NDT, NDE, NDI... In the world around us, these little three letter combinations are a big deal. Nondestructive testing (NDT) has a reputation. Like any form of quality control, there are lovers and haters of it; however, NDT is well known for being one of the most well-respected.

NDT helps ensure the everyday safety of structures, components, and vehicles that most people take for granted. Consider that everything we use has some form of NDT to determine if the building, bridge, automobile, boat, airplane, electronic equipment, locomotive, space craft, oil rig, nuclear facilities, satellites, missiles, and the list goes on, is compliant with the requirements set forth by the design and safety engineers. No crossed fingers or wishful thinking here—NDT is a critical quality test and evaluation that helps keep planes in the sky and freightliners afloat.

For individuals not familiar with NDT, it can be somewhat confusing with all the different standards, levels of certification, protocols, etc. A good example is the difference between central certification and employer based certification programs.

Central Certification

A third party certification program is controlled by a certification body (e.g. ASNT), which confirms that an individual has a base set of skills, knowledge, experience and competence to perform tasks to published recognized guidelines. The certification body is a separate entity that ensures a non-biased, fair and consistent certification program nationally and internationally. The certification body will hold an ISO/IEC 17024 accreditation (conformity assessment – general requirements for bodies operating certification of persons) to demonstrate compliance. Certification bodies will include a management committee comprising of experts in various product sectors and industries. The management committee is responsible for developing, reviewing and maintaining the certification program. This will include approval of examination centers, developing examination questions and also validating and statistically assessing the examination questions through psychometrics. The use of psychometrics demonstrates to the certification body and ISO17024 assessors that the examinations are fair, reliable and valid. Central Certifications follow the NDT individual throughout their NDT career (provided they keep up with the recertification requirements).

Employer Based Certification

While the employer is always responsible for making sure that personnel performing NDT at their facility holds the necessary certifications, this certification program is administered solely by the employer. The employer is responsible for developing a procedure (written practice) on how they train, qualify and certify NDT personnel within their company. The employer will use a number of resources to develop an effective certification program. Factors that determine the applicable standards or framework of an employer based certification program include the customer and/or regulatory requirements. Often referenced in NDT process specifications is the SNT-TC-1A (Recommended Practice – Personnel Qualification and Certification in Nondestructive Testing), which is a recommended practice (not a standard). SNT-TC-1A establishes the general framework for a qualification and certification program, which includes educational, experience and training recommendations for the different NDT methods. The employer will review SNT-TC-1A and implement the guidelines accordingly into an employer procedure. Once addressed in the employer’s procedural system, any “should’s” in SNT-TC-1A will be made into “shall’s”, meaning guidelines now become requirements. Any employer putting together a certification program using SNT-TC-1A should be in consultation with their customers/regulatory authorities to ensure that the employer correctly implements such programs. Employer based programs are more specific and tailored to suit the employer’s NDT business. To that end, an employer based certification program is a certification for that specific employer. Moving to another employer will require a new certification (albeit previous experience, training and certification will be considered), which typically would result in being administered a specific and practical examination based on the business needs of the current employer. Each employer’s written practice will define certification requirements clearly for any employment situation.

Central certification and employer based certification programs have advantages and disadvantages which is why both certification programs complement each other. Central certification holders demonstrates a “baseline” level of understanding and experience within the general industry, product sectors and/or specific industries. Employer based certification hones in on the specific applications, equipment, codes, standards specifications and procedures as they relate to the employer and their customer base. 

The Level III

Like the certification schemes mentioned above, the Level III roles and responsibilities are not always fully understood or appreciated. They are clearly defined in documents such as SNT-TC-1A, ASNT CP189, NAS410/EN4179, ISO9712, etc., but what do they actually mean? While different standards and industries have a slightly different take, the general concept is the same. A Level III does not only approve work instructions or conduct personnel trainings and examinations; nor does this person just visit the company once a year, just to get the proverbial tick in the box to satisfy customer audits/approvals.

The Level III is responsible for the whole NDT program implemented by the employer. Depending on the size, there may be multiple Level III’s to control the various NDT methods. If using an outside agent for Level III services, the same would apply, except they are not directly employed but a sub-contractor that needs to have access to the same level of information as an in-house Level III would have.

Now, one might understand the basics of what a Level III dos, however, a couple of examples could help explain the depth of the expectations/involvement of a Level III.

Approving of Work Instructions – Approving a work instruction is not about simply signing it off because the parameters, codes and standards referenced are typical for the part in question. Consider the following:

What does the immediate customer want? If the immediate customer does not understand NDT, have they called out the requirements correctly? Are they asking for magnetic testing on a part that is nonmagnetic? Are they calling for inspection of an area of a part that, due to the configuration, cannot be inspected fully? Are the correct standards referenced? Can the inspection be performed using the current equipment capabilities? With some of these questions in mind, should the Level III be involved in the contract review process to prevent possible issues emanating at a point where the situation could become costly?

Training – The employer is always going to hold responsibility for ensuring personnel performing NDT on their behalf have completed the required training, experience, examinations, etc. This applies to both central certification and employer based certification. Any training should always be under the direction of the Level III in the applicable method(s). The Level III does not need to conduct the training, but is responsible to ensure it is performed correctly and to the required outlines. If utilizing external organizations for training, then does the training outline meet the needs of the employer? While most training typically follows the standard topical outlines such as ANSI/ASNT CP-105, there may be certain topics that do not need to be addressed or topics that need to be added to suit business needs. Either way, only the Level III will be able to determine this.

There are many other aspects that require involvement by the Level III and this article is not written to address all of those. This is written to provide awareness and an appreciation for the multifaceted roles of the Level III.

Having a solid education foundation is important for success in NDT. NDT aligns with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) principles and reaching students, parents, and educators in this area is critical to building the next generation of NDT Level I, II, and III professionals. ASNT invites local high schools in the vicinity of the ASNT conferences (held twice a year) to attend a one day session where NDT is explained, using fun and interactive methods. The organization plans to host over 200 attendees at the ASNT Day of STEM October 2016 ASNT Annual Conference in Long Beach, CA. In addition to these hosted events, ASNT sections outreach to schools and youth in their respective areas to share information about NDT and the terrific possibilities that could await someone that chooses to go down that path.

As with so many roles in the engineering/quality world, there is a need for NDT processors (LI), inspectors (LII) and controllers (LIII). Most people that get into the NDT business fall into it, either because they know someone in the field or they observe and think it looks interesting. Everyone has their own unique story, as do I. Working for ASNT and its more than 16,000 members worldwide, I look forward to the many chapters to come.

To hear more from James Bennett, listen to his interview with Quality:

For more podcasts, visit our podcast page.