be required to understand this type of testing and be competent in interpreting the results. Radiographic and ultrasonic weld inspection are the two most common methods of NDT used to detect discontinuities within the internal structure of welds. The obvious advantage of both methods is their ability to help establish the weld’s internal integrity without destroying the welded component.

Radiographic testing uses X-rays produced by an X-ray tube or gamma rays produced by a radioactive isotope. The basic principle of radiographic inspection is the same as medical radiography. Penetrating radiation is passed through a solid object, such as a weld, onto a photographic film, resulting in an image of the object’s internal structure. The amount of energy absorbed by the thing depends on its thickness and density. Energy not absorbed by the object will cause exposure to the radiographic film. These areas will be dark when the film is developed. Areas of the film exposed to less energy remain lighter.

Therefore, areas of the weld where the thickness has been changed by discontinuities, such as porosity or cracks, will appear as dark outlines on the film. Likewise, inclusions of low density, such as slag, will appear as dark areas on the film, while inclusions of high density, such as tungsten, will appear as light areas. All discontinuities are detected by viewing the shape and variation in density of the processed film.

Ultrasonic testing uses mechanical vibrations similar to sound waves but of higher frequency. A beam of ultrasonic energy is directed into the weld to be tested. This beam travels through the weld with insignificant loss, except when intercepted and reflected by a discontinuity. The ultrasonic contact pulse reflection technique is used. This system uses a transducer, which changes electrical energy into mechanical energy. The transducer is excited by a high-frequency voltage, which causes a crystal to vibrate mechanically. The crystal probe becomes the source of ultrasonic mechanical vibration.

These vibrations are transmitted into the test piece through a coupling fluid. Usually, a film of oil is called a couplant. When the pulse of ultrasonic waves strikes a discontinuity in the test piece, it is reflected in its point of origin. Thus, the energy returns to the transducer. The transducer now serves as a receiver for the reflected power. The initial signal or main bang, the returned echoes from the discontinuities, and the echo of the rear surface of the test piece are all displayed by a trace on the screen of a cathode-ray oscilloscope.

  1. Destructive Weld Testing. Destructive methods to establish weld integrity or performance include sectioning, bending, or breaking the welded component and evaluating various mechanical or physical characteristics. These tests are the guided bend test; macro etch test, reduced section tensile test, fracture test, and Charpy V-notch impact test. These tests are used during welding procedures or welder performance qualification testing. The welding inspector often is required to conduct, supervise, or evaluate these testing methods.
  1. Interpretation of Welding Details and Weld Symbols. The welding inspector should be competent in reading engineering and manufacturing drawings and interpreting all details and symbols that provide information about the welding requirements.

By looking at only some of the welding inspector’s functions, it is easy to see that the welding inspector can have many responsibilities. These duties generally change from one engineering or manufacturing environment to another. However, the welding inspector’s primary job is to help coordinate the welding quality control operations within the organization.

One of the main ingredients of a successful welding quality control system is establishing, introducing, and controlling a sound welding inspection program. A program can be established only after completing an evaluation of the weld quality requirements or acceptance criteria, acquiring knowledge of the inspection and testing methods, and using correctly qualified and experienced welding inspectors.