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Role of Advanced Non-Destructive Tests in Construction and Repair of

Concrete Structures

Frank Papworth, Managing Consultant

Tony Zheng, Senior Engineer,
, Building & Construction, Research and Consultancy (BCRC),
Perth, WA, Australia

Synopsis: Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) on concrete structures is less common compared to NDT
on steel structures, particularly in Australia. Whereas the technology for steel testing is mature the
techniques for concrete testing that gives similar insight into an element state are relatively new and
the understanding of what can be achieved for concrete structures is not well known. NDT can play
an important role in condition assessment of new and old concrete structures. Some advanced NDTs
have received wide publicity in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia in the past decade and
their use in Australia is increasing but opportunities for assessing important aspects of specification
compliance and potential long term performance at the construction stage are generally missed due to
lack of understanding and appropriate specification.
This paper outlines several advanced NDT techniques, i.e. impact echo, impulse response, ultrasonic
pulse echo, ground penetrating radar, spectral analysis of surface waves, parallel seismic and
crosshole sonic logging. Most of them are relatively new and little known in Australia, but some of
them have already been successfully used. This paper also illustrates what role advanced NDT can
play in quality assurance of new structures and in structural condition assessment of existing concrete
structures through authors projects.
Keywords: Non-Destructive Test (NDT), Concrete, Quality, Defect, Thickness.


Non-Destructive Test (NDT) and Needs during Construction and Repair

NDT are used to determine hardened concrete properties and to evaluate the integrity of reinforced
concrete structures. NDT here is defined as testing that causes no damage to the concrete or
NDT are applied to concrete construction for four primary reasons, as in ACI 228.2R-98 (1):
quality control of new construction;
troubleshooting of problems with new construction;
condition evaluation of older concrete for rehabilitation purposes;
quality assurance of concrete repairs.
Concrete performance is typically measured on cylinders and performance of this concrete may bare
no resemblance to the in-situ concrete performance, particularly on elements where the concrete is
not compacted or cured. NDT measure the actual as placed, compacted (or uncompacted) and cured
in-situ concrete. Hence, the NDT results give a much more realistic impression of the as constructed
For existing (old) concrete structure, NDT can provide member dimension; steel reinforcement
location; location and size of cracking; identify delaminations, debonding; degree of consolidation,
voids and honeycombing; and indicate extent of reinforcement corrosion and concrete damage due to
external impact, fire and chemical exposure.
NDT techniques are increasingly applied for investigation of concrete structures overseas but
surprisingly are applied to a low extent in Australia. This increase overseas is due to:
technological improvements in hardware and software for data collection and analysis
increases the speed of testing and reduces the analysis time
reduces the testing cost to an acceptable level
enables comprehensive coverage
extends the range of application
improves the accuracy of the analysis
increasing legislative, insurance & quality assurance requirements for verifying concrete quality
contractor and client interests to reduce risk and rework
increasing specification of NDT increases general awareness (feed back loop)




What is Advanced NDT?

Advanced here is taken, somewhat subjectively, to mean any technique which requires a high
degree of expertise to undertake and/or analyse results. Whilst new style rebound hammers and
covermeters may have sophisticated electronics they are design to be used and interpreted by relative
novices. They would not therefore be referred to as advanced techniques.
In this paper, the emphasis is placed on advanced NDT that have been applied to measure nonstrength physical properties of concrete in structures, to detect flaws or discontinuities, and to provide
data for condition evaluation. They specifically include impact echo, impulse response, ultrasonic
pulse echo, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Spectrum Analysis of Surface Waves (SASW), parallel
seismic and crosshole sonic logging. Most of them have received wide publicity in Europe, North
America and Southeast Asia, and are described in ACI 228.2R-98 (1). Some of them have been
successfully used in Australia in recent years.


Impact Echo

Impact Echo (IE) was first developed in United State and ASTM C 1383 - 98a (2) describes the
procedure of IE measurement of the thickness of plate like structures e.g. slabs, walls, linings and
pipes. IE has also been widely used to evaluate concrete integrity and concrete repair. Sansalone (3)
details comprehensive research for many applications.
IE uses a small impactor to strike the structural element surface to generate a stress wave that
penetrates through the element thickness and is reflected back from the opposite surface of the
element. The reflected waves are recorded by a transducer placed beside the impacting point. The
displacements (or accelerations for certain testing systems) are recorded against time. In computer,
data are processed and the results are displayed as amplitude versus frequency. The highest
amplitude corresponds to rebounds from the opposite face or significant flaws. The frequency of
these peaks is used to calculate the element thickness or distance to flaw. Zheng (4) notes that
experienced operators can detect unconsolidated concrete (e.g. honeycombing). Cao (5) and Zheng
(6) detail IE application to detect voids in post-tensioned tendon ducts in prestressing concrete
structures, a very advanced application. Figures 1 shows IE systems in various applications.

