Nondestructive testing: the R&D secret to making the physical world safer and more sustainable

Most people take for granted that major infrastructure like bridges and buildings do not collapse, that aircrafts never fail in the air and that the food we eat is safe for us to consume.

For these 4 examples, people want and expect 100% reliability. 99.99% is not good enough. Would you fly if a plane crashed every 10 000 flights? Or would you go to a supermarket where 1 out of every 10 000 sold items would make you ill? In engineering terms: a zero margin of error is required when human lives are risked when a single failure occurs. To make a zero-error margin possible in the world we live in, a whole lot of sophisticated test-engineering needs to occur for humans to be “safe”. Yet, most consumers have no awareness of this.

The sophisticated test-engineering method that makes this possible is called Nondestructive testing (NDT), also known as nondestructive Examination (NDE) or Nondestructive Inspection (NDI). It allows engineers to test material properties of materials, coatings, parts or entire systems without breaking them.

NDT has some well-known and long-standing applications, such as military aviation: it allows technicians to find cracks in metals and composite materials. And while militaries want their equipment to be reusable in combat, the same logic applies for Elon Musk’s SpaceX that has developed re-usable rockets. A less-known application is the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that need ultra-low temperature storage: NDT allows to do quality control at any stage after the actual production of the vaccine badges. It verifies the molecular properties of vaccines which could alter when the ultra-cold chain is broken.

Nondestructive testing is also an important method to make our products and the manufacturing processes around these products more sustainable. For instance, it allows for the safe operation of remanufacturing components. Moreover, it allows the detection of component failure or deterioration, allowing for component replacement and hereby avoiding a breakdown of the entire structure or machine. Not only does this improve product longevity, it also improves the total cost of ownership of expensive machinery. It makes it one of the many nice examples of industrial waste reduction going hand in hand with cost reduction and improved profitability.

Beyond waste reduction, NDT also provides ways to increase efficiency in recycling processes, for instance in for the automation of non-magnetic metals sorting, which is a very labor-intensive method when done manually.

In conclusion: the field of NDT engineering is vital to our modern lifestyle: it provides quality and safety of applications that require a zero margin of error because human lives are at stake. In an industry settings, appropriate NDT can mean major efficiency improvements. But NDT will have even much more to offer in the zero carbon and circular economy the world is building. Be it for waste reduction, clean energy, product longevity or recycling technologies.

Some of the most common NDT methods:

Visual Testing, Penetrant Testing, Magnetic Partical testing, radiographic (volumetic) testing, Ultrasonic testing, Eddy current testing, thermal infrared testing and Accoustic Emission Testing.

Is your company looking for trainings, technicians, expertise or equipment in the area of nondestructive testing? Find out about our offering in our catalog

written by Nele Van Campfort