Nondestructive testing is vital to many different career fields. The aerospace, oil & gas, utility & power and construction industries, as well as multiple others, use NDT to ensure that the products they create and materials they use all measure up to their quality and safety standards.
Although many certified NDT employees are simply considered “technicians,” there are a variety of fields and career paths that qualified workers can pursue. The requirements and responsibilities for each job differ from others, and NDT technicians should know what is expected of them when completing their training and work experience.
Nondestructive testing is a method of inspection found in many industries, as companies work to comply with industry regulations regarding safety of materials and projects. When a technician is inspecting a product or material, they can avoid taking the object apart or destroying it as they would with other inspection methods. This allows the company to keep using their product even after it has been inspected.
While destructive testing is typically used to evaluate the physical properties of a certain object, such as its strength, impact durability and ductility, NDT is used to inspect the object for any flaws or discontinuities.
But the NDT industry does not consist of only one inspection technique; there are 14 total inspection methods that NDT technicians can use to evaluate their company’s products and materials. The most frequently used methods are magnetic particle testing (MT), liquid penetrant testing (PT), radiographic testing (RT), ultrasonic testing (UT), electromagnetic testing (ET) and visual testing (VT).
Many NDT jobs are also determined by the technician’s certification level. There are 3 possible levels that potential NDT technicians can become certified in, all with their own prerequisites (typically the number of training hours and amount of work experience) and on-the-job responsibilities.
Level I is the most basic certification level for NDT technicians, typically requiring the least amount of training and work experience, but also affording the least amount of responsibility. Level Is are trained to perform certain calibrations and tests related to their inspection method, although they must be supervised by a higher-level technician while working.
In 2018, the aerospace industry hired the most Level I technicians, employing nearly one-third (32%) of all Level Is. The petrochemical industry was close behind, employing around 27% of Level Is. Other popular industries for these technicians include construction and utility & power.
Technicians that work in the aerospace industry will typically be certified in liquid penetrant testing, which can detect flaws or cracks in the surface of an airplane, ultrasonic testing, which can look underneath the surface at the airplane’s joints, bolts, landing gear and engine, or magnetic particle testing, which is typically used for bolts, engines, pumps and other aircraft parts.
One step up from a Level I technician, Level IIs have the responsibility of setting up and calibrating any inspection equipment, as well as conducting inspections according to their inspection method. They may also be required to supervise or train Level I technicians.
While most NDT jobs can be found in oil & gas, one PQNDT survey states that around 38% of certified Level IIs are employed in the aerospace industry, while 27% of respondents were found in the petrochemical industry.
Once an NDT technician has earned their certification, they are eligible to work for a variety of companies; however, because the certification tests are often administered through a specific company, the technician may have to retake their exams (in particular their specific exam that covers techniques and equipment specific to their company) if they choose to change employers.
This may especially come into play if the technician has been certified through a branch of the United States military. The U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force all provide training for enlisted members interested in working in NDT, and can often use their expertise for their own military equipment.
However, many military members who leave the service find that their NDT certification is no longer valid if they are working for a company outside of their branch. When an ex-military NDT technician begins to work under a new civilian employer, they will have to take the same specific exams that other civilian employees had to pass. Currently, the NDT industry is looking to change this to allow for greater accessibility for former military looking to enter the field.
Once an NDT technician becomes certified as a Level III, their level of expertise and knowledge of the industry opens up a variety of other career paths. Some Level III technicians choose to apply their experience to a job in administration, supervision or management, or may become a testing laboratory owner.
Level III technicians—no matter their job—are given the most responsibility out of all three certification levels. These technicians must be able to perform all of the same duties as Level I and II technicians, but they should also be able to establish and interpret techniques, standards and procedures and designate the processes to be used in inspection.
Level IIIs are also given the responsibility for training and supervising Level I and Level II technicians. Level Is, in particular, cannot work without being supervised by a Level II or III technician. Level IIIs may be required to administer certification exams to lower level technicians through the company that they work for.
While the oil & gas industry is the top employer of Level III technicians, the aerospace field is another popular destination for Level III, nearly half of respondents of the aforementioned PQNDT survey existing in this space. According to that survey, the petrochemical industry is the second most popular for Level IIIs, employing 16% of technicians, while all other NDT industries employed less than 10% of Level III technicians.
A certified welding inspector, also known as a CWI, supervise nondestructive testing within the welding industry. They may be in charge of inspections for bridges, pipelines, vehicles or buildings, as well as other products that involve welding in their manufacturing process.
CWIs are given a position of authority within their company. They must oversee the inspection processes for their industry, which includes more than just inspecting completed welds. CWIs are in charge of maintaining safety protocol for their employer, meaning they must be familiar with the safety standards enforced by their company and their local, state and federal governments.
In addition to inspecting final products, CWIs must inspect the materials and equipment used during the welding process before the welding begins. They are the employees that must make sure all equipment is calibrated according to the correct settings and is in place to begin working.
Before the welding process begins, CWIs also have to check over any required documents, such as building or welding plans, and verifying the information provided. Typically, CWIs work on a team including multiple employees within their company.
In the NDT industry, more than 27% of all CWIs are contracted employees, which is more than any other career segment within the industry. Around 38% of CWIs work in construction, although the petrochemical, steel & foundry and utility & power industries are also popular among welding inspectors.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) certifies inspectors to work specifically in the oil and natural gas industry. API provides multiple types of certifications that cover all aspects of the petrochemical industry and implement a set of internationally-recognized standards to which all inspectors must adhere.
Depending on their specific certification, API inspectors may be required to inspect and repair pressure vessels or piping systems, look for corrosion of equipment, conduct audits or perform quality control techniques.
The vast majority of API inspectors – around 84% in 2018 – work in the petrochemical industry. However, the other 16% of inspectors apply their knowledge of oil and gas to a job within the construction or utility & power industries, or they choose to work within a laboratory setting.
A quality assurance specialist or engineer is responsible for establishing, implementing and maintaining quality standards within a company. These employees make sure that all services or products that their company provides measure up to a certain standard of quality and exceed the customers’ expectations.
QEs are also often responsible for keeping track of other employees, making sure that everyone is trained correctly and are able to meet all quality and safety standards. They observe the production process and ensure that all workers are complying with all standards, and will record any problems and work with other employees to fix production issues.
Due to the nature of their job, all quality assurance employees must be familiar not only with any quality standards set by their company or organization, but also any universally-implemented standards. This may include ISO standards (set by the International Organization for Standardization) or the Six Sigma method.
Quality assurance specialists play a key role in inspections for nearly any industry. They may work in the same industries as other NDT technicians, such as in vehicle manufacturing, but they may also work in the food production industry, textile manufacturing, or electronic construction industries.
Surehand works with a wide variety of NDT workers to help them find the job that best fits their skills and experience. Job-seekers only need to create an online profile, detailing their work preferences and any professional experience, then sit back and let their future employer come to them.
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