You are on page 1of 8

Detection of Corrosion under insulation (CUI) by Pulse eddy current technique

Deepak Kumar Singh1, Paul Crouzen2

NDTS India (P) Limited l 619 & 620 The Great Eastern Galleria l Plot No. 20, Sector 4, Nerul l Navi Mumbai -
400 706, India:

Dorpsstraat vo Steenstraat 80, 3732 HK de Bilt, The Netherlands, Netherlands


Equipment and metal components undergo the action of corrosive processes, which causes
the reduction of the wall thickness, limiting operating conditions and reducing its useful
lifetime. With high rate of corrosion, corrosion under insulation (CUI) is a damaging
mechanism, because it can occur without warning in equipment’s and piping with insulation
that apparently are in good condition. Therefore, non-destructive inspection techniques and
monitoring are necessary to ensure the health and safety of industrial systems. Among the
non-destructive testing, pulsed eddy current technique has been used for inspection of
coated metal components. This paper describes the operation of a pulsed eddy current
inspection system with various size of probe for increasing insulation thickness.

Keywords: Pulsed Eddy Currents, Corrosion Under Insulation, Electromagnetic testing, non-
destructive testing

Corrosion under insulation (CUI) is a severe form of localized external corrosion that occurs
in carbon and low alloy steel equipment that has been insulated. This form of corrosion occurs
when water is absorbed by or collected in the insulation. The equipment begins to corrode as
it is exposed to water and oxygen. CUI is common in refineries and process plants that
typically operate equipment at high temperatures.
Pulsed eddy current is capable of semi quantifying the wall thickness of steel hidden behind
insulations. Pulsed eddy current testing (PECT) has moved into an exciting period. New
equipment offerings have entered the market, an ISO standard (ISO, 2017) for the technique
has been issued, and advanced applications of the technology are being developed. The
main strength of PECT is its ability to inspect carbon steel through insulation commonly
covering pipes and vessels. PEC can measure percentage variations in steel thickness through
any non-conductive and non-magnetic material between sensor and steel surface such as air,
insulation material, concrete, plastics, coatings, paint, sea water, marine growth, deposits, oil,
Composite Repairs, Fireproofing, Scabs etc.

Corrosion Under Insulation
CUI may be the most well-known and widespread corrosion phenomena in our industry. It’s
also one of the most difficult to prevent because by and large no matter what precautions we
take, water eventually gets into the insulation and begins to do it’s dirty work, sometimes
sight unseen until process leakage occurs. And it’s not isolated to just insulation. Corrosion
under fire-proofing (CUF) is also prevalent in our industry and requires the same type of
inspection planning, design prevention, and mitigation that is required for CUI. For the carbon
and low alloy steels, CUI typically occurs between 25 degrees F (-4C) and 250 degrees F (121
Corrosion under insulation is one of the most difficult processes to prevent. The reason for
that is, by and large, no matter the precautions taken, water invariably seeps into the
insulation and begins its dirty work—sometimes unseen until process leakage
occurs. Historical data shows that about 60% of pipe leaks are caused by CUI.

Environmental condition leading corrosion under insulation
It’s difficult to predict CUI rates—they can be somewhat general in nature or highly localized.
However, some of the environmental conditions leading to higher CUI rates are:
1. Marine environments
2. Hot or humid environments
3. Climates with heavy rainfall
4. Steam leak
5. Contamination such as chloride and sulfides dissolved in water
6. Insulating material holding moisture

Inspection of corrosion under insulation

Several inspection methods can help determine the presence of CUI without removing the
insulation. None are foolproof and most don’t offer a good understanding of the maximum
depth of the CUI damage.
Brute Force: - Involves stripping the insulation off the equipment to have a look. Time-
consuming, expensive work process (especially if the insulation contains asbestos).
Non-destructive testing: - Allows assessing the presence of CUI without stripping the
insulation. Includes various flavors of radiography (X-ray), pulsed eddy current (PEC), and UT
thickness measurements from inside equipment.
Others: - Neutron backscatter and infrared thermography. Help find moisture under
insulation, which may help find CUI. False calls—wet insulation, no CUI; CUI, dry insulation
that was clearly very wet.
The stain that is CUI is a complex problem to understand, predict, and mitigate. With
the help of PECT we can investigate it up to some extent.

