A fade-proof approach

eading has always been my favourite pastime. I like nothing more than to lose myself in a good book, be it fiction or non-fiction. Often, I will have more than one on the go at any one time. And it isn’t limited to books; magazines, articles, web pages or blogs are equally devoured. As you will no doubt have seen in the news, 2015 brings the 100th anniversary of Ladybird books. I was brought up on these books and they obviously played a big part in instilling my enjoyment of reading. It is fascinating to see how the books have changed over the years. The Ladybird website relates that in an early ABC Picture Book, the item listed under A was an armoured train! A recent newspaper article on the books and their illustrators describes the People at Work series of books, which included The Shipbuilder and The Miner. Maybe we should be pushing for a modern version of ‘The NDT Operator’.

I have an e-reader and enjoy the benefits that it brings: the portability and the ability to carry any number of volumes around with me. But paper will always be my favourite because books can be that bit more than just a sequence of words. As mentioned, the Ladybird books are famous for their illustrations. The binding and book cover add to the book experience, as do borders and drop caps. The latter two have fallen out of everyday use, but can brighten up a page and be items of beauty in their own right. Penguin has brought out a series of books based on drop caps and, in their introduction, they define what they are – the first letter of a word designed and set larger than the rest of the text in order to highlight the start of a new paragraph, chapter or even a new idea – and where they have been most used – in early and sacred texts, in editions of classical literature and in children’s books. 

The intricate drop caps used in old manuscripts were drawn with inks using dyes and pigments and special care needs to be taken to slow up the fading of the colours with time. This problem also affects modern paints and we are all familiar with the way that sunlight causes colours to fade. A recent newspaper article reported on research that examined the way butterfly wings and beetle shells retain their colour and iridescence even over millions of years. Pigments work by absorbing light of particular wavelengths and reflecting back the remaining wavelengths, which give the colour. The butterfly wings and beetle shells, on the other hand, are transparent but are covered in tiny three-dimensional structures that refract and reflect the light to give the particular colours. Such a mechanism doesn’t deteriorate with time. 

This poses the question: how can we look at the NDT business model in a different light? In the current model, NDT is often seen as a reluctant purchase. The benefits to the manufacture and management of plant are often not appreciated and NDT is grudgingly applied to show compliance with safety regulations. This, in turn, often means that the price of NDT is continually under particular pressure which, whilst it encourages competition, can over a long term have a negative impact on quality and the industry as a whole. Whilst innovation is continuously applied to NDT techniques and equipment, little innovation has been applied to the business model. 

What ideas do you have to change how we sell NDT so we can have a more robust industry in the future? How do we come up with the equivalent to the butterfly wing and beetle shell alternative to dyes and pigments? I do not have any particular innovation in mind, but in the spirit of stimulating the discussion here are a few brainstorming outputs:
  • I have mentioned before about linking capability evidence to the use of a procedure, i.e. a company can only use a procedure if it has the evidence to support its application.
  • There is a minimum price for NDT based on the cost of qualifications and experience/training required.
  • Or, as we are short of young newcomers to the industry, the price has a levy, which is used to develop new recruits. 
  • Do we need to have more regulation so that in addition to personnel being qualified, companies need to meet minimum requirements?
  • Can we link the purchase of NDT into carbon credits?
  • Can we link NDT into the performance of a piece of plant and get a performance-related contribution?
Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of Amec Foster Wheeler or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Newton Building, St George’s Avenue, Northampton NN2 6JB. Fax: 01604 89 3861; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@amec.com

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