Quality Magazine

NDT Profession Raises the Bar

April 1, 2005
The push is on to simplify delivery, unify standards and gain worldwide recognition for certification.

Nondestructive examination personnel have long sought a variety of options for qualification and certification through the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT). In 1997, ASNT established yet another service, the ASNT Central Certification Program (ACCP), and today ASNT President Henry M. Stephens is exploring ways to simplify the program to better meet the needs of employers and employees across a range of industries.

The ACCP provides for central certification through an independent, nationally recognized body as a means of ensuring the program's validity, impartiality and integrity as it relates to the competence of nondestructive test (NDT) personnel, according to Stephens. "One key advantage of the ACCP is that it raises the bar on the nondestructive testing profession. It provides for a uniform standard and brings more credibility to the industry."

Richard Harrison, president of Test NDT, Inc. (Brea, CA), an NDT training, consulting and exam service center, agrees. "The number-one benefit of the ACCP is that it ensures that people will meet a national standard. It makes it easier for employers in that they can hire a welding inspector, for example, with a certificate. Employees can go straight to work because they don't need to be re-examined."

The ACCP provides Level II general and specific written exams as well as practical exams for each method offered. The program also provides for the Professional Level III, which includes the basic, method and procedure preparation written exams in addition to practical exams. The practical exams are the same for Level II and Professional Level III personnel. The Professional Level III basic and method exams are the same as given for ASNT NDT Level III certification. The exams, administered at ASNT-Authorized Examination Centers (AEC), currently are offered in five methods: magnetic particle, penetrant, radiographic, ultrasonic and visual.

Still, the program faces a key challenge, according to Stephens. "We're actively working to find ways to simplify and improve the means of delivering ACCP services to all those who wish to take advantage of them. The ACCP includes more exams-both written and hands-on practical exams. Because of this, it's imperative that we provide a delivery system that is cost-effective and provides ease of access."

The ASNT is actively working to do just that. Current initiatives include reviewing options for AECs and considering use of other independent organizations to administer exams. In addition, an ACCP Program Comparison Procedure, ASNT-ACCP-PCP-1, was approved last July and will permit ASNT approval of qualified third-party certification programs, Stephens says.

Central certification evolves

The ACCP was borne of a long-standing, successful legacy. In the early 1960s, the ASNT drafted the first NDT personnel certification guideline, Recom-mended Practice No. SNT-TC-1A. This employer-based training, qualification and certification document has been adopted worldwide and remains the basis for most NDT personnel certifications in the United States.

In response to the initiative of the International Organization for Stan-dardization (ISO), and specifically ISO 9712: Nondestructive Testing-Quali-fication and Certification of Personnel, ASNT developed and implemented the ACCP in 1997 as another optional service for Level II and Level III NDT professionals who must meet ISO 9712's requirements. The first ASNT Level III exams were conducted in March 1997, and were not provided at AECs because none existed at the time. They consist of comprehensive basic and method written exams developed and administered independently of an employer to qualified applicants, and are given at five AECs in the United States, and four in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Eight worldwide National Sponsoring Organizations and Special Examination Sponsors also periodically provide the ASNT Level III exams. These exams are scheduled in conjunction with ASNT conferences and Level III refresher courses at ASNT's headquarters (Columbus, OH).

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) audited the ACCP, as well as the ASNT NDT Level III and the Industrial Radiography Radiation Safety Personnel programs, and ASNT was accredited in February 2003. This credential recognizes that ASNT's certification programs meet all requirements of ISO/IEC 17024: General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons, as well as ANSI's additional criteria.

Last November, the ASNT Certification Management Council (CMC), a volunteer group of ASNT NDT Level III certificate holders who manage ASNT's certification programs, approved the fourth revision of the ACCP program document, ACCP-CP-1. In the forward, the council states, "The ACCP has been developed to improve NDT reliability by providing standardized requirements administered by an accredited certification body."

To date, there are 3,873 personnel possessing 9,725 method certifications using the ACCP, Stephens says. Information on all ASNT NDT certificate-holders now is updated monthly and can be viewed on the ASNT Web site at www.asnt.org/certlist.

The ACCP improves

In an effort to simplify and to improve the delivery and accessibility of the ACCP, the CMC approved a number of changes to the ACCP document. Key features include:

n Deleting appendices referencing other certification documents and including a single set of training and experience criteria for ACCP candidates.

