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Ultrasound Basics - "Can you hear me now?"


canyouhearmenowThere are many benefits to ultrasound, but before discussing them it is important understand what it is and how it works. Ultrasound can be defined as a detection method used to locate leaks such as; pressure, gas and vacuum. It can also be used for bearing, steam traps, and mechanical inspections. This is done by locating and trending decibel (dB) levels caused by friction.

Air Leak Detection

The air leak detection method is performed by scanning an area for turbulence caused by high and low-pressure air passing through an orifice. The turbulence causes strong ultrasonic frequencies that can be detected and scaled by the level of dB collected by an ultrasound instrument. A great advantage of leak detection is that the sound emitted is loudest at its leak site. So, when a user is scanning for leaks he/she just follows the sound to the loudest point. This method is the most popular due to the ability to report a cost reduction on wasted energy and reduce the carbon footprint left behind by the facility.


Mechanical Equipment Ultrasound

Ultrasonic inspection of mechanical equipment has many advantages. Ultrasound can provide early notice of steam trap and bearing failures, lack of lubrication, and can prevent over lubrication on bearings of all speeds (high, medium and low). In addition, since ultrasound is a high frequency, short wave signal, it is possible to filter out stray, confusing background noises and focus on the specific test point. This can also be accomplished by fine-tuning the frequency of ultrasound and using a shielding technique. It is as easy as it sounds, by setting up shielding methods (clipboard, cardboard, etc..) from competing ultrasound you can hone it on specific inspection areas.


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Ultrasound is simple, cost effective, and provides immediate results of cost savings due to locating and fixing leaks. A simple calculation of air cost per cent on the kilo watt hour, the number of pounds per square inch (PSI) in the supply lines, along with the dB level (given by the orifice size) can give you the amount of savings you can obtain per year on any given leak. Another excellent use of this application is the confirmation method. If you find an issue using alternative methods such as vibration, oil analysis, or other reliability-based approaches, you can confirm what you have found by using the ultrasound and comparing sister units or listening to sound files from previous inspections.

In Conclusion, Ultrasound gives us the ability to hear what we couldn’t before. By doing so it allows us to locate leaks in air, gas, and vacuum systems. Inspect internal components such as bearings, gearboxes, pumps, and steam traps. It is an economical reliability-based method of detection that provides an immediate cost savings by eliminating the need of the continual running of compressors, compressed gases, and steam trap systems in a dollar amount. As well as allowing us to confirm proper lubrication, change out damaged bearings before catastrophic failure, and inspection internal components that we could not before. As you can see the benefits are great and can provide a lot of value to your facilities’ programs. Plus, it gives you opportunity to use something that we are born with but at super human levels!


Adam Smith

HECO Predictive Service Group (PSG)



About the author:

Adam Smith, CMRT is HECO PSG's Regional Operations Manager and Senior Reliability Specialist based out of Greenwood, SC. He is an ISO Certified Vibration Analyst, Category III. Adam is skilled at designing and implementing predictive maintenance programs in industrial and commercial facilities. Adam is also a Certified Reliability and Maintenance Technician (CMRT) through the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP).

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