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  • Ultrasonic Intensity Measurement Techniques

    F. John Fuchs

    Blackstone Ney Ultrasonics 9 North Main Street

    Jamestown, NY 14701 716 665-2340

    Abstract –

    The search for a means of measuring cavitation intensity as an indicator of the effectiveness of an ultrasonic cleaning system has been ongoing for decades. Although many devices and schemes have been explored, none has emerged as the definitive “yardstick” for this evaluation. In this presentation, we will explore several of the means that have been employed to indicate the intensity of an ultrasonic field in a liquid. Each will be described in detail and discussed and evaluated with regard to its value as a tool to measure cleaning effectiveness. Introduction –

    The quest for a means to measure the intensity of an ultrasonic field has been ongoing at least since the mid-1960’s when the Ultrasonic Manufacturer’s Association initiated an effort to develop standards for their industry. The goal of that effort was to establish a universal standard against which ultrasonic cleaners could be evaluated for performance. One of the notable works was authored by Shih-Ping Liu and was published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in November of 19651. In the paper, Shih- Ping Liu explores the Chlorine-Release Test as an indicator of ultrasonic activity intensity and relates the results of the Chlorine-Release Test to cleaning effectiveness as measured using the ceramic ring test initially developed by Gilbert G. Brown of The American Sterilizer Company. In summary, it was concluded that the Chlorine-Release Test is a good relative indicator of ultrasonic intensity and that its results correlate well with cleaning effectiveness as indicated by the ceramic ring test for cleaning. This test was never adopted as a standard having been abandoned when it was discovered that a number of parameters including ultrasonic frequency significantly affected the validity of correlation between the test result and cleaning performance. The issue of correlating any measure of ultrasonic energy or “cavitation intensity” to ultrasonic cleaning performance has been the downfall of any number of proposed protocols which assume that there is a direct relationship between the two. In fact, even the most elegant (and accurate) measure of ultrasonic intensity, it seems, falls short of predicting cleaning performance. The effectiveness of a cavitation field can be varied without varying its overall intensity. For example, a cavitation field made up of a large number of small cavitation bubbles (less intensity per cavitation and implosion event) may not be as effective in some instances as a cavitation field with the same overall

    1 Chlorine-Release Test for Cavitation-Activity Measurements, Shih-Ping Liu, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Volume 38, Number 5, November 1965, pp 817-823.

  • intensity but made up of fewer bubbles with relatively higher intensity per event and vice versa. This issue will be addressed in more detail later in this paper. Ultrasonics –

    The basic principles of ultrasonic cavitation and its application to cleaning are well- known. Cavitation “bubbles” are created in liquids in the rarefaction portion of an ultrasonic sound wave. These “bubbles” then collapse in the following compression cycle of the sound wave generating minute areas of high temperature and pressure. This enhances the cleaning process in two ways. First, by causing the physical displacement of contaminants due to the force generated by the imploding cavitation bubble. Secondly, by forcing liquid exchange across interface boundaries thereby promoting dissolution of soluble contaminants by suitable “solvents.” It is logical to assume that the effectiveness of the cleaning process is related to the intensity of the ultrasonic field and resulting implosions of cavitation bubbles. Cavitation intensity, therefore, was identified as a parameter of interest to indicate cleaning effectiveness.

    Before we go on, it is important to note that cavitation alone does little to enhance cleaning. “Stable” cavitation bubbles which do not implode with violent force can be created in a liquid due to the passage of mechanical waves. Any device intended to measure the cleaning ability of a system must address the implosions of cavitation bubbles, not just their formation. In the following, the term “cavitation intensity” will be used to characterize “transient” cavitation bubbles which result in implosions useful in enhancing the cleaning effect. Cleanliness vs. Cavitation Intensity –

    The focus of this paper is measurement of cavitation implosion intensity as a contributory factor in the ultrasonic cleaning process. It is difficult not to argue that cleanliness itself can be used as a measure of cavitation intensity. In fact, it is this confusion that leads us to pursue a true measure of cavitation intensity. Without such a measure it is not possible to establish a correlation between cleaning effectiveness and cavitation intensity.

