A new report, "A landscape for the future of NDT in the UK economy," identifies the fundamental opportunities and challenges for the NDT community in the UK.

It prescribes several key enabling actions as part of its detailed vision for the future needs of the NDT industry over the coming 20 years, in order to encourage economic growth and increase the public’s awareness of and safety through NDT. The enabling actions detailed in the report are expected to assist in the avoidance of a spectrum of obstacles the NDT sector may face if preventative actions are not put into place. The required actions are detailed in four primary sections: new business engagement, people, technology and research and development. Each of these elements plays a major role in the fight to secure a brighter future for the NDT industry.

Although the need to increase awareness of the NDT and CM industries has been apparent for some time, the idea for the Landscape report was raised about three years ago. Steve Lavender, co-managing director at Lavender International Ltd and former BINDT president, had a series of meetings, early in his presidency in 2012, with his Parliament representative, Angela Smith, who arranged a BINDT visit to Portcullis House, where the contingent met Parliament representatives from a committee of science and industry.

They suggested that BINDT should obtain more quantitative information about the NDT industry in order to appreciate the strategic importance of NDT for the UK economy. Meanwhile, the UK Research Centre for Non-Destructive Evaluation made an attempt to engage with the Technology Strategy Board to develop a more cohesive technology transfer plan. The TSB then started to raise questions about the scale of the NDT community and business impact in order to understand the priorities for investment in the field – including factors such as how much of the economy depends on NDT, what NDT means to the gross national product, how many people are employed and so on.

This prompted the formation of an NDT Working Group, comprising experts from the NDT industry along with RCNDE, the Materials Knowledge Transfer Network and National Physical Laboratory’s Product Verification Programme. This Group compiled the Landscape report, based on a series of sector reports produced in 2012, to highlight the prospects for the NDT industry in the UK over the next 20 years, improve awareness of the fundamental role that NDT plays within the UK infrastructure and to overcome the barriers that are holding back future developments that advance the use of NDT as a proactive asset management tool, as opposed to a reaction to a failure or disaster.

The NDTWorking Group selected Tony Dunhill — BINDT immediate past president — as chair and a cross-sector workshop was arranged by the Materials KTN to identify the opportunities and barriers for NDT to help set the objectives for the Landscape report. KTNs are one of the TSB's key tools for facilitating the UK's innovation communities to connect, collaborate and find out about new opportunities in key research and technology sectors.

It was clear that there were often difficulties in getting the latest developments in NDT out of universities and in to use. Robin Young, a member of the Materials KTN advisory board and technology expert for the Materials KTN transport sector at the time of the report, suggested that NDT become a topic that the Materials KTN should address.

“I always felt that NDT was underrepresented in the portfolio of activities that the Materials KTN was working with," Robin said. "I was aware of how well-matched the NDT themes are with the strategic agenda of the TSB. I felt that it was the right time to raise awareness in the community and this report was an important part of that process.”

The need to be able to demonstrate the national importance of NDT and how it underpins many different sectors and technologies, as well as finding a way to help secure funding (especially from the government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills) for technology transfer activities, were all agreed as priority issues, as was the need to gain more information on how the NDT community fits overall within the UK economy.

Common strategic issues

Within the Landscape report is a section highlighting the main sectors within the NDT industry — the sector review. The data on these pages are provided for the insurance, aerospace, rail, marine, civil infrastructure, power, oil and gas, advanced manufacturing and defense sectors. To obtain this information, a survey was produced for representatives from each sector to complete. Obtaining quantitative data proved to be one of the most challenging tasks for the group — for example, there was no national register for NDT qualifications.

“It suddenly became apparent that there were a lot of things we didn’t know, like how many inspectors there are in the various sectors, because there are numerous qualification schemes, such as PCN, ASNT, CSWIP, company schemes and the like,” Tony Dunhill said.

he working group found that the figures for the actual UK market size were also difficult to quantify.

“It is quite hard to get numbers for the actual market size of the NDT industry in the UK itself," Dunhill added. "We can make qualitative assessments but NDT is performed in most tiers of a supply chain, which may be global, making UK numbers difficult to uncover. NDT does, however, underpin all the sectors surveyed, with parts being inspected many times during their service lives.”

