Electric potential measurement (EPM) technology offers an attractive alternative to conventional nondestructive evaluation (NDE) for monitoring crack growth in harsh environments. Where conventional NDE methods typically require localized human interaction, the EPM technique developed at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) can be operated remotely and automatically. Once a crack-like defect is discovered via conventional means, EPM can be applied to monitor local crack size changes. This is of particular interest in situations where an identified structural defect is not immediately rejectable from a fitness-for-service viewpoint, but due to operational and environmental conditions may grow to an unsafe size with continuing operation. If the location is in a harsh environment where periodic monitoring by normal means is either too costly or not possible, a very expensive repair may be immediately mandated. However, the proposed EPM methodology may offer a unique monitoring capability that would allow for continuing service. INEEL has developed this methodology, supporting equipment, and calibration information to apply EPM in a field environment for just this purpose. Laboratory and pilot scale tests on full-size engineering structures (pressure vessels and piping) have been successfully performed. The technique is applicable to many severe environments because the sensitive equipment (electronics, operators) can be situated in a remote location, with only current and voltage probe electrical leads entering into the harsh environment. Experimental results showing the utility of the methodology are presented, and unique application concepts that have been examined by multiple experiments are discussed.
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