    The following is a summary of various techniques which have been advanced as measures of cavitation intensity. Chlorine Release Test

    This test, which was one of the first, utilizes the ability of ultrasonic cavitation to decompose carbon tetrachloride to release free chlorine as an indicator of the intensity of ultrasonic cavitation. A potassium iodide solution is prepared and saturated with carbon tetrachloride. Chlorine released as the carbon tetrachloride decomposes liberates iodine from the potassium iodide which can then be measured as an indicator of ultrasonic cavitation intensity.

    CCl4 + H2O → Cl2 + CO + 2HCl, 2HCl + [O] → Cl2 + H2O, Cl2 + 2KI → 2KCl + I2

    A small sample (typically 200ml) of the potassium iodide solution saturated with carbon tetrachloride is placed in a plastic bag and scanned along the surface of the tank to be

  • tested using a prescribed, uniform technique. The increase in free iodine in the solution after a given exposure time is measured using a spectrophotometer or titration with starch to indicate cavitation intensity.

    Although proven repeatable under standardized conditions, this test was eventually abandoned and withdrawn as a candidate as a standard when it was demonstrated that higher frequencies (greater than 40 kHz) promoted the release of chlorine but did not produce corresponding cleaning results. Also, other, simpler alternatives emerged which the ultrasonic community felt could be made workable. It was clear that the “Chlorine Release Test” provided a valid comparison only when the units being compared were operating at the same frequency and in the 20 to 50Khz range of frequencies. Other variables including solution level in the tank and surfactant concentration were shown to have a major effect on the test result making standardization more difficult than initially expected. Standardized Soil Test Although this could be best described as a cleaning test, the procedure was intended to freeze all relevant parameters to allow cleaning effectiveness to be an indicator of cavitation intensity. This first attempt at a standardized “cleaning” test utilized ceramic rings contaminated with a reference “soil.”

    In preparing this paper, I was unable to find the formula for the “soil” but my recollection is that it contained a solvent, dye, paraffin and a number of other ingredients. The soil was applied to the flat surfaces of the ceramic rings which were then placed soiled face to soiled face in pairs which were held together with twisted wire. After the pairs were assembled, they were baked to dry the soil and weighed. Cleaning was done in a prescribed manner with the ring pairs suspended on “load bars” sized to provide a reference cleaning load for each specific size tank. After cleaning using standardized conditions of time, temperature and chemistry, the ceramic ring pairs were again weighed to determine the weight of soil removed by the cleaning process. The difference in weight was seen as an indicator of cleaning effectiveness.

    Illustration 1 - Two ceramic rings are contaminated with a “standard

    soil” and held tightly face to face for cleaning. Effectiveness is measured based on the amount of soil removed from

    between the rings.

    This test, although it showed promise as a true test of the cleaning ability of a system, was extremely cumbersome and sensitive to such variables as the tightness of the twisted

  • wires, the method of applying the soil, placement of the rings during cleaning and so on. It was eventually abandoned when the general consensus was that a simpler standard was required.

    Aluminum Foil Test In this test, a piece of aluminum foil is positioned vertically in the ultrasonically activated tank. The foil may be supported by a framework to prevent distortion due to currents within the liquid. After exposure under specific conditions and for a defined length of time, the foil is examined for pits and/or holes caused by the implosion of cavitation bubbles in proximity to the foil surface. The pattern of foil damage is said to indicate the distribution of ultrasonic energy within the liquid while the severity of damage and deformation is used to indicate the intensity of the ultrasonic cavitation field.

    Illustration 2 – Aluminum foil is placed vertically in an ultrasonically

    activated tank. Tank effectiveness is based on the erosion density a