Despite the difficulties in finding the correct information, it became obvious from the data that was collected that there were many common strategic issues across the different sectors as far as NDT requirements were concerned and, although there were some variations in detail due to the diverse range of sectors under examination, the overall drive was the same — training and research & development.

The training of new NDT inspectors is a clear example of how the key enabling actions detailed in the Landscape report are intended to work. In the UK, training and certification in NDT is seen as the international gold standard. This great achievement is, however, currently being overshadowed by an ageing workforce (many of whom are nearing retirement age) and limited external awareness of the significance of NDT in respect of economic growth and public safety.

“The main barriers are a lack of awareness of what is possible and that is accentuated by a shortage of people who are skilled both technically and have a commercial instinct as well,” said Robin Young.

Training an NDT inspector can be expensive and thus of particular concern for some organizations. It is, therefore, of paramount importance to raise the profile of NDT throughout the education system by building schemes to encourage enrollment on new programs, such as apprenticeships, industrial placements and engineering doctorates, in order to resolve the skills shortage currently being faced in NDT, and in turn increase the knowledge and awareness of those who may have previously been oblivious to the existence of NDT.

“I will challenge anybody to come across anyone in NDT who was told to ‘go into NDT.' I think virtually everybody working in the NDT industry today has stumbled across it — this needs to change,” Dunhill said.

By developing training provisions and facilitating schemes to increase recruitment of professional NDT personnel, the profile of NDT will be raised and strengthened, enabling new, high-technology capabilities to be addressed with a new generation of NDT inspectors. Tony Dunhill offers the following advice to any person contemplating a career in NDT, whether considering a change of direction mid-career or leaving compulsory education: “NDT is a career that uses every type of physics you can imagine. Magnetics, heat, light, sound; I can point you to a place that uses them all. There is even a place for the use of radioactive gas, which I wouldn’t recommend — but it is a technique! So, if you have a remote interest in science and you are interested in doing slightly daring stuff, then this may well be the right career for you. It requires a whole range of skills and so, even if you are not academically gifted, there is still plenty of opportunity.”

As new material, designs and operating conditions are developed within the UK infrastructure, there is a marked need for new NDT solutions. Traditional NDT methods can be time consuming and labor intensive so the demand is for faster and more automated systems. To support this the decision by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to launch RCNDE in 2003 has helped to rebuild the UK research base into a world-leading resource to deliver the advances needed.

The Landscape report details how more of UK business can benefit from NDT by establishing a PR program — for example preparing and advertising case studies to demonstrate the successful use of NDT and promoting the benefits of increasing the use of NDT.

“For me, one of the most important things is the assembly of business case studies to demonstrate the successful use of NDT to those areas of the economy that currently don’t think too much about NDT," said Keith Newton, director of RCNDE and co-editor of the Landscape report. "This doesn’t need a lot of investment, it is more a case of consuming people’s time to write up the case studies.”

Technology Transfer

However, one of the biggest and most costly barriers to getting new technology through to industry is the technology transfer process.

“Technology transfer often requires major investment for validation, commercial prototypes and so on that will require samples, access to facilities and plant for trials,” Keith Newton said. “It can be very expensive (often more expensive than the research itself), which only prolongs the process of validating techniques to move them into a commercial state.”

The slow-moving validation stage is described in the Landscape report using the classic example of the ultrasonic time-of-flight diffraction (TOFD) technique developed in 1985, which took over 20 years to become mainstream. The report speaks of seeking more ‘imaginative routes for funding’ in order to expose new commercial opportunities and to eliminate the risk from the transfer of new technologies.

“Because it is expensive, small companies can’t afford to do it," he said. "We are trying to get more systematic approaches to funding validation. One of the outcomes of the Landscape report is the need for a national defects library to help significantly lower the costs, as well as shared-cost projects. There has also been some talk of looking for capital investment for a major structural integrity NDT center, which would include things such as validation.”