Above: Unit for

underwater use
testing pile

Above: Hand held IE

thickness testing display
Below: Hand held, scanning
IE thickness testing unit

Above: Hand held IE unit.
Can be attached to rod
for roof and floor testing.

Right: Unit connected to

robot (used for testing
wall thickness in tunnels
inside The Pyramids in

Figure 1: Impact echo systems





Impulse Response

Impulse response was developed in 1974 in France for deep foundation evaluation. Over the last 15
years it has been used increasingly to evaluate superstructure concrete members.
A hammer with internal load cell impacts the element surface sending a stress wave through the
element. A geophone placed beside the hammer picks up the surface velocity of the element. The
compressive stress created is approximately 100 times that used in IE testing. This greater stress
input means that plate-like structures respond to the impact in a bending mode over a very much
lower frequency range (0 - 800Hz for plate structures). The time records for the hammer force and the
surface velocity are processed in a field computer and the resulting velocity spectrum is divided by the
force spectrum to obtain a transfer function, referred to as the Mobility of the element under test, in
units of m/s/N. The response graph of Mobility plots against frequency (usually over the 0 to 800Hz
range) contains information on the condition and the integrity of the concrete in the test elements.
Impulse response can be used for rapid screening of large reinforced concrete structures.
Delamination, debonding and severe voids and honeycomb can be easily detected in the impulse
response spectrum. Cao (7) notes impulse response is often used as a preliminary method in NDT
evaluation programs. Figure 2 shows impulse response systems from two manufacturers. While they
look similar the software and computer systems are individual.

Load Cell



System 1

System 2

Figure 2: Two impulse response test systems


Ultrasonic Pulse Echo

Ultrasonic Pulse Echo (UPE) has been widely used for NDT on uniform materials, such as metal.
However, it has found limited application in concrete in the past decades as:
The required coupling media (grease) made testing messy
Traditional equipment uses ultrasonic longitudinal (compressive waves) waves and these
longitudinal waves were severely attenuated in concrete limiting the effective testing depth.
Recent development of low-frequency transducers with dry point contact (DPC) overcomes the
contact problems. The wear tip (transducer contact point) of these DPC probes is much smaller than
the wave length allowing transverse waves (shear waves) to be used in the testing. This makes the
signal/noise ratio in the concrete higher, thus giving better signal resolution. Kozlov (8) details how
DPC transducers can be used in arrays that enable tomograms of the concrete to be quickly
developed. Figure 3 shows two ultrasonic pulse echo concrete imaging systems and an experiment.





Stepped profile

a) Small multi-probe array

c) A stepped slab with empty tendon ducts

b) Multi-probe array that enables tomographic images

d) Imaging the stepped slab and tendon ducts

Figure 3: Dry point contact ultrasonic pulse echo test systems

Application of ultrasonic pulse echo is similar to the impact echo technique except that when probe
arrays are used greater detail and simplified assessment is possible. The systems shown in Figure 3
are very advanced system as it combines advanced transducers, measurement methods and analysis


Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Radar, which stands for Radio Detection and Ranging, is widely used in civil engineering. Most
commonly the technique is used to identify objects underground from the ground surface. For this
reason, Radar is often called Ground Penetration Radar (GPR). In concrete applications, the
transmitting antenna emits short pulses of electromagnetic waves into the concrete test element. Any
embedded objects, particularly steel pipes, reinforcement and tendons, or boundaries of dissimilar
materials (such as interface of concrete and air) reflect the emitted wave to the built-in receiver in the
antenna. By carefully examining the recorded radar images, the location of reinforcing steel,
prestressing tendons, tendon ducts and other embedded objects in the concrete can be located.
GPR suitable for concrete applications must have a centre frequency ranged from 1000 to 2000MHz
in order to achieve higher resolution, this also results in limited detectable depth (500mm for
reinforcement and tendon ducts). In geophysical survey, such as pipeline detection and soil
investigation, 100-1000MHz frequency antennas are used giving deeper imaging capability, up to 30m.
Figure 4 show two GPR systems for concrete imaging.




