Why innovation is the key to the future of NDT

Our world is constantly changing, and as much as we sometimes kick against it, not all of these changes are bad. Change motivates us to keep pushing onward, and keep growing and developing. If we resist, then we stagnate and the world moves on regardless, leaving us behind. 

The NDT industry is no different. As our Clients’ industries evolve, we need to adapt so that we can provide a service that is effective, and innovation is the key to that. With new technologies, we can ensure a more accurate and cost-effective solution for our Clients. In this article, we discuss four reasons why innovation is good for the NDT industry.  

But first, let’s define what NDT is. 

What is NDT?

NDT is a range of techniques used to inspect and evaluate the quality and integrity of materials and components without damaging or altering them. This process is critical to ensure the safety and reliability of various products and systems, including aircraft, pipelines, bridges, and more. NDT technicians employ various methods to conduct these tests including ultrasonic testing, radiography, magnetic particle testing, eddy current testing, and visual inspection

Innovation is crucial to the future of NDT for several reasons. 

1. Improve accuracy

Firstly, it helps to improve the accuracy and efficiency of NDT methods. With the introduction of new technologies and techniques, NDT practitioners can detect defects in materials and components with greater precision, speed, and reliability. 

2. Reduce costs

Secondly, innovation in NDT can help to reduce costs. The traditional NDT methods can be time-consuming and require a significant amount of resources, including trained personnel and specialised equipment. 

By developing new NDT techniques and technologies, it is possible to reduce the time and resources required to perform NDT inspections while still maintaining high levels of accuracy and reliability. 

An easy example of this is the move from traditional to digital radiography. Traditional radiographic tests direct X-rays or Gamma Rays through a component onto a physical film. The film is then processed using chemicals and an image is revealed. This image is inspected by the technician in order to determine whether there are any flaws within the component. 

The films and chemicals used in processing the film cannot be reused. They are effectively consumables and must be replaced at some cost. They can also not be recycled, so they produce a lot of waste. 

Recently, the development of digital radiography systems has allowed NDT companies to significantly reduce their cost and waste.

The digital radiography process is similar to wet film methods, in that it captures the image on a “phosphor imaging plate”. But rather than being processed with chemicals, the plate can be scanned into a specially designed digital scanner. This image is then sent directly to a computer and the image can be viewed straight away. Once the plate has been scanned it is wiped clear and can then be reused again. No waste is generated and no consumables are needed. 

3. More environmentally friendly

As we have already seen in the case of digital radiography, many digital technologies allow for more environmentally friendly tests. In a world where everyone is keen to reduce their carbon footprint and waste, innovation is the key to finding cleaner ways of ensuring assets are structurally sound. 

4. Address new challenges

Finally, innovation in NDT can help to address new challenges and emerging technologies. The modern industrial landscape is constantly changing, and new materials and technologies are emerging all the time. For example, the move towards Green energy production has seen a significant increase in the number of wind farms in increasingly remote locations. This poses new challenges for NDT practitioners. 

Until recently, all wind farms had to have their turbines built onto the sea floor. The maximum depth that could be achieved was around 50 metres. This limited the offshore areas that could be used as wind farm locations and therefore limited the number of wind farms that could be built. 

But recent innovations in floating foundations have allowed for some wind farms to be built further out to sea. There are many advantages to this. It naturally increases capacity, but the winds further out from shore are more constant, meaning that the energy produced by each turbine is greater. 

But with this innovation comes the need to monitor the condition of the asset in an increasingly difficult environment. The industry has responded to this by turning to robotics and the continued development of submersible Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). ROVs had been used by the Offshore Wind Farm Industry for a while, but with the development of floating platforms, their role will become vital. 

ROVs can be operated by one technician from the safety of a ship or platform. They allow Visual inspection of each asset to be performed without a diver. Any areas that are identified can then be followed up on manually. This significantly reduces the time that divers spend in the water as they are focusing on the areas of concern, rather than inspecting the whole site, thus improving their overall health and safety. 

Some ROVs can even perform rudimentary NDT tests such as thickness monitoring tests remotely and as technology improves, more NDT methods may be added to their arsenal. 

Innovation: meeting tomorrow’s challenges head-on

Innovation is the key to the future of NDT. It enables practitioners to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and reliability of NDT methods while reducing costs and improving productivity. As new challenges and technologies emerge, innovation will play a vital role in developing new NDT techniques and technologies to address these challenges. The NDT industry must continue to invest in research and development to keep up with the demands of modern industries and ensure the safety and reliability of their products and systems.

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