The main need for the Landscape report was to help to set the scene for any new funding opportunities. The fact it has been written by a cross-sector group will enhance its validity.

The further maintenance and development of the level of the UK NDT capability and investment is fundamental in delivering new technology to meet the future industry challenges outlined in the 20-year vision of the report. In order to accomplish this, NDT requires recognition for the scope of its influence.

“It is a world market,” Dunhill said. “Most of the large companies who rely on NDT have a very clear view as to what their NDT requirements are going to be in five, 10 and 20 years’ time. We have written that down as a vision of the future and have provided that to our academic collaborators. They are working on material that meets what we need. This kind of collaboration is quite rare, so many diverse industries actually having the same requirements. If we can get good technologies into companies in the UK to inspect what our companies want, all the other companies in the world will want the same thing.”

A clear example of what Dunhill speaks of emerged from the Hatfield rail crash case, one of several rail disasters that changed the face of safety in Britain’s rail infrastructure through NDT.

On Oct. 17, 2000, a passenger train traveling northbound from London de-railed just south of Hatfield. Four passengers were killed and about 70 were injured. The two main causes of the accident were later revealed as "rolling contact fatigue" and "head cracking," defined as multiple surface-breaking cracks on the gauge corner and rail-head.

The recommendations following the crash investigation, carried out by HSE and the British Transport Police , included the evaluation of other methods for the non-destructive testing of rail (for example eddy current) and the need for increased technical and managerial competence for all employees with a responsibility for any aspect of track maintenance.

An explanation of the positive effect that NDT has had on the UK rail system since 1998 is detailed in the Landscape report. By utilizing NDT techniques, in this case ultrasonic testing, as an asset management tool, the break rate on the UK rail network has been significantly reduced from around 900 per year, prior to the Hatfield incident, to an encouraging 125 per year in 2012.

Dunhill speaks of the value that the application of suitable NDT has on the rail system and the world market: “It is so rare to have the data of how many cracks are actually there. Network Rail knew that in 1998 they had 952 cracks. By putting an NDT inspection in place, they started clearing the cracks from the rails. Over time, the inspections improved, enabling the detection of smaller cracks. Since then, they’ve gone even further and so now this figure has been greatly reduced. The other beautiful part is that they realized that they could license this management process out to others; it wasn’t buried in Network Rail. The Indian railway network (to name just one) is now using the same management process. So, not only has Network Rail improved the UK’s rail system and made our lives safer but it has also improved other global systems. That’s an attractive and morally responsible business model.”

The next level

The priority recommendations and key enabling actions established from the Landscape report are the driving force behind the future of NDT. “We need to look for ways of working together to help the common agenda,” suggests Robin Young. As the engineering infrastructure ages and more complex systems are developed, the need for more dexterous NDT methods will grow; the speed at which these methods can be implemented must increase considerably and, consequently, an increased need for an up-skilled and new generation of NDT professionals will be imminent. “These are the things that are needed to take NDT forward to the next level, covering areas such as training, research, technology transfer and raising the profile of NDT with companies who don’t think about NDT already,” adds Keith Newton.

The TSB has developed 22 key competencies with the aim to ensure that high-value manufacturing (HVM) is a key driver of UK economic success. The set of 22 competencies is grouped around five strategic themes and during the compilation of the Landscape report it was discovered that NDT had an invaluable impact on all of them. “This was the most surprising thing we found during our research,” says Tony Dunhill. “In the appendix, we have written a paragraph for each of the competencies and then detailed how NDT impacts on that competence. There wasn’t one that we didn’t have some influence on. I feel that really demonstrates how enabling NDT is. It’s not a ‘thing’ in its own right, but it enables many other entities.”

The Landscape report draws the conclusion that the UK NDT industry and R&D base is already well positioned, but capable of delivering much more value to the economy in the UK and on a more global scale if it can be stimulated with cross-sector investment aimed at addressing improvements in technology transfer rates, increasing business performance and growth and better recognition of the value of risk reduction through the application of advanced NDT.

For more information and to view the full report visit www.bindt.org/downloads/Materials-KTN-Future-of-NDT-in-UK-economy.pdf