It’s been a long road! The evolution of NDT training has been an interesting and challenging trip. And along the way there have been issues that have not always been effectively addressed. Prior to the advent of some of the qualification programs such as SNT-TC-1A, MIL-STD-410E (now NAS-410), and others, NDT training was mostly unorganized if, in fact, it was done at all. In many cases, early training was assigned to an individual who had gained experience by performing NDT or following instructions provided by equipment or product manufacturers.
Several companies offered courses that were primarily focused on the use of specific equipment they manufactured with some theory and principles thrown in. In addition to these industry courses, some of the local ASNT sections (SNT at that time) attempted to fill the need for NDT training through short courses. Most were conducted in cooperation with local technical schools or colleges, but these early efforts left much to be desired. The Body of Knowledge (BOK) had not been developed and there were no recommended course outlines. Reference books and publications to supplement these courses were limited. The first NDT Handbook, a two-volume, in-depth reference set that covered the major methods, was published in June 1959. Today, there are numerous sources for NDT training ranging from companies that offer both scheduled and onsite programs and those who provide specialized and advanced courses. Overall, the technology of NDT deserves and requires excellence in training programs. This is not always a goal that is achieved. This article intends to offer the key elements necessary to provide the high-level, and effective, training courses to achieve that goal.
A Key Element – The Body of Knowledge
Wikipedia defines the body of knowledge (BOK) as “the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.” Applying this definition to NDT would seem to indicate that an NDT course would have to include all the elements necessary for any student completing such a course to have all the qualifications to perform the specific defined tests as described in the various requirements, codes, and standards. So, one must ask the question – does the BOK for a given NDT method meet this requirement? One of the major issues regarding the BOK is the need to keep it current. There are some in use that contain subjects that are ancient and no longer applicable to the method. Also, there have been significant and essential developments that have not been added. It is not an easy task to keep the subjects in the BOK up to date and will require the instructor to stay current and modify the course outlines to reflect the latest innovations as applicable, but not included in the BOK.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition for syllabus is “a summary outline of a discourse, treatise, or course of study or of examination requirements.” So based on the BOK, the course outline should be developed to include all the essential elements of the BOK necessary for an NDT to be performed with each step described.
As a minimum, the NDT course outline should address:
- Learning Objectives
- Course Level and Goals
- Employer certification/qualification requirements
- Method principles
- Advantages and limitations
- Safety considerations
- Materials and product forms
- Math review (If applicable)
- Test techniques
- Test variables
- Procedure review
- Test report preparation
- Hands-on lab sessions
- Reference materials
- Quizzes and final course exam
Course Format and Presentation
The ideal objective - “Train for Success.”
The success of an NDT course is determined by:
a. Passing of the final course examination
b. Completing all the course assignments
c. The final course grade
d. All of the above
While all of these answers may contribute to the success of the course, no single answer by itself is correct. A more appropriate answer would be the application of the skills and knowledge gained through the training to effectively perform the examination and properly report the test results. This should always be the goal. There is no guarantee that even achieving a passing grade of 70 or 80 will accomplish this.
The success of training is related to the qualifications of the instructor. Prior to contracting for an in-house course or enrolling in a scheduled course, it would be prudent to check on the qualifications of the instructor. There are currently no well-defined qualifications (or certifications) for the NDT instructor. Ideally, the instructor should have the experience, training, and application in the method and techniques to be taught. As a recommendation, the instructors resume should be requested and reviewed prior to contracting training services. For scheduled courses, it would be advisable to review the background and certifications (if any) of the instructor in advance of enrollment.
Other factors that contribute to the success of the training include the quality of the training materials, reading assignments, and reference materials. Also, the quality and quantity of the equipment used for the hands-on lab sessions will have an impact. If possible, the test specimens should be generally representative of the test objects that will be encountered in the students’ work. Obviously, this could result is a large test specimen library, and using samples containing drilled holes or known conditions, may be necessary.
Course material review and preparation by the instructor should be the prerequisite for every NDT course. Even the most seasoned instructor will benefit doing this prior to the start of each course.
The use of overhead transparencies and slides were acceptable in the past. Today Power Point offers a great way to develop and present the subject material. While Power Point is used widely, a few basic pointers can improve the quality of this presentation technique:
- Design, colors, and fonts should be standardized.
- A background that contrasts with the words is preferred.
- Have only five or six lines for each slide with a maximum of five key words per line.
- Using caps for the titles.
- The instructor SHOULD NOT READ THE SLIDES. Students are smart enough to read them.
- Copies of the slides could be provided as handouts with spaces for note taking.
- A practice run-through by the instructor in advance of presentation should be considered.
When possible, the presentation can be made interesting by including the demonstration of equipment and related accessories during the lecture part of the course. The students should be encouraged to participate by asking questions to reinforce the presentation. If there seems to be an unwillingness to ask questions, the instructor can always ask the students to initiate a discussion. The instructor should be aware that there may be individual students who are reluctant to participate and should treat them accordingly. The instructor should never embarrass a student.
Periodic quizzes, homework assignments, use of reference materials, and a comprehensive final examination are all essential to successful training.
Hands-on Lab Sessions
An effective NDT course will always include well-planned hands-on exercises. Defined procedures should be established and followed for the best results. Lab exercise instructions will provide guidance and assure consistency. The preparation of practice test reports should be included, and the presence of the instructor to answer questions and provide guidance is essential during the lab sessions.
The increase in virtual NDT training has been significant especially with the recent pandemic. But many companies are realizing the benefits of this training approach include cost savings, flexibility in completing the course, and consistency. Some concerns include the lack of personal contact with the instructor, and how to complete the hands-on lab sessions. Online training hours can be precisely tracked, and the required hours of training can be supplemented through the completion of required and recommended reading assignments, and the hands-on lab sessions. It can also be accomplished through blended training where the online portion is completed followed by scheduled lab sessions with an NDT company, or through arrangements with a qualified instructor.
Misleading Certification/Training Issues
One of the concerns regarding NDT training is the misleading way the final grade is reported in some cases. The major certification programs clearly indicate that there should be defined differences between training and certification. Training is a key part of the qualification process – the other part is experience. Certification is a totally separate process which appropriately occurs after the satisfactory completion of the training and experience and is based on the satisfactory completion of the examinations used for certification, usually general, specific and practical. The administration and grading of these examinations is the responsibility of the employer – either directly or through the services of an outside agency. There are training organizations that enter the grades of these three examinations on their training certificates. The function of the course examinations is to assure that the course materials have been fully comprehended and they should not be used as the certification exams. This should be clearly defined in the employer’s written practice.
The benefits of high quality NDT training are many. First, it is an essential element for the qualification of personnel and to provide for the proper application of the method and techniques as required by today’s codes and standards. The greatest benefit is that it can provide a degree of assurance that products will be able to perform the service as intended. It takes little additional effort to do it right.