Training for the Future
How many times have people learned something the hard way? Of course, the hard way relates to the pain or price paid for doing something wrong. There are many dangerous activities where the hard way is not an acceptable learning option. No reasonable person would expect an electrician, airline pilot or police officer to perform his or her job without adequate training. Touching the hot surface of a stove without protection; having an accident caused by recklessness; or risking a safety shortcut that results in physical injury are lessons too often learned the hard way. Sometimes this is called experience, but this negative kind of experience can be avoided with proper training.
The primary purpose of technical training is usually to reduce errors and to improve productivity and safety. Properly planned and executed training benefits both the employer and the employee. Well-trained employees become more confident in their tasks, which results in fewer mistakes, reduced rework and, thus, higher productivity. Less rework also reduces the cost associated with time, materials and support activities, improves employee satisfaction and enables the company to remain competitive. The benefits to employee and employer justify the cost of training.
Unfortunately, for many years the development of qualified nondestructive testing (NDT) personnel varied significantly from excellent to poor, which produced inconsistent and unreliable results in the industry. During the mid-1960s the Society for Nondestructive Testing, now the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT), recognized that the effectiveness of NDT applications depends on the capabilities of the personnel who are responsible for, and perform, NDT. The society prepared guidelines, identified as recommended practice SNT-TC-1A, that employers could use for the qualification and certification of NDT personnel. This document established a format that provides guidelines for training, experience and examinations to establish levels of qualifications for NDT personnel. Training for various methods is outlined in SNT-TC-1A, which is often referenced in training programs worldwide.
Technical training may take many forms to develop a thorough understanding of the principles and fundamentals, equipment, tools and applications necessary to produce reliable results. The industry’s NDT training program has experienced significant changes in recent years. For many years training was simply presented by instructors using chalkboards and handouts. Transparencies placed on overhead projectors followed as an improvement and provided significant visual aid support.
During the past decade affordable personal computers introduced opportunities for significant improvement in training delivery systems. Software such as PowerPoint offered the capability of enhancing training materials' visual effects by varying font type and size, color, images and animation for emphasis of important points. Instructor-led training benefits from class discussions that promote increased understanding of principles and fundamentals; off-site training reduces distractions of daily responsibilities at home and at work and develops networking opportunities with participants of various backgrounds.
Rapid advances in the computer industry also have spawned a variety of delivery mediums. Compact Discs (CD) and Digital Video Discs (DVD) permit large software presentations for distribution to students offline. A growing trend in distance learning has emerged as Web-based, interactive training programs have gained in popularity and acceptance. This is referred to as eLearning and is widely used among universities, various training venues and as a source of employee development.
Each training option has advantages and blended training can be used as a cost-effective means of accomplishing training requirements by reducing travel costs and time away from production activities. Computer-based training also has the advantage of self-paced learning.
Credibility of training is extremely important for NDT personnel. Some organizations use a blended training approach of instructor-led and eLearning. This blended approach permits the student to use the self-paced instruction available through the Internet. The student is provided an individual user name and password to access the online training method selected. Students complete the training course at their own pace. Instructors are available for questions or clarification throughout the course. When a student finishes the online portion, arrangements are made for a meeting with an instructor to review and discuss the course material. This review is followed with an examination that must be passed to receive a certificate of training.
Additionally, NDT technology has advanced using computer-assisted techniques. For example, industrial radiography, often referred to as X-ray, techniques have changed with the development of digital imaging. Phosphor imaging plates (IP) in computed radiography (CR) replace film. With correct care and handling, imaging plates can be re-used as many as 10,000 times. The IP is more expensive than film initially, but has a rapid return on investment (ROI) when compared to the number of films replaced.
Additional benefits of reduced times needed for imaging plate exposure reduces radiation dose in the field, plus the environmental hazards associated with silver in film and processing chemicals is eliminated. Finally, image storage and retrieval is facilitated as a result of the digital format. A large area with temperature and humidity controls required for archival storage of radiographs for many years, for example, 40 years for nuclear power plants, is unnecessary.
Another example is ultrasonic testing techniques that have been enhanced using computers. Phased-array equipment reduces the time and improves the reliability of some examinations. The heart of the system is a multicrystal search unit, often 64 individual crystals lined up in a single search unit. The computer sequences electrical pulses to each piezoelectric crystal. Manipulating the timing for each pulse produces ultrasonic waves shaped to produce the desired angle of ultrasound beam in the material to be examined. This same approach can produce focused ultrasound beams with any desired radius for focused beam techniques.
Training is key to personnel performance in NDT. Initial training is certainly a requirement for qualification and certification in most NDT methods. As the industry continues to evolve, personnel qualification and certification documents are increasing training requirements. Standard NAS 410 used for military and aerospace personnel doubled the training required for some methods in 2003.
Obsolescence-being left behind by today’s fast-changing technology-should be a concern for both the employee and employer. Training is more important than ever before for successful NDT results. NDT