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Key to Quality: NDT as a Lifelong Passion

March 31, 2009
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Nondestructive testing is one of my greatest passions, and has held great importance for me during my career.

When I entered into the United States Navy in 1963, I was sent to a nine-week training course on pipefitting and sheet metal work at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. During the course, I was first trained in how to mathematically lay out piping systems and sheet metal ventilation systems, then I was given exercises and a written and practical test of my knowledge. Later that same year, I attended a 19-week course on NDT training. The first phase was a four-week course on visual inspection, and the use of standards and specifications to determine requirements, methods and acceptance criteria. Candidates with unsatisfactory marks in the first phase were dropped from the course. The second phase of the course focused on nondestructive testing methods.

It was through this training that I learned how natural it was for me to solve problems mathematically, a skill that over the long term proved invaluable to my nondestructive testing background.

In the early 1960s, there were two NDT certification levels, and two categories of inspectors - NDT for nuclear reactors and non-nuclear NDT. The categories were visual (VT), magnetic particle (MT), dye penetrant (PT), radiography (RT), and ultrasonic (UT) inspector. I was one of the few that made it through the course to be certified as an inspector in nuclear and non-nuclear VT, MT, PT, RT and UT.

During my first tour of duty as an NDT inspector, I faced the reality of life as an inspector. My first mentor was a First Class Petty Officer who was feared and despised by the crew of the repair department. Later, I was told he had friends on the USS Thresher SSN 593, which sunk on April 10, 1963, off the coast of Massachusetts.

When I first reported for duty, he asked me what inspection processes I was qualified to do. I told him I was qualified across the board as an inspector in both nuclear and non-nuclear systems. He next asked me what shipyard or command I had come from. I told him I was directly out of school, and he looked at me with disgust. He then proceeded to show me the X-ray development room, then he instructed me to start cleaning and not stop until he had the time to start training me. It took one week to reach that point.

Once we started the training, his first, and repeated lesson over the course of three years was to “never let anyone convince you to ever allow a local waiver, or deviation from the specification or standard take place.” I had the opportunity, about a year later, to be with him on an occasion where he became quite emotional, and it was then that I learned of his deep sorrow over the waiver that been ultimately responsible for killing the crew and yard worker aboard the sunken U.S.S. Thresher.

NDT is an important part of the inspection process that ensures products are safe. I hope that you share my passion for NDT, and are passing the important lessons about NDT that must be learned on to future NDT inspectors, as it would be very disappointing for this important process to one day become a “lost art.”
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