As the field of nondestructive testing (NDT) becomes increasingly sophisticated and utilized in a wide variety of industries, the need for NDT professionals is steadily rising. Highly skilled technicians are in demand, and the potential for growth within the field is greatest for individuals with specialized training in specific NDT methods.
Phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) is a particularly lucrative specialization, due to the technique’s ability to examine virtually any material and deliver accurate results.
NDT professionals who are certified in PAUT are able to identify current and potential flaws in equipment and machinery, decreasing the likelihood of pricey emergency repairs and/or inoperability.
Adapted from the complex principles of wave physics, the terms “phase” and “array” in PAUT refer to timing and multiple elements, respectively.
As one of the most advanced and complex methods of nondestructive testing, PAUT involves high-tech probes made up of multiple elements that are stimulated individually via computer. This technology generates multidimensional views, which enables inspectors to identify details of any detected flaws, including location and size.
NDT technicians are able to utilize PAUT techniques to evaluate welds and other manufactured materials that are difficult or impossible to inspect using traditional, less complex NDT methods. This technique is an excellent way to detect cracks and other problems, especially in instances where space is limited.
While non-phased array testing requires a traditional probe that must be manually adjusted to move the beam through the area being inspected, phased array testing can be calibrated electronically with no need for manual adjustment of the probe.
When conducting PAUT inspections, NDT technicians utilize flaw inspection software to conduct comprehensive, multi-faceted tests from various angles.
In addition to flaw analysis, inspectors may provide input on structural assessments, along with extensive evaluations to ensure machinery and other structures are fit for service. By conducting these thorough testing methods, inspectors are able to compile accurate, detailed information that can be used to identify mechanical flaws.
PAUT inspections are used within a multitude of industries, including automotive, aerospace, pipeline construction, nuclear power, and manufacturing, among many others.
Phased array testing methods come with many advantages, including the ability to electronically control beam size, focal point, and angle to produce focal, linear, or sectorial beams.
Phased array testing methods are often performed when time is of the essence, as it’s incredibly quick when compared to traditional NDT methods. In fact, a PAUT inspection can be conducted in less than one second.
In addition to providing fast results, phased array testing is user-friendly and doesn’t expose inspectors and other workers to radiation. That isn’t the case with some alternative testing options, such as radiography. This lack of harmful exposure enables inspections to take place while equipment is in use, allowing for optimal production.
A combination of formal education and on-the-job training is key when building a successful career in the field of phased array ultrasonic testing. Additionally, employers often look for specific traits and abilities, which are highlighted below:
The majority of positions in the PAUT speciality require level II or level III NDT certification. In many cases, employers prefer applicants with formal training/and or a certificate in PAUT.
Individuals interested in earning certification from a credit-based program can find degree and certificate options available through traditional colleges and online programs.
For instance, Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota offers on-campus and online certificate programs.
Additional options include Chuck Hellier’s NDT Classroom, where students can complete a level II phased array training course within a 60-day period. The school also offers a 3-part refresher course for PAUT professionals in need of a comprehensive review.
On the job training is also a significant part of a PAUT-certified engineer’s education. Most PAUT programs and certifications require at least 40-45 hours of OTJ training to become certified at Level II or beyond.
While requirements and preferences for eligibility may vary by company and position, employers often look for individuals with the following qualifications, skills, and experience:
It’s not uncommon for individuals with higher levels of certification to make over $100,000 annually. Level III technicians across all industries make an average of nearly $127,000 per year. Salary may increase with factors such as specialized training (such as PAUT), experience, and longevity.
In addition to great pay, the vast majority of full-time NDT positions come with excellent benefits. According to a 2018 salary survey published by pqntd.com, 99% of level II NDT professionals are offered a 401K plan and paid vacation time, and 98% of employers provide health insurance.
Although a newly certified level I NDT technician is unlikely to land a PAUT position, with on-the-job experience and additional training, an individual can advance his or her career rather quickly.
The potential for growth within the NDT field and PAUT speciality is promising, thanks to the many industries that rely on nondestructive testing. A technician may start out in the automotive field as an NDT assistant and move onto a level II and level III position in the nuclear power or aerospace industry. The possibilities for advancement are virtually limitless.
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