  • Providing limited certifications for Level II qualification by techniques for each method and providing for additional techniques.
  • Identifying current and proposed industrial sectors-general industry, pressure equipment, aviation and aerospace and petrochemical-while providing for additional sectors.
  • Identifying renewal requirements at five- and 10-year intervals after initial certification by examination has been defined.
"One of the key benefits of the ACCP is that it provides the NDT industry with independent, transportable NDT certifications and with personnel that has achieved a high standard of NDT qualifications," Stephens says. ACCP certification is not terminated when technicians leave their place of employment. That said, specific portions that the employer administers are not transportable, he adds.

Similar to other central certification programs, the employer or responsible agency authorizes employees to perform NDT. If individuals are self-employed, they assume employer responsibilities, according to the ACCP document. These include using job-specific exams for specialized NDT techniques or unique product forms beyond those described in the program, as well as fulfilling supplemental-job-specific-vision requirements. The bottom line: The employer still is responsible for ensuring that qualified personnel perform the required testing.

Other benefits and challenges

Beyond the general exams, the ACCP is adaptable in that individual industries can assist in developing exams specific to that industry. One industry that has been working closely with ASNT is the structural steel welding industry and related joining disciplines. Represented by the American Welding Society (AWS), the organization's central certification programs include the internationally accepted Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) and Senior Certified Welding Inspectors (SCWI) certifications. These are required for code compliance and are considered Visual Testing (VT) programs.

Driving much of the cooperation between ASNT and AWS is the need to address the perception that certification can be costly. "Many feel that there never seems to be an end to all of the certifications required. The number of certifications I maintain represents a pretty large investment," says John Kinsey, a consultant and nondestructive test specialist for Mactec Engineering and Consulting, Inc., (San Diego, CA). "It can be expensive for an employee as well as an employer who, depending on the industry served, may not be able to afford to maintain a large staff with various levels of certification."

The ACCP Level II visual certification will never replace the AWS CWI certification," Kinsey adds. "As a visual inspector, you do measure welds and look at the overall completed weld but there's more that goes into confirming code compliance than the final weld appearance. That's where the CWI inspector's knowledge comes in, inspecting from fit-up to completion of the weld, in addition to qualifying both the welding procedure and the welders. The body of knowledge needed as a CWI inspector is far more diverse than that of basic visual testing."

In ASNT's ongoing effort to simplify the ACCP and improve delivery and cost, ASNT has established an agreement with AWS, which certifies welding inspectors and senior certified welding inspectors. "Many of them also are certified as Level II visual examiners and so they needed two certifications: one to meet CWI criteria and, the other, the ACCP visual portion," Stephens says. "After discussions, we've been jointly recognizing our programs."

Last December, ASNT reached an agreement with AWS to provide access for AWS CWIs and SCWIs to VT testing certification under provisions of the ACCP. The purpose of the agreement is to facilitate companies' and individuals' compliance with current and anticipated personnel qualification requirements for VT.

Under the agreement, current AWS CWIs and SCWIs holding valid certificates may qualify for the ACCP VT Direct Visual technique for the general industry sector based on the AWS exams taken to date. Interested individuals must complete an ACCP application form and supply ASNT with a copy of their current CWI or SCWI wallet card, along with a valid Jaeger J-1 visual acuity form. No other documentation is necessary to meet the ACCP Level II VT GI-Direct certification, according to ASNT.

"We have similar discussions underway with a number of organizations in other countries to come up with ways to recognize people who are certified according to ACCP criteria," Stephens says. "Our ASNT Certification Manage-ment Counsel recently developed a program comparison document. This will serve as a basis for formally comparing the ACCP with other programs in an effort to provide the certification recognition needed."

"The central certification approach is great," Kinsey says. "I want to see it succeed but the challenge is there's such a wide body of knowledge required when you start dealing with each of the various business segments. There is not a certification approach that can fully meet the needs of several of these segments."

Test NDT's Harrison adds that "central certification is not perfect but it's pretty good. As applied to the welding industry, it can work. It's when we get into some of the more specialized manufacturing industries that we face problems, and employer-based programs such as those utilized in Europe will continue to develop and work well."

According to Stephens, the drivers for the future of the ACCP are "the market, mandated codes and regulations, and individual NDT professionals' desire to acquire the highest attainable NDT certification recognition. The ASNT Level III certificate programs have evolved primarily because these professionals desire to demonstrate their individual abilities to meet world-recognized and highly respected credentials.

"This certainly will motivate current ASNT NDT Level III certificate holders to advance another step and acquire the ACCP Professional Level III certification," Stephens says. "Of course, for those working in the pressure vessel and other regulated industries, the need for the ACCP will continue to grow. For other industries, the adoption of the ACCP hinges on the marketplace and growing applications in specific industry sectors."

For more information on the ACCP, visit www.asnt.org or contact ASNT President Henry M. Stephens at (704) 547-6128 or hstephen@epri.com.