Pulsed Eddy Current

Pulsed Eddy Current (PEC) is an inspection technique for inspecting carbon steel objects, such
as pipes and vessels, without the need for contact with the steel surface. PEC can measure
percentage variations in steel thickness through any non-conductive and non-magnetic
material between sensor and steel surface such as air, insulation material, concrete, plastics,
coatings, paint, sea water, marine growth, deposits, oil, Composite Repairs, Fireproofing,
Scabs etc.
A PEC measurement has two phases, as illustrated in Figure 1 and Figure 2. In the first phase an
electrical current flow through the transmitter coils of the PEC probe. This current generates
a magnetic field around the probe, known as the 'primary field'. The primary field is
unaffected by the presence of any non-conducting and non-magnetic materials and
penetrates undisturbed through to the steel below. In this way, the carbon steel directly
beneath the transmitter coils is magnetized. Since the carbon steel is ferromagnetic (i.e. it has
a high relative magnetic permeability), only the top layer of the steel is magnetized, as shown
schematically in Figure 3.

Figure 1Magnetization of steel Figure 2 Induced eddy current generates secondary
magnetic field in the receiver coil

Figure 3 Diffusion of eddy currents.

In the second phase of the measurement the current in the transmitter coils is switched off,
collapsing the primary magnetic field. The changing magnetic field induces electrical 'eddy'
currents in the surface of the steel. These eddy currents generate a secondary magnetic field,
Figure 2, which reaches the receiver coils of the PEC probe. The secondary magnetic field
induces an electrical voltage in the receiver coils. The magnitude of this voltage as a function
of time is referred to as the 'PEC signal'.
The PEC signal contains information about the thickness of the steel, as described below. A
specimen has a near and far surface. Initially, the eddy currents are confined to the near
surface (closest to the PEC probe) but, as time elapses, they travel (or 'diffuse') outwards
towards the far surface. As long as the eddy currents experience free expansion in the wall,
their strength decreases relatively slowly. However, upon reaching the far surface, their
strength decreases rapidly. The moment in time where the eddy currents first reach the far
surface is indicated by a sharp decrease in the PEC signal, known as the 'transition point' (see
Figure 3). The time of the transition point is therefore a measure of wall thickness. For
example, the earlier the transition point, the sooner the eddy currents reach the far surface
and the thinner the wall must be. Alternatively, if the transition point occurs later in time, the
eddy currents take longer to reach the far surface, so the wall has a larger thickness.

In practice, each time a PEC measurement is requested, the voltage across the receiver coils
of the PEC probe is amplified, sampled and digitized by the PEC instrument. This gives a digital
record of the PEC signal at over 3000 sample moments in time. The digitized signals are stored
in a computer connected to the PEC instrument. Dedicated software is used to analyze the
shape of all PEC signals and thereby determine wall thickness.

Determining wall thickness from PEC signal

In pulse-echo ultrasound, the speed of sound depends on the mechanical properties of the
steel. The speed of sound in the same in all carbon steel. For this reason, a step wedge can
be used to calibrate ultrasound thickness measurements. In PECT, the speed of diffusion
depends on the electromagnetic properties of the steel, i.e. electrical conductivity (σ) and
magnetic permeability (μ). These are not the same between two pieces of carbon steel. A step
wedge can therefore not be used to calibrate PEC. To determine wall thickness from a PECT
measurement, one needs to assume that the tested component is uniform in its
electromagnetic properties. There are several ways to determine the wall thickness from a
PEC signal, e.g. curve fitting, intersection method and exponential slope. All methods
determine one parameter: The characteristic time = transition time = τ

Where: -
WT= Wall thickness
Transition time
µ = Magnetic permeability
Electrical conductivity

Foot Print
The process of eddy current diffusion will cause an area of the object, larger than the initial
excitation area, to contain eddy currents. If PECT is used to measure the wall thickness of an
object, the resulting value will be averaged over the whole footprint area. Typically, the
diameter of the footprint is 1.5 X the sum of the liftoff and the wall thickness, with a minimum
of 25 mm (1 in.).