a) Self contained hand held unit

b) Separate transducer, computer & screen system
Figure 4: GPR concrete imaging systems


Spectral Analysis of Surface Waves (SASW)

SASW test method is applied primarily to assess material stiffness and condition. The SASW method
is a powerful tool for identifying material condition properties at various depths through the
determination of the variation of material stiffness vs. depth in layered systems.
In SASW test, two receivers are placed on the concrete surface to monitor the passage of surface
waves due to a hammer impact. Receiver 1 is located midway between the impact point and receiver
2. A digital analyser is used to record the receiver outputs for spectral (frequency) analyses. The
result of the analysis is a plot of the phase difference between the two receivers versus frequency.
Short receiver spacing is used to assess shallow depths while long receiver spacing is used to assess
deeper depths. In SASW test, field data acquisition can be straightforward for concrete structural
members, but signal processing and analysis is more complicated. Automated signal processing is
being developed.
SASA method can be used to evaluate fire damage, frost damage, cracks perpendicular to the surface
and concrete quality/strength with one side access such as tunnel lining and concrete pavement.

a) SASW test in progress

b) transducers and digital analyser for SASW

Figure 5: SASW test systems


Parallel Seismic (PS)

Parallel seismic technique is applied to determine the lengths of pile foundation when foundation tops
are not accessible. It is less well known for pile foundation assessment compared to Pile Driving
Analyser (also called PDA and high strain dynamic testing), Sonic Echo (also called Pile Integrity
Testing or PIT and low strain dynamic testing) or Crosshole Sonic Logging (CSL). However, it has
unique advantages over the other NDT methods. Since it does not require access to the pile head




during testing, it can be used after the foundation has been built on, (as in the evaluation of existing
structures), where direct access to the pile head is no longer possible without some demolition.
An acoustic receiving probe is placed in a bore hole lined with water. The borehole is parallel and
close to the foundation to be tested. The structure is struck as close to the head of the foundation as
possible with a trigger hammer. The time taken for the impact stress wave to travel through the
foundation and adjacent soil to the receiving probe is measured on a data acquisition system as the
probe is lowered in uniform increments (Figures 6a and 6b). Wave transit time from the point of
impact to each position down the access tube is plotted in a vertical profile (Figure 6c).



a) Testing equipment

b) Set up


c) Example of test results

Figure 6: Parallel seismic test

The velocity of the wave will be lower through soil than through the concrete. If the access tube is
reasonably parallel to the foundation, the effect of the soil between the tube and the pile shaft will be
effectively constant. However, transit time will increase proportional to the increase in foundation
depth. When the receiver has passed beyond the foundation base, the transit time of the signal will be
extended by the lower velocity of the additional intervening soil, and the lines linking signal arrival
points on the graph will show a distinct discontinuity at the level of the foundation base (refer to Figure
6c). Similarly, any significant discontinuity or inclusion in the foundation will force the signal to detour
around it, increasing the path length and transit time.


Crosshole Sonic Logging (CSL)

The crosshole sonic logging method is designed to overcome the depth limitation of other pile integrity
testing (PIT) methods. It can be used for assessment of large diameter bore piles, mass concrete
foundation such as slurry trench walls, dams and machinery bases.
The method requires a number of parallel metal or plastic tubes to be placed in the structure prior to
concrete placement, or core holes to be drilled after the concrete has set. A transmitter probe placed
at the bottom of one tube emits an ultrasonic pulse that is detected by a receiver probe at the bottom
of a second tube. A recording unit measures the time taken for the ultrasonic pulse to pass through
the concrete between the tubes. A recording unit measures the time taken for the ultrasonic pulse to
pass through the concrete between the tubes. The probes are sealed units, and the tubes are filled
with water to provide coupling between the probes and the concrete. The probe cables are withdrawn
over an instrumented wheel that measures the cable length and thus probe depth, or the cables can
be marked along their lengths so that the probe depths are known
A recording unit measures the time taken for the ultrasonic pulse to pass through the concrete
between the tubes. The probes are sealed units, and the tubes are filled with water to provide
coupling between the probes and the concrete. The probe cables are withdrawn over an instrumented
wheel that measures the cable length and thus probe depth, or the cables can be marked along their
lengths so that the probe depths are known (Figure 7a).




Continuous pulse measurements are made during withdrawal, at certain height increments, providing
a series of measurements that can be printed out to provide a vertical profile of the material between
the tubes. Any defects between the tubes can cause absence of a received signal. More complicated
and powerful application is tomography measurement, but it is only used when a sections quality is
doubtful (Figure 7b). The major advantages of this method are that there is no depth limitation and
much more information can be obtained about the pile cross section.


