Olympus NDT CEO blends innovative philosophies to expand NDT use

The name Olympus generally brings to mind high-quality optics for use in consumer, medical and industrial applications. Olympus recently purchased the R/D Tech family of nondestructive test (NDT) companies including Staveley, Panametrics-NDT and NDT Engineering. The company has set its headquarters in Waltham, MA, the home of Panametrics-NDT, a leading provider of portable ultrasonic flaw detectors, thickness gages, probes and transducers.

This is not Olympus' first foray in NDT. Olympus has experience in remote visual inspection, producing videoscopes, fiberscopes and borescopes for use in difficult-to-reach spots and inspecting turbines, engines, airframes, tanks, vessels and inside ducting. While there is a difference between these technologies, and ultrasonics and eddy current, Olympus NDT says the goals are the same among the technologies.

Quality magazine sat down with Toshi Okubo, president and CEO of Olympus NDT, to discuss the acquisition, the integration of the companies, NDT challenges and gaining a stronger foothold for NDT use on the shop floor.

Quality Magazine: What precipitated your recent purchase of R/D Tech and its family of companies?

Toshi Okubo: A common philosophy of innovation and quality is what made the joining of these companies a perfect fit. By leveraging this common philosophy, Olympus increases the number of solutions we offer our customers. For some, visual inspection is the answer, but for others we now have a broad array of ultrasonic, phased array and eddy current technologies available.

QM: Olympus has a reputation as an optics company. How do you envision the integration of the ultrasonics and eddy current technologies that the R/D Tech family of companies offers?

TO: Optical and NDT technologies are not that different. They both have the same type of customers, that is, those who are looking for solutions. The customer is looking for a testing solution, not the technology used to find the solution. Both Olympus and the R/D Tech group of companies have been serving the same customer segments by combining quality and fast response time.

QM: What is the biggest challenge you foresee in implementing NDT technology on a more wide-scale basis?

TO: The technical and business approaches that NDT equipment makers have used in the past for the traditional NDT user won't always work effectively in newer applications. We will have to customize traditional NDT products to be more flexible to meet new manufacturing and market requirements.

QM: Where does it make sense to implement new NDT solutions?

TO: There are many possibilities. NDT will play a more important role in the field of predictive maintenance. In-line testing also holds great promise, especially in industries where nondestructive testing has typically not been used, to meet increasing quality assurance requirements.

QM: How does the role of software affect the use of NDT applications?

TO: Not all of the weight falls on software. To make NDT more useful on the shop floor, you can't under estimate the importance of understanding the use of the measurement technique itself.

QM: How can NDT expand beyond field applications to industrial shop-floor applications?

TO: There is no magic for this. For new users of NDT, easy operation and intuitive but quantitative test results are essential. We work with them to prove that NDT technologies can help improve their productivity and safety.

QM: How do you get these new applications implemented?

TO: NDT is not always considered as a test solution early in the development of new materials and products. We need to work closely in this process to educate how NDT can save time and money while improving quality.

QM: What specific industries are poised for increased use of NDT?

TO: The major NDT users, such as energy and transportation, will remain in strong need of NDT for productivity and safety. Those who are working in new energy sources will need an extensive amount of inspection solutions. And less traditional areas, such as homeland security, high-tech packaging and new, lighter, stronger construction materials provide an opportunity to expand the use of NDT.