Another riff on certification

If, as reported, George Bernard Shaw, or perhaps Oscar Wilde, stated that the United States and Great Britain were two nations separated by a common language, then this statement could be amended to apply to two nations with common NDT methods separated by different technician certification protocols.

The UK, and by extension Europe, has a central system of certification. Technicians study the material and then go to an authorised examination provider to take an examination. Upon passing the examination they are awarded a certificate they can use to prove that they are qualified. They then provide such proof of certification to their employer or a potential employer. The employer still has the responsibility of ensuring the capability of the technician in applying their qualification to the specific work process, but this is a relatively easy task compared with the actual qualification process.

In the USA, the predominant certification process is based on the ASNT Recommended Practice SNT-TC-1A, which is an employer-based form of certification. Note that SNT-TC-1A is a recommended practice and not a standard, which gives the employer a certain amount of flexibility concerning the requirements needed for an NDT technician with respect to the products and processes of the specific NDT to be applied. This is the positive and practical nature of a written practice. The negative aspects apply to the temptation to provide inadequate structure and probity to the certification process and the relative facility to ‘rubber stamp’ certification.

I have always been on the contractor side of things, supplying clients with certificated technicians and having a great response from the customer. Unfortunately, not all contractors provide the expected quality of technician. The result is that the client wants evidence that the technicians are properly qualified; for this reason, the ‘performance demonstration’ was born. I have always supported performance demonstration and technicians properly qualified and certificated through my processes have always scored high on performance tests.

I should clarify that the industry to which I am referring is the petrochemical industry. The first oil company that introduced the performance demonstration tests provided the testing free to the contractor in specific locations. The NDT methods were initially eddy current and ultrasonic testing. Eddy current testing was applied to exchanger tubes and ultrasonic testing was applied to thickness measurement, weld examination and defect sizing. Successful technicians were retested every three years. This programme was very effective and well supported and continues to this day.

The next addition to the performance demonstration was the American Petroleum Institute (API). Around the year 2000, API added an angle beam shear wave weld examination and an ultrasonic crack sizing qualification. Note that there was not an ultrasonic thickness qualification requirement. For many years, there was little interest from the refiners or the NDT community and the failure rate was high. Eventually, the API made certification through the API performance examination mandatory and added phased array ultrasonics to detection and sizing. The original oil company was allowed to be exceptional and continue with its own qualification process still free of charge, while the API system required a fee.

Failure rates in the performance demonstrations were high and the pool of certificated inspectors was, and still is, very small.

Three years ago, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) took an interest in central certification as defined by ISO 9712 and EN 473, now combined as EN ISO 9712-12. They are adapting the existing ASNT Central Certification Programme (ACCP) to match up with and be acceptable as an alternative to ISO 9712. So, now we have an additional performance demonstration programme with industry sectors through ASNT.

But wait, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has created a programme called ANDE. The new ASME Nondestructive Examination (ANDE) programme certificates proficiency in knowledge, skills and performance for NDE personnel. Initially, ANDE will focus on the nuclear industry throughout the USA and internationally and it will expand to include non-nuclear NDE and quality control (QC) inspection. The nuclear industry was the instigator for all performance demonstration to identify technicians capable of detecting cracking in stainless steel welds.

Recent research involving Lavender’s Tim Armitt has led to the development of better technology for the detection of high-temperature hydrogen cracking. Previous techniques have been shown to be ineffective and API is moving to include the new techniques in the appropriate standards. This will lead to additional performance demonstration requirements.

So, if it sounds like alphabet soup, it is and it creates an ongoing requirement for more training and more expense, including travel and per diems. Whether it creates a better quality of technician or provides more credibility in the inspection product is hard to tell. It does create a scarcity of available NDT technicians who have met the myriad of performance demonstration requirements.

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