NDT technician certification under scrutiny

I am planning to attend the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) Fall Conference, which is being held in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, this month. This will include a track on codes and standards, where I will make a presentation on behalf of the ASNT Standards Council. There will be a report on the conference in my subsequent submission.

As I have previously mentioned, the technician certification programme most utilised in the USA is based on SNT-TC-1A, which is a written practice and not a standard. It is an employer-based programme.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and the enforcement of its requirements.

The American Standards for Mechanical Engineering and the NRC had issues with the SNT-TC-1A written practice and created a separate certification process for testing non-destructive personnel in the nuclear industry. It was called ANDE-1, ASME Nondestructive Testing Examination and Quality Control Qualification and Certification Standard and was presented by Michael Turnbill, Chair of the ANDE Committee.

Michael stated: “The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has developed and is implementing a non-destructive examination (NDE) and quality control (QC) personnel qualification and certification programme (ANDE). In keeping with ASME development of codes and standards, the NDE programme will be assembled by industry experts and administered centrally by ASME. A new ASME standard (ANDE-1) was approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as the core of the programme and will be based upon industry best practices.”

My experience with the application of SNT-TC-1A is that it was designed to be flexible and meet the entire spectrum of NDT users and providers. Its effectiveness depends on the ethical application by its users.

The September 2022 issue of Materials Evaluation featured an article, titled: ‘Combating unethical certification examination practices’, which quoted Kristoffer Lance, an NDE Level III with Virgin Galactic. His comments mirror my observations over the past 50 years. I have included some of his comments and I recommend reading the full content of the interview:
  • If ASNT Q&A questions are used for a question bank, alter the questions to be different from the published questions.
  • Use training software and tools to generate a randomly selected bank from a large pool of questions.
  • Use a security programme that prevents candidates from taking screenshots of the questions.
  • For specific examinations, use essay questions with references required from the specifications.
  • For practical examinations, approve a variety of test-pieces with different configurations. Do not give the same parts to all individuals. Permit no phones, no photos and no ‘googling’.

Kristoffer has observed a large amount of cheating in his previous work experiences and pressure from management to meet passing goals and not report cheating behaviour. Whistleblowers are often regarded as a nuisance. The certification programme cannot be pressured by the needs of production.

My observation is that smaller companies do not have the facilities for a large bank of questions or a large inventory of test samples, which leads to repetitive questions and similar test-pieces.

The API became aware of these issues and created a programme in association with ASNT, called ISQ UTT, in June 2019. At present, it is limited to ultrasonic thickness measurement, but there are plans to expand to flaw detection and phased array inspection methods. An interesting statistic, shown below, gives the results of testing to date:
  • 37% – Passing grades for candidates taking the examination for the first time.
  • 42% – Passing grades for candidates retaking the examination.
  • 39% – Passing grades for all candidates.

The USA appears to be inching towards a fully fledged central certification programme. Perhaps, even in my lifetime. There will, of course, be resistance from companies using the current programmes, which meet their specific needs but fail to provide the reassurance of competent inspections. 

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