What you need to know before establishing an NDT inspection laboratory.

Over the years, I have been involved in establishing nondestructive testing (NDT) inspection stations for many companies and organizations, operating in both the public and private sectors. Recently, I was asked if I could map out the process of setting up an inspection station.

When it comes to setting up NDT inspection stations, most organizations will first evaluate the benefits of doing so, and then may become most excited by the prospect of getting a new “toy” or having another source of income or shortening inspection time by doing it in-house.

With the exception of getting a new toy, these are good reasons for establishing an NDT inspection laboratory. Regardless of the reason, I do believe the process must culminate in a clear, decisive action based on common sense and good judgment.

Before we look at the obvious benefits of establishing an NDT laboratory, we have to determine if it makes sense for the company. Typically, I will ask the following questions of the company interested in setting up the laboratory:

1. Is my customer paying for this investment or am I? The cost of training, equipment and certification could be on an average $15,000 to $50,000 simply to get started. This does not include the time needed to establish a process for controlling the records that must be made available to customers, as well as regulatory and statutory authorities.

2. If the customer is going to support this, will the investment be in seed money for equipment and training? Or will it be a long-term contract with defined minimum orders to ensure the investment is going to pay off?

3. What will it take to get approved to do the inspection work? Will the company need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an FAA Inspection Station? Will it need a National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation program (NADCAP) certification? All of these are important because it costs money to prepare for and maintain certification. Yearly audits will need to be conducted, and companies should keep in mind that this may interrupt production schedules for about a week per certification.

4. Do I have the space and electrical services for the testing equipment? Some equipment requires different voltages, amperage and phases that may not be in your facility.

5. Will the potential inspection personnel be able to discern customer contract requirements and interpret standards and specifications such as ASNT-TC-1A or ASTM E 1444? Do they know how to apply acceptance standards such as the Military Standard Inspection, Liquid Penetrant and Magnetic Particle, Soundness Requirements for Materials Parts and Weldments MIL-STD-1907?

6. Can you afford to hire or contract a Level III ASNT test examiner to conduct the training, assessments and review of customer contract requirements and establish an inspection technique sheet for each part number or item to be inspected?

As can be seen from these questions, whether or not the company can set up a fluorescent magnetic particle inspection line is not a yes or no question. The question needs a risk assessment analysis to determine if it makes sense. It is only after the complete risk assessment is evaluated that a company can answer whether it is a good idea to establish an NDT inspection lab. When all of the above questions are answered yes, then the company will truly know that it is worth the investment of time and money to implement the laboratory.

Companies should keep in mind that the execution of the NDT inspection lab will take a minimum of about three to six months of aggressive actions, space preparation, procurement of equipment and personnel training.

One thing I see consistently with companies that set out on this endeavor is that if they do not assign a person the primary responsibility of managing this process, it will not work, and the projected three to six months can turn into years to complete.

Production and invoicing of a standard product or service by the company must produce the revenue needed to meet payroll. If a project manager is not assigned this as his one and only responsibility, the NDT laboratory will take a second position and fail.