Priority needs for the UK’s NDT R&D base


The 2014 report ‘A landscape for the future of NDT in the UK economy’ highlights the essential requirement for a balanced and sustainable research and development (R&D) programme if the employment and economic impacts from a successful NDT industry are to be secured in the medium and long term.

The UK’s R&D base enjoys a worldwide reputation for innovation and quality; however, developments within the NDT industry face obstacles due to the technology transfer and method validation process that a new technology, method or technique must undergo in order to be accepted and widely adopted.

New NDT solutions are an essential requirement of industry, with new materials and engineering designs being continually developed, and existing infrastructure expected to have a longer life expectancy. A lack of funding and resources means it is difficult for the NDT R&D base to keep up with demand.

The level of investment for R&D in NDT technologies must be increased over the coming years in order to maintain the 20-year vision set out in the report. Investment usually presents itself in the form of UK research centres or through the supply chain, and the UK is well placed to understand the industry needs due to the close links between the users and the technology providers.

However, these technologies, once ready for release into industry, will not be accepted by end-users without sufficient standards to accompany the method, technology or material. These can take a significant amount of time to develop and are only generated once validation is complete, which again can be a lengthy process costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. For example, it took over 20 years for a standard to be produced for the ultrasonic time-of-flight diffraction (TOFD) technique for accurate crack depth measurement, developed by the Harwell NDT Group in 1985, allowing it to move from niche to general use. The high cost of validation is illustrated by a typical example of an ultrasonic technique for turbine blade inspection, which cost £60,000 to adapt the science and a further £400,000 to deliver as a validated technique, with this taking four years to complete.

To ensure the long-term successful future of the UK’s NDT R&D base, the report identifies that, in the medium and long term, industry must continue to supply demands for improved capabilities, some of which have already been identified in the 20-year vision detailed in the report. When the successful technologies are emerging, validation of their capabilities and limitations must be understood.  This requires establishing standardised assessment methods and realistic test facilities, but an additional output is the identification of the new skills required by the operators. It is this validation process that can halt the delivery of techniques due to the high cost and specialised test facilities that are needed. A move to an affordable UK test facility would remove much of this blockage. Where successful, the validation will lead to the development of operational standards for their mainstream implementation. Many of the techniques that will be delivered will benefit the UK infrastructure, providing a sustainable future for the nation and, as NDT can be offered as a service, many UK companies will benefit by delivering these new methods worldwide.    

With these needs in mind, BINDT’s NDT and CM Technical Committees have introduced the concept of User Groups, with a view to bringing international industry specialists together potentially to increase the rate at which a technology develops into mainstream use, as well as smoothing its transition. The user groups offer an opportunity for end-users, suppliers and researchers of a technology or method to write more widely understood capability statements and standards, as well as promoting the new possibilities available through a method or technology worldwide, ultimately aiding faster take-up by end-users and costing the UK’s NDT R&D base very little at the outset.

The Landscape report suggests, as part of its 20-year vision, that when these R&D priority needs are combined with the key enabling actions of securing new business engagement, addressing the skills shortage in the NDT industry and adopting a more systematic approach to NDT technology development and validation, the value of the UK economy will rise. This is a vital step in the development and sustainability of the UK’s NDT industry.

For more information and to view the full report click here.