The basic principle of liquid penetrant testing is that when a very low viscosity (highly fluid) liquid (the penetrant) is applied to the surface of a part, it will penetrate into fissures and voids open to the surface. Once the excess penetrant is removed, the penetrant trapped in those voids will flow back out, creating an indication. Penetrant testing can be performed on magnetic and non-magnetic materials, but does not work well on porous materials. Penetrants may be “visible”, meaning they can be seen in ambient light, or fluorescent, requiring the use of a “black” light… When performing a PT inspection, it is imperative that the surface being tested is clean and free of any foreign materials or liquids that might block the penetrant from entering voids or fissures open to the surface of the part. After applying the penetrant, it is permitted to sit on the surface for a specified period of time (the “penetrant dwell time”), then the part is carefully cleaned to remove excess penetrant from the surface.
When removing the penetrant, the operator must be careful not to remove any penetrant that has flowed into voids. A light coating of developer is then being applied to the surface and given time (“developer dwell time”) to allow the penetrant from any voids or fissures to seep up into the developer, creating a visible indication. Following the prescribed developer dwell time, the part is inspected visually, with the aid of a black light for fluorescent penetrants. Most developers are fine-grained, white talcum-like powders that provide a color contrast to the penetrant being used.