NDE Inspection Services: Evaluating Third-Party Nondestructive Testing Providers
Nondestructive evaluation (NDE) offers companies a vital means of inspecting components for hidden flaws and discontinuities without destroying or dismantling the materials being inspected. Incorporating NDE inspections into a larger routine maintenance schedule is a smart investment. Supplying analysts with high-quality, high-performance equipment helps ensure high-quality data and ultimately more accurate inspections. Moreover, analysts should be trained and certified to conduct nondestructive evaluations, a key component of that investment.
For some companies, an NDE service provider may be an alternate solution to conducting inspection processes in-house. Working with a third-party provider that uses cutting edge inspection equipment allows companies to benefit from the skills of highly-trained technicians and the results of innovative solutions.However, to achieve the greatest ROI, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate NDE inspection services prior to hiring one in order to determine whether they have the resources and experience necessary to conduct truly comprehensive inspections.
What’s the difference between NDE and NDT?
Both NDE and NDT involve inspecting components without disassembly. However, nondestructive testing is a broader term covering all manner of inspection methods, while a nondestructive evaluation method is one that involves specific quantitative measurements like the size, shape, and angle of a defect. As such, it’s particularly important to ensure NDE inspections are conducted with leading-edge instrumentation to ensure the data is as accurate as possible.
What to Look for in Third-Party NDE Inspection Services
When choosing a third-party NDE service provider, evaluating key aspects such as experience and accreditation can help determine the quality of service they are capable of providing.
Specific field experience is a primary indicator of an NDE company’s credibility. With oil and gas companies, for example, it’s important that an NDE inspection company retains personnel who have experience testing oil and gas assets and infrastructure. Certain fields require unique sets of tools and methods to address various obstacles.
Example: An oil and gas company needs to perform an NDE weld inspection on an offshore oil facility. What management doesn’t know is that the coarse grain content found within the austenitic weld causes propagation issues that make probing a harder task. Luckily, the head of maintenance secured a contract with a third-party agency that offers specialized NDE weld inspection services and equipment. Using a PAUT instrument with 2D matrix array probing, the analyst is able to solve the propagation problems and complete a thorough analysis of the weld.
Beyond ascertaining whether the provider in question offers specialized NDE services in your company’s industry, pay attention to how long they’ve been in business and the feedback they’ve received along the way. A company with decades of NDE experience and a wealth of positive reviews or testimonials is, for obvious reasons, most likely to provide truly high-quality inspection services.
National NDE Certification
In addition to experience, the agency in question must have the necessary certifications to conduct NDE inspections. The following bodies are recognized associations that offer centralized certification:
- American Welding Society (AWS)
- American Petroleum Institute (API)
- American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT)
With accredited training, an analyst becomes a level 1, 2 or 3 inspector, with 3 being the most seasoned. Level 1 personnel typically require direct supervision from their superiors. When researching a company, inquire about the experience and class levels of inspectors within the company. Level 2 and 3 analysts should have specialized training, as well as the ability to issue tests throughout multiple industries.
Another important consideration is to ensure that NDE analysts have national certification instead of company-specific training. With company training, employee trainees learn a specific set of NDE approaches tailored to a single company—no more and no less. National training, on the other hand, involves a more comprehensive study of leading-edge NDE methods and technologies. While there is no mandatory set of NDE guidelines, all third-party agencies should receive core credentials from a nationally-recognized institution.
In addition to experience and credentials, a credible NDE service provider should offer:
- A variety of NDE options and customizable solutions
- The latest in inspection technologies, equipment and software
- Consulting services to help companies craft effective NDE inspection strategies
- Detailed onsite assessments, thorough analysis, and actionable recommendations regarding detected flaws or anomalies
On the other hand, the presence of any (or all) of the following should be considered a major red flag:
- Outdated or insufficiently maintained equipment that cannot perform inspections as efficiently or effectively as newer, higher-quality instrumentation
- A focus on more conventional, but less efficient, NDE methods (ultrasonic and eddy current testing have become the preferred methods in most cases)
- An unproven record of service—companies with a scant track record might be new (and therefore inexperienced) or have a bad reputation among consumers or within the industry
Quality Inspection Services Ensure Safety and Efficiency
Every industry presents its own unique challenges to overcome. A pipeline company must pinpoint as many discontinuities as possible to prevent leaks and accidents that can contaminate the environment and jeopardize human health. In the aerospace industry, accurate data is needed to spot defects hastily in order to maintain passenger and pilot safety.
Regardless of the industry and the approach (in-house vs. third party NDE provider), the fact remains that using state-of-the-art instruments with a high probability of detection is the surest way to promote safety and prevent flaws from developing into dangerous failures. Instruments with sensitive signals and advanced software can detect anomalies quickly and accurately, helping analysts to detect developing flaws early and provide recommendations that can prevent greater damage (and the ensuing cost of repair) down the road.
Therefore, it’s important to work with the best software, probes, and instruments on a continuous basis. The best NDE inspection service providers are those that are committed to safety, quality, and innovation, and to contributing to the NDE industry in a meaningful way.