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Ultrasonic test on concrete is a recognized non-destructive test to asses the homogeneity and integrity of concrete. With this ultrasonic test on concrete, following can be assessed:

  1. Qualitative assessment of strength of concrete, its gradation in different locations of structural members and plotting the same.
  2. Any discontinuity in cross section like cracks, cover concrete delamination etc.
  3. Depth of surface cracks.

This test essentially consists of measuring travel time, T of ultrasonic pulse of 50 to 54 kHz, produced by an electro-acoustical transducer, held in contact with one surface of the concrete member under test and receiving the same by a similar transducer in contact with the surface at the other end. With the path length L, (i.e. the distance between the two probes) and time of travel T, the pulse velocity (V=L/T) is calculated (fig.2). Higher the elastic modulus, density and integrity of the concrete, higher is the pulse velocity. The ultrasonic pulse velocity depends on the density and elastic properties of the material being tested.

Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity Instrument

Fig.1: Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity Instrument

Though pulse velocity is related with crushing strength of concrete, yet no statistical correlation can be applied.

The pulse velocity in concrete may be influenced by:

a) Path length

b) Lateral dimension of the specimen tested

c) Presence of reinforcement steel

d) Moisture content of the concrete

The influence of path length will be negligible provided it is not less than 100mm when 20mm size aggregate is used or less than 150mm for 40mm size aggregate. Pulse velocity will not be influenced by the shape of the specimen, provided its least lateral dimension (i.e. its dimension measured at right angles to the pulse path) is not less than the wavelength of the pulse vibrations. For pulse of 50Hz frequency, this corresponds to a least lateral dimension of about 80mm. the velocity of pulses in steel bar is generally higher than they are in concrete. For this reason pulse velocity measurements made in the vicinity of reinforcing steel may be high and not representative of the concrete. The influence of the reinforcement is generally small if the bars runs in a direction at right angles to the pulse path and the quantity of steel is small in relation to the path length. The moisture content of the concrete can have a small but significant influence on the pulse velocity. In general, the velocity is increased with increased moisture content, the influence being more marked for lower quality concrete.

Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity Method - Method of propagating and receiving pulses

Fig.1: Method of propagating and receiving pulses

Measurement of pulse velocities at points on a regular grid on the surface of a concrete structure provides a reliable method of assessing the homogeneity of the concrete. The size of the grid chosen will depend on the size of the structure and the amount of variability encountered.

Table: 1 – General Guidelines for Concrete Quality based on UPV





>4.0 km/s


Very good to excellent


3.5 – 4.0 km/s


Good to very good, slight porosity may exist


3.0 – 3.5 km/s


Satisfactory but loss of integrity is suspected


<3.0 km/s


Poor and los of integrity exist.



Table 1 shows the guidelines for qualitative assessment of concrete based on UPV test results. To make a more realistic assessment of the condition of surface of a structural member, the pulse velocity can be combined with rebound number. Table 2 shows the guidelines for identification of corrosion prone locations by combining the results of pulse velocity and rebound number.

Table:2 – Identification of Corrosion Prone Location based on Pulse Velocity and Hammer Readings


Sl. No.


Test Results






High UPV values, high rebound number


Not corrosion prone




Medium range UPV values, low rebound numbers


Surface delamination, low quality of surface concrete, corrosion prone




Low UPV, high rebound numbers


Not corrosion prone, however to be confirmed by chemical tests, carbonation, pH




Low UPV, low rebound numbers


Corrosion prone, requires chemical and electrochemical tests.



Detection of Defects

When ultrasonic pulse travelling through concrete meets a concrete-air interface, there is a negligible transmission of energy across this interface so that any air filled crack or void lying directly between the transducers will obstruct the direct beam of ultrasonic when the void has a projected area larger than the area of transducer faces. The first pulse to arrive at the receiving transducer will have been directed around the periphery of the defect and the time will be longer than in similar concrete with no defect.

Estimating the depth of cracks

An estimate of the depth of a crack visible at the surface can be obtained by the transit times across the crack for two different arrangements of the transducers placed on the surface. One suitable arrangement is one in which the transmitting and receiving transducers are placed on opposite sides of the crack and distant from it. Two values of X are chosen, one being twice that of the other, and the transmit times corresponding to these are measured. An equation may be derived by assuming that the plane of the crack is perpendicular to the concrete surface and that the concrete in the vicinity of the crack is of reasonably uniform quality. It is important that the distance X be measured accurately and that very good coupling is developed between the transducers and the concrete surface. The method is valid provided the crack is not filled with water.

This test is done as per IS: 13311 (Part 1) – 1992.

Procedure for Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity
i) Preparing for use: Before switching on the ‘V’ meter, the transducers should be connected to the sockets marked “TRAN” and ” REC”.
The ‘V’ meter may be operated with either:
a) the internal battery,
b) an external battery or
c) the A.C line.

ii) Set reference: A reference bar is provided to check the instrument zero. The pulse time for the bar is engraved on it. Apply a smear of grease to the transducer faces before placing it on the opposite ends of the bar. Adjust the ‘SET REF’ control until the reference bar transit time is obtained on the instrument read-out.

iii) Range selection: For maximum accuracy, it is recommended that the 0.1 microsecond range be selected for path length upto 400mm.

iv) Pulse velocity: Having determined the most suitable test points on the material to be tested, make careful measurement of the path length ‘L’. Apply couplant to the surfaces of the transducers and press it hard onto the surface of the material. Do not move the transducers while a reading is being taken, as this can generate noise signals and errors in measurements. Continue holding the transducers onto the surface of the material until a consistent reading appears on the display, which is the time in microsecond for the ultrasonic pulse to travel the distance ‘L’. The mean value of the display readings should be taken when the units digit hunts between two values.

Pulse velocity=(Path length/Travel time)

v) Separation of transducer leads: It is advisable to prevent the two transducer leads from coming into close contact with each other when the transit time measurements are being taken. If this is not done, the receiver lead might pick-up unwanted signals from the transmitter lead and this would result in an incorrect display of the transit time.

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