Real-time Radiography

Real-time radiography (RTR), or real-time radioscopy, is a nondestructive test (NDT) method whereby an image is produced electronically, rather than on film, so that very little lag time occurs between the item being exposed to radiation and the resulting image. In most instances, the electronic image that is viewed results from the radiation passing through the object being inspected and interacting with a screen of material that fluoresces or gives off light when the interaction occurs. The fluorescent elements of the screen form the image much as the grains of silver form the image in film radiography. The image formed is a "positive image" since brighter areas on the image indicate where higher levels of transmitted radiation reached the screen. This image is the opposite of the negative image produced in film radiography. In other words, with RTR, the lighter, brighter areas represent thinner sections or less dense sections of the test object.

Real-time radiography is a well-established method of NDT having applications in automotive, aerospace, pressure vessel, electronic, and munition industries, among others. The use of RTR is increasing due to a reduction in the cost of the equipment and resolution of issues such as the protecting and storing digital images. Since RTR is being used increasingly more, these educational materials were developed by the North Central Collaboration for NDT Education (NCCE) to introduce RTR to NDT technician students.


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X-ray Generators

The major components of an X-ray generator are the tube, the high voltage generator, the control console, and the cooling system. As discussed earlier in this material, X-rays are generated by directing a stream of high speed electrons at a target material such as tungsten, which has a high atomic number. When the electrons are slowed or stopped by the interaction with the atomic particles of the target, X-radiation is produced. This is accomplished in an X-ray tube such as the one shown here. The X-ray tube is one of the components of an X-ray generator and tubes come a variety of shapes and sizes. The image below shows a portion of the Roentgen tube collection of Grzegorz Jezierski, a professor at Opole University of Technology. For more information on X-ray tubes visit Dr. Jezierski's website at

The tube cathode (filament) is heated with a low-voltage current of a few amps. The filament heats up and the electrons in the wire become loosely held. A large electrical potential is created between the cathode and the anode by the high-voltage generator. Electrons that break free of the cathode are strongly attracted to the anode target. The stream of electrons between the cathode and the anode is the tube current. The tube current is measured in milliamps and is controlled by regulating the low-voltage, heating current applied to the cathode. The higher the temperature of the filament, the larger the number of electrons that leave the cathode and travel to the anode. The milliamp or current setting on the control console regulates the filament temperature, which relates to the intensity of the X-ray output.

The high-voltage between the cathode and the anode affects the speed at which the electrons travel and strike the anode. The higher the kilovoltage, the more speed and, therefore, energy the electrons have when they strike the anode. Electrons striking with more energy results in X-rays with more penetrating power. The high-voltage potential is measured in kilovolts, and this is controlled with the voltage or kilovoltage control on the control console. An increase in the kilovoltage will also result in an increase in the intensity of the radiation.




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Half-Value Layer

The thickness of any given material where 50% of the incident energy has been attenuated is know as the half-value layer (HVL). The HVL is expressed in units of distance (mm or cm). Like the attenuation coefficient, it is photon energy dependant. Increasing the penetrating energy of a stream of photons will result in an increase in a material's HVL.

The HVL is inversely proportional to the attenuation coefficient. If an incident energy of 1 and a transmitted energy is 0.5 is plugged into the equation introduced on the preceding page, it can be seen that the HVL multiplied by mmust equal 0.693.


If x is the HVL then m times HVL must equal 0.693 (since the number 0.693 is the exponent value that gives a value of 0.5).


Therefore, the HVL and m are related as follows:

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Filters in Radiography

At x-ray energies, filters consist of material placed in the useful beam to absorb, preferentially, radiation based on energy level or to modify the spatial distribution of the beam. Filtration is required to absorb the lower-energy x-ray photons emitted by the tube before they reach the target. The use of filters produce a cleaner image by absorbing the lower energy x-ray photons that tend to scatter more.

The total filtration of the beam includes the inherent filtration (composed of part of the x-ray tube and tube housing) and the added filtration (thin sheets of a metal inserted in the x-ray beam). Filters are typically placed at or near the x-ray port in the direct path of the x-ray beam. Placing a thin sheet of copper between the part and the film cassette has also proven an effective method of filtration.


For industrial radiography, the filters added to the x-ray beam are most often constructed of high atomic number materials such as lead, copper, or brass. Filters for medical radiography are usually made of aluminum (Al). The amount of both the inherent and the added filtration are stated in mm of Al or mm of Al equivalent. The amount of filtration of the x-ray beam is specified by and based on the voltage potential (keV) used to produce the beam. The thickness of filter materials is dependent on atomic numbers, kilovoltage settings, and the desired filtration factor.


Gamma radiography produces relatively high energy levels at essentially monochromatic radiation, therefore filtration is not a useful technique and is seldom used.


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