NDT TRENDS | THE TRUE DISRUPTOR: Software

AUTHOR: Marybeth Miceli, C.Eng | Co-Founder & Principal | We-NDT Marketing Network

Technology is changing the way we function in every aspect of our lives. In the world of NDT this is true now more than ever. However, while most people want to talk about drones (especially with the recent 60-mile flight achieved) or other robotic inspection systems, nothing is changing the way we function in the world of NDT quite like software. From the way we are trained to the way process and manage data, software is making NDT more efficient, more quantitative, and more powerful.  

From the moment you enter the field of NDT, you can get most of your training through powerful online software programs with experts from around the world. Even though NDT is a “hands-on” industry, companies and new NDTers are making use of online training programs now more than ever to reduce travel costs and time away from their shifts. All of the NDT online training is geared towards the classroom learning with a blended learning approach to accommodate the “hands-on” requirements in NDT. 

There are several companies leading the way in this area. NDT Classroom was one of the first to bring premier instructors to students around the world for their classroom training. Utilizing high-end recorded video instruction and demonstration modules, students everywhere can learn from the know-how and experience of industry legends, such as Charles Hellier (Fig.1), right from their home or office. With recorded instruction available online, this type of approach is especially perfect for students wanting to further their career but need to accommodate current shift work and larger companies wanting to reduce their training costs. Professional societies are also seeing the value in this approach and offering this type of learning for a fee through their sites. As an example, NDT Classroom’s courses are offered through a partnership with the American Welding Society (AWS).  Mandina’s NDT takes it a step further by integrating a complete NDT program -- from initial hiring, training/testing, tracking, certification and document management -- in one secure location.  Their cloud-based platform provides training, testing, tracking and notifies administrators regarding personnel certifications and equipment calibrations nearing expiration.  It affords complete management of all documentation necessary to successfully operate an NDT department. All within a single-entry point portal. This kind of integrated, centralized documentation and tracking has become essential to organizations with any number of technicians and has been adopted by organizations such as the German Society for Non-Destructive Testing (DGZfP). 

A huge challenge in the NDT industry, as we all know, is matching qualified and certified technicians with the appropriate opportunity. A new site, Surehand.com is dedicated to doing exactly that. Though there have been sites in the past that have tried to streamline this process, their database of technicians with verifiedcertifications and experience, takes is a step further to increase efficiency and longevity.

But training and recruiting are not the only ways NDT is being revolutionized through software. Although the power of Phased Array Ultrasonics (PAUT) has become increasingly apparent over the last decade, like many data-rich methods, analysis slows the process down.  New algorithms have been developed to automate the analysis process and significantly decrease the time required, often from  hours to minutes. This type of automation in analysis will increase the usage of PAUT in multiple industries as well as increase QC efficiency in manufacturing and fabrication.  Currently the only known automated software with this speed is from VeriPhase.  There is no doubt others are developing this type of software to compete with the software’s efficiency. The VeriPhase Automated Detection Technology ™  (ADT) software (Fig. 3) rapidly processes phased array weld data. Identified weld indications, along with their associated positioning and sizing readings, are sent directly to the indication table for quick final disposition of the weld by a trained phased array operator. Phased array inspections are improved by simultaneously increasing the indication detection rate while dramatically decreasing analysis time. ADT allows the processing of hundreds of welds simultaneously in minutes, then sorts them by data quality or weld condition factors, which allows the analyzer to have a more planned and focused analysis process. Key elements of the inspection, such as essential inspection variables, scan plan elements, data dropout and loss of couplant are also automatically extracted, helping ensure procedural and code compliance. As a recent example, an inspection of 1604 small diameter boiler tube welds which would have conventionally taken 50 days with either radiography or standard PAUT analysis methods, required only 8 days using the ADT software with a single phased array acquisition unit and scanner. Up to 320 data files a day could be acquired and analyzed, reducing downtime and providing significant cost savings . This type of innovation will no doubt allow for more usage of PAUT (and potentially other data rich methods), increasing safety and efficiency. 

NDT poses unique challenges in the acquisition and management of data.  NDT provides a tremendous amount of quantitative data that can be utilized to manage systems and assets across many verticals.  However, that data must be analyzed to make it actionable in an asset management system. One of the biggest advances over the last five years has been in the data management software where asset managers can input NDT and other inspection and evaluation data into an advanced database where life-cycle costs can be calculated, maintenance actions can be scheduled, and teams can stay coordinated to optimize the efficiency of managing facilities. 

App developers are now taking notice of the needs of NDT field services companies. One particular app that is leading the way in the NDT world is called PAUT Buddy. This app guides technicians through a checklist of settings on Olympus Omniscan that are important to adjust before scanning, then goes a step further by helping the technician characterize a defect through a series of simple questionsas well as providing images of PAUT Data Scans to assist answering those questions.In addition, the gives the tech access to your company procedures anytime & anywhere in the field. Future iterations will keep track of OJT hours as well. However, a lot of assets which necessitate NDT have limited to no cell service and conventional paper documentation is sometimes impractical and always slower to process. Companies, such as Mobile Reach, are helping NDT practitioners manage customized inspection workflows for their plants and assets, even when techs and engineers need to work offline. Data is immediately uploaded when connectivity is reestablished. Using their expertise in other field services industries, they, along with others in the industry, are following the full integration trend by developing programs that offer a single portal for the entire life of a project from proposal, to dispatch, to project inspection data and analysis, all the way to accounts receivable, greatly reducing the days sales outstanding (DSO).  The Mobile Reach solution even includes a customer relationship management (CRM) module to allow sales teams to be integrated with the boots on the ground team for a more efficient and effective sales process (Fig. 4).

Overall, the increased level of customization offered now by these types of software packages, allows asset owners to streamline processes, making a real difference to the bottom line without compromising safety.

There is no doubt with the speed of innovations in software and the trend of NDT companies looking to gain a competitive advantage through the use of emerging technology, that software innovation will create the most disruption in the NDT marketplace for years to come.

 
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Fig. 1 Charles Hellier teaching NDT Classroom students about MT

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 Fig. 2a and 2b  PAUT Buddy checklist questions and guidance

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 Fig. 3 VeriPhase’s Automated Detection Technology ™  (ADT)  PAUT Software

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 Fig. 4 Mobile Reach’s fully integrated workflow and data mana

[NOTICE]: This article was first published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Greater Houston ASNT newsletter.

Michelle Harnish