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In my last column, I talked about the emergence of a new breed of NDT inspector, also known as the new inspector of the 21st century, and the need to properly educate these new inspectors on the principles of configuration management. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most crucial driver is that, despite what may be good intentions to reduce costs or eliminate non-core operations, the widespread restructuring that continues to reduce workforces as the economy crumbles is draining knowledge from manufacturing organizations and eliminating configuration management.
I believe that only about 10% of today’s industries can fully automate, while 60% see it as the quick road to fast profits. Most of the time they believe configuration management is a long-term investment. Unfortunately, considerations for downtime, maintenance and breakdowns, set-up time and a lack of configuration management or understanding of common NDT standards and practices can eat up profits. Wisdom is the best business defense and the first requirement for understanding the design and manufacturing process.
Configuration management is part of that knowledge and wisdom base that every company should possess. It was designed so that these companies could successfully turn the perception of what a product should look like and how it should function into reality. Ultimately, the perception of what the final product will look like comes from a visionary. To make this perception a reality, an educated engineer will complete the product design and a tradesman will build the product.
In today’s market, most companies are lucky if they can find an older technician who is an excellent tradesman in one of the disciplines required-metalworking or electrical work. This person may have had years of experience and can read drawings, and understand specifications and rules. However, many organizations are a one or two man operation that will subcontract almost every aspect of the work to keep overhead low. It is not uncommon for these subcontractors to make staff changes on a daily basis because their main concern is to get the job done quickly and cheaply. The more money saved in material and labor, the more profit for the company. This creates a roller coaster of highs and lows in terms of the education and skill level of the workers.
As such, in order to become a successful inspector of the 21st century, NDT personnel must not only be -subject-matter specialists with expertise and knowledge that spans a broad -number of areas-from plastics and metalworking to electrical work-but also possess broad-based knowledge of NDT standards, contract requirements and support information.
Additionally, the organizations that the NDT inspector represents must accurately determine the extent to which the principles of configuration management must be employed, in order to stay one step ahead of the subcontractors hired to accomplish the work. In the end, it is the hiring organization and the NDT inspector that will be liable for the work, not the subcontractor.