Changing the NDT offering

I recently went out and bought a new pair of running shoes. This is no easy task. There is a myriad of factors to be considered: what type of running do you do?; what mileage?; are you an overpronater, underpronater or neutral?; what brand do you want?; what is your price bracket? Of course, you can answer all these questions and then find that the selected shoe doesn’t fit you. So, the path of minimum effort is to buy the same shoe as you bought last time. If you can! The rate of product change appears to be greater than the time it takes me to wear out my shoes.

The previous time I bought running shoes, I adopted some radical changes. The shoes were coloured bright blue. Something of a giant leap from the usual beige/grey models I usually don to go out in public. They also had a new lacing system; a change to the standard laces I had used in every type of shoe I had ever owned and worn for the past xx years. You could say that I went out on a limb in buying them! (Sorry.) I have to report that they were the best running shoes I have had. Evidently, bright blue trainers are the podiatry equivalent of red trousers: you can’t be miserable once you have put them on. What’s more, the new lacing system ensured that the shoe fitted the foot snugly. It may be cold and wet, the body may be complaining and the watch may insist on showing how slow I have run, but all these disappointments fade when I look at my shoes. Imagine how I felt when, on my latest shopping trip, I discovered that the juggernaut of change had gone over the pinnacle and down the other side. The new replacement model has the same lacing system but the colour is more a teal – back to the beige/grey old-age hues! – with a shiny green go-faster stripe. 

My emotional response to the change in my running shoes was brought into context by the characters in my favourite TV programme: The Big Bang Theory. In response to Sheldon’s comment that he dislikes change, Leonard compares two instances and asks how come that change was good and the other change was bad? Well, change can be good, bad or indifferent, depending on how we perceive the cost and the benefit. Conventional wisdom has it that people generally don’t like change: we are reluctant to change our bank and our energy supplier. But look at how quickly people are to adopt the latest technology, be it smart phones, TVs or the latest social media, when they can see and derive an immediate benefit. 

The NDT profession has to change. The KTN report highlighted that the current way of doing things is putting barriers in the way of growth. So, we need to be thinking about and deciding what change would be good, what change may be bad and what change would not make much difference. The simple way to break the profession up is to consider products, services and techniques separately, but you generally can’t have one without another or even the other two. So, to start with, let us consider the barrier that is the long time it takes to get techniques and equipment accepted and into mainstream use. This presents a bit of a conundrum because it has been suggested that this could be speeded up if technique and equipment details were freely disseminated. On the other hand, companies already find that they can spend time and money developing new equipment, only for it to be replicated better and cheaper by others without the company passing out any details. 

Other industry sectors have been implementing ‘Open Innovation’ in order to cut down the cost of in-house research and development and accelerate development. Nokia, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, Google, Apple and MySpace all practice some form of open innovation. Open innovation uses ideas and knowledge from outside the company to speed up internal innovation and the deliberate outflow of the company’s knowledge to expand the markets by creating a sustainable network of customers and developers. As with all initiatives, open innovation has its benefits, described above, and its drawbacks, namely the possibility of revealing too much information and the loss of competitive advantage as a consequence. It also requires organisational changes to implement it successfully.

Some of the characteristics of open innovation can be seen in the RCNDE and, to some extent, in the roadshows that a group of NDT companies put on a number of years ago. Open innovation in some guise may be a possible way of reducing the time it takes to get techniques and equipment accepted and into mainstream use. How can you see it working?
The ultimate prize would be the development of the NDT equivalent of red trousers and blue running shoes, which would improve human reliability in one fell swoop!

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 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: 

or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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