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Published On: Mon, Jun 18th, 2018

Must Needed Tool for Non Destructive Testing

The borescope, also known as the borescope, is an optical device that is used commonly as a visual inspection tool in non-destructive testing, and tool regularly used in MRO (or maintenance, repair and operations).  It was derived from the endoscope which has a very long history with a prototype found dating all the way back to the ruins of Pompeii. The first modern endoscope was developed and term was coined in 1853. The endoscope was developed to look inside people, but the borescope as an inspection tool didn’t come into existence until 1920 developed by Dr. George Crampton.    Then, in 1921 the first borescope for a turbine rotor inspection was ordered and developed and as they say, the rest is history. Today, borescopes are used in many industries and as the cost for these once extremely pricey tools drop with technology advancements they are becoming more commonplace every day.

photo/ U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gary Prill

The Rigid Borescope

The first borescope to be developed was a simple rigid borescope developed by Dr Crampton in 1920.   The borescope got its name from its initial job, to scope or view down the length of a bore or rifle barrel.   Today rigid borescopes offer superior imagery at the lower cost compared to a flexible borescope. Their limitation is whatever viewed must have straight line access.  These were used widely in the 1940’s during World War II to examine the rifling (or the spiraling) of barrels used in anti-aircraft guns, tanks and even Warships. This was the first borescope but was soon followed by specialized version for a specific task, namely the inspection of steam turbines.  The failing of a steam turbine like any engine or motor can be catastrophic and costly in its replacement and repair. The borescope allowed the non-destructive visual inspection of certain components for wear and waste buildup and it didn’t require the complete disassembly for the turbine which meant many wasted hours where the turbine wasn’t generating power.   

The Flexible Borescope

It wasn’t long for the next advancement in borescopes technology which allowed for a flexible viewing insertion tube.   The first use of fiber optics was first demonstrated in the 1840s but it wasn’t until the 1960s and the advent of flexible glass fiber that the first flexible borescope was developed.  Now one could view and inspect things around corners and bends which is invaluable in the inspection of engine chambers, and internal turbine components, seals and gaskets. This saves much time and money since the engine doesn’t need to be disassembled to find out if it needs to have any maintenance performed on it.   Today borescopes have video cameras mounted on the ends vs the light refraction from fiber cables so they can offer a much higher resolution of image. Types of flexible borescopes include manual articulating, mechanical articulating and pipe inspection.

Manual Articulating Borescope

A manual articulating borescope is one that offers up to a 3-meter insertion tube with 4 cables that run down the entire length of each side of the tube.   The head of the tube can turn in all 4 directions controlled by a joystick at borescope base.

Mechanical Articulating Video Borescope

The next step up is a mechanical articulating video borescope.   This type has servos and gears at the tip of the insertion tube to allow 360-degree camera movements.  Also without any cable limitations you have the most flexibility with this type of borescope and allows for smooth articulation which in turn results in quicker inspections.  

Pipe Inspection Borescope

One more variety of borescope is the pipe inspection borescope.    This type can have the components of a mechanical articulating for 360-degree camera viewing but its major difference is the length of the insertion cable.   Since these scopes are used to inspect pipes, sewers, chimney flutes, and anything that requires a very long insertion tube. These types will offer swappable cameras to fit inspection demands.  

Borescopes Today

These days the with the dropping prices of technology these precision optical tools are much more accessible to the individual.   They used to come for no less then tens of thousands of dollars but now can be found for much less. Because of the dropping prices borescopes are much more common today and is used in many industries.   The aviation, auto, electric, oil, gas and the medical industries use to use these tools almost exclusively because of the prohibitive costs. Though today you’ll find borescopes used in many industries like plumbing, law enforcement, home inspection and pest extermination to name a few.  Individual tradesmen have much to gain from the accessibility and capability granted by borescopes today.

Author: Shirley Wilson

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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