Diameter of foot print = 1.5 X (L + WT)

Minimum foot print = 1” (25mm)

Scanned PEC Data analysis

PECT wall thickness readings [mm]

1 8.7 8.6 7.9 8.1 8.4 10.8 7.9 7.9 8.4 8.8 8.7
V 2 8.9 8.2 7.6 8.0 8.4 13.6 7.2 7.6 8.4 8.6 8.7
e 3 8.5 8.1 7.3 7.3 8.2 8.4 8.5
r 4 8.6 8.0 7.3 7.2 8.2 8.5 8.5
t 5 8.6 7.8 7.9 7.2 8.3 8.5 8.6
i 6 8.6 7.7 8.6 7.2 8.2 8.5 8.4
c 7 8.7 7.6 7.4 7.1 8.1 8.5 8.5
a 8 8.6 7.4 7.8 7.1 8.3 8.5 8.6
l 9 8.6 7.5 7.7 7.2 8.4 8.5 8.4
10 8.7 7.5 7.8 7.1 8.3 9.6 8.7
11 8.6

Color legend
larger than 10.4 mm Pipe
7.8 to 10.4 mm
7.0 to 7.8 mm
6.1 to 7.0 mm
less than 6.1 mm


PECT wall thickness readings recorded on a four-inch pipe. The readings are presented
independent wall thickness. Readings can be presented as a percentage value also relative to
a reference spot (A1 in this case).

A scan of various spots of above data.

Above scan belongs to refrence spot (A1) Above scan belongs to measurement spot (F2)
Refrence curve (red) and measurement curve overlap each other. False reading due to near support.

Above scan belongs to measurement spot (H7) Above scan belongs to measurement spot (J10)
Refrence curve (red) is leading to measurement curve (white) Refrence curve (red) is lagging to measurement curve (white)

After analyzing the above data, it is noted that pipe is corroded near to the support. As
through PEC, it is not possible to measure the thickness under support or very nearer to the
support, further action is required. After scanning through manual UT, minimum 5.9mm
thickness found.

Strengths and weaknesses
When interpreting PEC data, it is important to consider the strengths and limitations of the

The main strengths of PEC are:

 Ability to measure the thickness of steel without surface preparation. There is no need
to remove deposits, corrosion product or paint.
 PEC readings can be made highly repeatable. The high reproducibility makes PEC well
suited for wall thickness monitoring.
 PEC measurements are hardly influenced by variation in sensor lift-off.
 PEC can be applied at high temperatures.

The main limitations of the technique are:

 PEC measures variation of wall thickness within the same object, not absolute wall
thickness. PEC readings depend not only on the thickness of the steel. but also on the
electromagnetic properties of the steel: in particular the electrical conductivity and
magnetic permeability. These properties depend on steel grade and often vary from
one batch of steel to the next. Where possible, the PEC readings are calibrated relative
to an ultrasound reading at an accessible location.
 The PEC measurement of wall thickness is an average over the probe 'footprint', i.e. a
roughly circular area where eddy currents flow. The diameter of the footprint is
approximately equal to twice the lift-off, i.e., the distance between probe and steel. PEC
is therefore suitable for use where uniform general corrosion is suspected to be the
damage mechanism. Isolated pitting or small diameter holes may be detected but are
unlikely to be sized accurately with the tendency to undersize the wall loss.

PECT can detect general wall loss, but not localized corrosion. History has shown that vendors
and practitioners have sometimes overlooked this drawback, which certainly results in failures
and disappointments. But dismissing the technology altogether because of its footprint
averaging would be missing great opportunities. Now an ISO standard (ISO 20669) exists for
the technique and several new equipment suppliers have entered the market with improved
products, an exciting new era for the technology.
Yet, one must guard against overselling PECT—responsible application of PECT requires
properly trained staff, and a balanced and honest assessment of its strength and limitations.

1. Maxwell PEC equipment manual
2. ASNT material evaluation
3. ISO 20669: 2017(E) “Nondestructive testing – Pulsed Eddy Current testing of
ferromagnetic metallic components.
5. Pulsed eddy current testing by Paul Crouzen of Maxwell NDT.