GE chief emphasizes understanding the entire process.

Nestled in western Germany is the home of GE Inspection Technologies (GEIT). GEIT has expanded its reach in the nondestructive test (NDT) market during the past few years. Recent acquisitions include Agfa NDT (Lewistown, PA), which also brought the Krautkramer line of ultrasonic technology to GEIT. In August 2004, GEIT added Hocking NDT Ltd., a well-known manufacturer of eddy current equipment, in the fold.

Jeff Nagel, president of GE Inspection Technologies, has been with the company for eight years. Originally based in Cincinnati, Nagel and his staff are now in Hürth, Germany. Nagel sat down with Quality magazine to discuss the true size of the NDT market, new technology and doing business as GE.

Quality magazine: It seems as if the NDT market has experienced tremendous growth during the past couple of years.

Jeff Nagel: Our sense is that the NDT markets are doing extremely well. The areas of most rapid growth include applications in oil and gas, and power generation. These are the key areas for us, as well as aerospace and automotive.

QM: What size do you estimate the market to be for NDT?

JN: Looking at the market as it is, we estimate it at $2 to $3 billion. If we look at NDT as simply done to "meet code," the potential for really growing the value of NDT is limited. However, when you look at using the data collected from NDT to increasing productivity, there is a tremendous potential for market growth. We want to close the gap between the point of creating and detecting defects. When you look at the market this way, you have a new view on its size.

QM: So, how do you make this shift in approach to NDT?

JN: We have to ask ourselves, "How deeply can I understand the process?" NDT is not just about finding a single crack in a weld, it's about the welding process. To accomplish a major process change, you need to get to the person who is high enough in the company to back you. But, you need to start the relationship by solving day-to-day applications so that everyone from the daily users to senior executives knows you can solve actual problems.

QM: What are some of the technological challenges you see that lie ahead?

JN: We want to move NDT from the reputation of a portable technology to an in-line process solution. For us, the in-line business segment is increasing at two times the rate of overall business. For example, in castings and forgings, inspection is really done off line today. It will be hard technically to really get inspection in-line and real time, but that is the direction we would like to migrate the technology.

QM: What will it take to make

this migration?

JN: Software and automation will drive many of these advancements. As a matter of fact, the engineering efforts in hardware vs. software favor software so much that the emphasis on advances there, from 12 months ago to 12 months from now, will more than triple.

QM: What is a goal with software?

JN: We want to make the data more user-friendly. Everyone wants to deal with images. There are many engineers who look at the test signals and know what they mean, but for those who aren't deeply trained [in NDT] and expert, you need pictures. The more visual the results, the more expanded will be the use of NDT.

QM: What is the challenge in maximizing these visual results?

JN: It's multimodality fusion. Today, you can put the results of X-ray, ultrasonics and eddy current tests side by side, but the person is the "multimode," serving as a reference point for all three and combining the results. The challenge is, "How can these results be merged so that the person is no longer the multimode?" You need to communicate all that data in an intuitive fashion.

QM: So, getting more from data holds the key to more effective use of NDT?

JN: By and large, most manufacturers deal with pass-fail data. Even variable data is boiled down to pass-fail. The richness in variable data is that it can be used to feed back to the control of the manufacturing process.