Data Acquisition System




Pile Tip



a) Testing a pile

8 10 12

Arrival Time
b) CSL and tomography

Figure 7: Crosshole sonic logging test


Some Application Projects


Evaluation of Diaphragm Wall for an Underground Construction

A 1m thick, 27m deep diaphragm wall for an underground train station was poured in 3 to 6m lengths.
Water leakages occurred at some locations and it was subsequently repaired by polyurethane (PU)
grouting. As sealing had been extremely difficult the potentials for severe internal defects, such as
honeycombing, delaminations or bentonite pockets was a concern. Only the internal surface of the
wall was accessible during this investigation.
The investigation was carried out using impulse response and impact echo, assisted by coring at
limited locations for verification. Non-destructive testing was carried out on large areas including both
the repaired and non-repaired areas. Testing was conducted on a 0.5m grid. The results from the
non-repair area without any surface leakage signs suggested good internal concrete condition and the
results from the repair area showed large variations indicating that concrete integrity at the areas
varied significantly. To further assess the significance of the potential defects, three core samples
were taken at carefully selected locations where testing indicated problems.
Figure 8: Impulse response test results in mobility plot




At all three locations cored a delamination plane was found within the cover zone. There was a layer
of PU repair grout between a surface layer of concrete and the bulk of concrete. Beyond the
delamination all the core samples showed a strong dense concrete throughout the wall. It was
concluded that defects were localised and limited to the near surface portion, and the internal concrete
was generally sound. Figure 8 shows the test results of impulse response test from the diaphragm
wall and the locations selected for coring.
As the placing method puts diaphragm walls at risk it is recommended that all diaphragm walls where
defects would be significant have some form of integrity testing. Crosshole sonic logging of selected
panels is commonly used in America and Asia to verify that the method and materials of construction
are not generating defects.


Void Detection Behind Concrete Tunnel Lining

Figure 9a shows a section of a tunnel lining where isolated voids were identified in the crown of the insitu cast concrete lining. This is not an uncommon problem. It was considered likely that some voids
could exist behind the tunnel lining. This was a traffic tunnel with three traffic lanes and the maximum
tunnel width was 14.5m. The expected thickness of the in-situ cast concrete lining ranged from
300mm to 900mm. The typical length of each cast was 9m. Impact echo testing was conducted from
the inside surface of the tunnel in order to determine the thickness of the tunnel lining. Several pours
were selected. Testing was conducted at a grid with 1.0m spacing along the tunnel cross section and
1.5m spacing along the tunnel length (refer to Figure 9a).
Test results showed that there were some areas in the crown of the tunnel with thickness less than
200mm indicating there was widespread voids behind the tunnel lining in the crown. Some reinforcing
steel and I-beams were exposed to the air (refer to Figure 9b). Repair was carried out and IE testing
was repeated in order to verify the repair quality.

a) Tunnel cross section view and test points

b) internal view of void behind tunnel lining

Figure 9: Identification of voids behind tunnel lining

This type of voidage is common but IE can readily detect it. Hence it is recommended that all cast insitu tunnle linings are tested across the crown. In 2001, German Federal Agency for Road
Construction (BAST) issued a Guildline for Non-Destructive Testing of Tunnel Linings (RI-ZFP-TU)
which includes impact echo testing of tunnel crowns.


Evaluation of In-situ Concrete Joints

A traffic tunnel was constructed using precast arch shaped segments in two halves and joined
together at the top of the tunnel by in-situ cast concrete as shown in Figure 10.




Figure 10: Tunnel cross section view and test locations

During casting, concrete leaked from the soffit of some joints,
causing concern that internal voids might have been formed.
All the installed segments were tested and particular care was
taken for the 15 segments where leakage had been observed.
Impulse response test was conducted from the soffit of the
tunnel to check the bond between the 50mm thick precast
former and the in-situ cast concrete and to detect any
possible internal voids in the in-situ cast concrete. Impact
echo testing was then conducted from the top of the tunnel
joints to measure the thickness of the in-situ cast concrete at
the locations where poor bonding had been detected in the
impulse response tests. Test results suggested that poor
bonding between the precast form and in-situ cast concrete
could exist in many areas. However, there were no internal
voids in any of the joints tested.


