As the demand for nondestructive testing (NDT) rapidly increases across a multitude of industries, the need for NDT technicians continues to grow with it. Continuous advances in technology have resulted in increasingly sophisticated testing methods, along with an urgency for highly trained professionals.
Radiography testing (RT) is one such method, allowing for throughout inspections of internal structures and machinery.
Various industries rely on this type of testing due to its many advantages, including the ability to test many materials and the fact that minimal surface preparation is necessary. Plus, the equipment used to conduct RT is generally portable, and because conventional radiography produces a film displaying results, there is a permanent record of the findings.
RT involves the use of X-rays produced by an X-ray tube and/or gamma rays, which are created by a radioactive isotope. The process involves radiation passing through a solid structure, similar to the process used in medical radiography.
The RT methods performed in NDT, however, require the passing of radiation through a weld to test the interior of the structure, while medical radiography is used to image teeth, broken bones, and the chest.
Once the RT inspection is complete, the results are then displayed on a photographic film. RT professionals are then able to identify any internal flaws, such as inclusions, cracks, and/or voids, by evaluating light and dark areas of the film.
Discontinuities and areas with low density will appear darker, while light areas indicate high density. Therefore, RT technicians are trained to analyze variations in density and shape to determine any areas of concern within the structure.
Because radiography testing is one of the most expensive NDT methods, it’s important that RT professionals have a thorough understanding of the process prior to conducting an inspection. The need for repeat tests due to operator error can be costly and result in compromised productivity.
Additionally, technicians should prioritize the safety of themselves and those around them, as X-ray and gamma radiation has been linked to some health complications; therefore, the inspector should be properly trained in radiography testing.
There are various effective RT techniques, including conventional radiography and digital radiography. Digital methods include computed, direct, and real-time radiography, as well as computed tomography. Let’s take a closer look at these methods, along with the pros and cons of each:
To conduct this traditional type of radiography, technicians capture images by utilizing film that reacts to radiation, and then study the image for discontinuities.
While conventional radiography is less expensive than high-tech digital methods, this testing method does come with a few notable disadvantages. Films are single-use and generally take much longer to process than images created from digital methods.
As mentioned previously, there are multiple options when it comes to digital RT, and there are even more advantages with these sophisticated methods, including the ability to identify internal discontinuities and changes in composition.
Additionally, these techniques enable movement of the test object while the inspection is in progress, along with providing a digital record of the results. As for disadvantages, extensive training is needed to operate digital RT equipment.
We take a deeper dive into the four main types of digital radiography below:
Computed Radiography (CR): This RT method utilizes a phosphor imaging plate to indirectly capture an image. The image is then transferred to a computer and can be fine-tuned for optimal interpretation. It’s essential that RT technicians adjust the image carefully to ensure any flaws are detectable.
Direct Radiography (DR): While similar to computed radiography, digital radiography captures images with a flat panel detector. Like CR, captured images are displayed on a computer screen.
Although DR tends to be more expensive than alternative testing methods, it is commonly practiced due to its rapid speed and ability to deliver quality images.
Real-Time Radiography (RTR): To conduct real-time radiography testing, RT professionals initiate the transfer of radiation through the object, resulting in an image that is transferred to a phosphor screen or flat panel detector.
Interactions can be interpreted throughout the inspection process, then RT inspectors analyze light and dark areas of the image to determine density. While this method provides quick results, the quality of the images tends to be of lower quality than those produced by alternative digital RT techniques.
Computed Tomography (CT): This incredibly high-tech digital radiography testing method involves hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of 2D scans, later converting the images to a single 3D image.
For larger testing areas, technicians typically use a method in which the radiation source and detector revolve around the test subject. An alternative technique involves the rotation of the component being tested while the radiation source and detector remain in a fixed location.
In many cases, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to computed tomography. Although the process is time-intensive and the equipment is pricey, the images produced are very high in quality and the likelihood of human error is low.
RT is a highly lucrative career path with plenty of room for advancement. Employers typically prefer technicians with a combination of formal training and experience. Let’s take a look at the educational requirements and common characteristics employers look for, as well as average salary and career growth potential:
Entry-level positions are available in the NDT field; however, RT positions generally require specialized training and/or certification. Many colleges, universities, technical schools, and training centers offer degree and certificate programs with courses dedicated to radiography testing.
Individuals who wish to enter the field of RT can choose to learn in a traditional classroom setting or online. Many institutions offer various options for men and women intent on earning a level I, level II, or level III RT-specific NDT certification.
On the job training is also essential for radiography, NDT certifications, most certificates requiring at least 40 to 45 hours of OTJ experience in order to qualify.
Job candidates who possess the following skills, traits, and capabilities often stand out to employers:
Not meeting all of the above-mentioned requirements doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for RT positions. Most employers include qualification requirements and preferences in job postings, including education, training, and experience, and many are willing to consider on-the-job training in lieu of formal education, and vice versa.
Don’t count yourself out if you don’t meet the specific criteria for the job. The increasing need for nondestructive testing means more opportunities and more room for NDT technicians of all skill levels.
NDT professionals with a level I certification earn approximately $72,000 annually. Training and/or certification in radiography testing boosts income potential, with the average level I technician specializing in RT earning more than $78,000 per year, on average.
The higher the certification level, the higher the pay potential. Level III RT professionals make approximately $95,000 annually. Experience and specialized training can result in an annual income of $123,500+.
The future looks bright for RT professionals. Experts anticipate a growth of $4.1 billion within the NDT industry by the year 2025. This is great news for individuals entering the NDT field, especially those with specialized training, as the need for advanced testing methods will undoubtedly continue to rise.
With so many industries to choose from, RT professionals can choose to spend the entirety of their career in one industry or expand their knowledge and skill-set by working in various fields. Regardless of your individual goals, there’s unlimited room for advancement.
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