A probe that picks out the cracks and defects in the deep sea pillars of oil rigs is now being pushed into outer space by NASA who will be using it to examine orbiting structures. The device will allow engineers to test structures, such as the proposed International Space Station, in the extreme conditions of space, as well as to test the pipes and legs of deep-sea oil platforms, detecting stresses in materials and welds that are causing cracks which could ultimately lead to failure. One particular benefit is that the device can test through as much as six millimetres of coating, so it is not necessary for engineers to strip and repaint any protective coating, as is the case with alternative techniques.
The technique, termed alternating current field measurement (ACFM), uses a probe to send an electric current through the material being tested and sensors to examine the magnetic field produced. The device picks up any anomalies in the magnetic field caused by cracks or defects in the material or weld produced by stresses in the structure. Since its development, the technique has been successfully adapted for testing structures such as on deep-sea oil rigs, road bridges, television masts, freight container cranes, roller coasters and large underground storage tanks.
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