Investigation of Silo Structural Faults

A strip of concrete spalling was observed on the external wall

after a silo had been in use for 7 years. This caused some
concerns on the quality of the silo wall as well as the safety of
the silo. The height of the silo was 72m and the external
diameter was 20.8m. The wall was 400mm thick with internal
non-bonded prestressing cables at the centre of the wall. The
area of the spalling concrete was 1m wide and 8m high.
Spalling started at +19m and stopped at +27m height. The
spalling concrete was thicker than 100mm and external
reinforcing steels could be seen at certain locations.
A non-destructive evaluation program was called for at an
early stage to determine the boundary of defective areas, the
type and extent of the defects and immediate repair
requirements. A combination of visual inspection, impulse
response and impact echo testing was adopted. In order to
capture the boundary of the affected area the investigation
was carried over a large area. Intrusive test by coring was
carried out at several locations to verify the findings of nondestructive tests.
It was confirmed that a relatively large area of silo wall was
Figure 11: Mobility plot on silo
affected. The area was about 6m wide and from +14m to
wall, 10m~35m height
+35m height. The main defects were delamination and
observable vertical cracking. Immediate concrete repair by
removing defective concrete and replacing with new concrete was carried out. Repair was generally




about 180mm to 200mm deep. After concrete repair, the effectiveness of the repair was evaluated
using impulse response and impact echo tests. Figure 11 shows the mobility plot on the silo wall from
+10m to +35m where most internal defects were located.


Verification of Construction Features Using GPR

Besides locating rebars and post-tensioned tendon ducts in the concrete, GPR can also be used to
verify construction features. This is very useful when it is for investigation of an old existing building
and little or no construction information is available. In a recent project, GPR was successfully used to
investigate the presence of embedded I-beams encased in concrete columns, concrete beams and
brick walls for restoration of an old historic building. Although limited breakout was carried out for
verification purpose, GPR did provide very useful information non-destructively for the project. Figure
12 shows a GPR image where a steel I-beam in reinforced concrete beam was clearly recorded.

Figure 12: A GPR image showing strong reflection from 110mm depth (change in colour is
used to show change in reflected signal strength)



Advanced NDT can play an important role in quality assurance of new structures, in structural
condition assessment of existing concrete structures and the assessment of repair in new and old
structures. Some of the techniques have been successfully used in Australia but in general they have
not received the attention displayed in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia, possibly due to the
lack of appropriate standards and recommended practices.
Associations such as the Concrete Institute of Australia, the Australasian Corrosion Association and
Australian Concrete Repair Association are well placed to bring together a pool of NDT professionals
to develop recommended practices. These would promote awareness of the way Advanced NDT can
be used to reduce risk of accepting poor construction quality, prevent unnecessary repair and verify
repairs are effective. The recommended practice could form the basis of future Australian Standards.

The authors wish to thank Mr Reuben Barnes of PCTE who provided access to all the equipment
reviewed in this paper.
1. ACI 228.2R-98, Non-destructive Test methods for evaluation of concrete in structures, ACI
Committee 228.
2. ASTM C 1383 - 98a, Test method for measurement P-wave speed and the thickness of
concrete plates using the impact-echo method.
3. Sansalone M.J., Streett W.B. 1997 IMPACT-ECHO: Non-destructive Evaluation of Concrete
and Masonry
4. Zheng Y.H., Ng. K.E., Ong J.W. 2003 Evaluation of concrete structures by advanced nondestructive testing methods impact echo, impulse response and radar International
Symposium (NDT-CE 2003) Non-Destructive Testing in Civil Engineering. Berlin, Germany.
5. Cao H.G., Zheng Y.H., 2004 Detection of voids in tendon duct of post-tensioned I-girders
using NDT for an existing bridge, Concrete Technology Today, No.2, Vol.3.




6. Zheng Y.H., Ng. K.E., 2006 Detection of voids in tendon ducts of U-beams for an existing
bridge, NDE Conference on Civil Engineering (6th International Symposium on NDT in Civil
Engineering, St. Louis, MO, USA.
7. Cao H.G., Zheng Y.H., Application of impulse response technique in conditional evaluation of
concrete structure, Building Structures, Mar 2005
8. Kozlov V.N., Samokrutov A.A., Shevaldykin V.G. Ultrasonic equipment for evaluation of
concrete structures based on transducers with dry point contact 2006 NDE Conference on
Civil Engineering (6th International Symposium on NDT in Civil Engineering (NDT-CE), St.
Louis, MO, USA, Aug 2006