More time to ponder

A New Year! The Christmas holidays are over and our thoughts now turn to the future. New Year’s resolutions set goals to motivate us to change, hopefully for the best, be it in our health and fitness, family and relationships, career or personal development and hobbies. If the advertising industry is to be believed, then we will also be planning our holidays for the year ahead. Those of you who have older children may be planning for exams and possibly helping them to decide on the career they wish to pursue through the selection of options, apprenticeships or universities and university courses. Most of our planning is aimed at the current year and possibly a few years beyond that.

It is a similar picture in industry. The short-term view of the stock market focuses planning on the next few years. Recent history has shown us how quickly conditions change and how difficult it is to predict the near future, never mind the medium- and long-term future. 18 months ago, with the publication of the Knowledge Transfer Network document: ‘A landscape for the future of NDT in the UK economy’, we were looking forward to a bright future for NDT. Then the price of oil fell, China’s economy slowed and suddenly the immediate future was no longer bright but rather gloomy. In the UK, the steel industry is shrinking, manufacturing is reducing, infrastructure projects have been delayed, nuclear new-build has been put on hold and coal-fired power stations are to be closed.

What will happen in 2016? The answer is difficult to find and potentially a bit depressing. Which is why, in December, I gave you the much more interesting and enjoyable challenge of predicting what will be in Insight in another 30 years in 2045. How did you do? Have you made any predictions? If so, you need to send them in, so that they can be put down in the NDT News archives for the future generation of NDT professionals, who are currently at primary school or yet to be born, to read, laugh at and be amazed at your prescience.

Of course, if I could predict what would be the key NDT technologies to be written about in 30 years time, I would not be sitting here sharing them with you. So, I will take a brief look at what others have said about the future trends and relate them to our discipline. Being optimistic, it is likely that there will be newly-built reactors requiring NDT and some may even be new designs with new materials, which demand new NDT techniques to be applied, or even existing techniques to be applied in a different manner.

A recent book, reviewed in the national newspapers, predicts that the knowledge revolution will make the professions redundant. If we apply the author’s premise to NDT, then technology will replace the experts (both practitioners and engineers) with robotics, smart equipment, which needs less knowledge to operate, and knowledge bases, which would allow ‘odd signals’ to be rapidly compared with previously-recorded signals from defects. Insight would then just need to comprise the products section.

If the NDT professional is still around in 30 years, then they may have been genetically altered to enhance their skills! Genetic engineers have pioneered a technique that allows them to modify any DNA sequence in a genome. This means there may be the potential to allow humans to see in ultraviolet: could this enhance their ability for MPI and dye penetrant inspection? publishes a Hype Cycle for emerging technologies. If you plot the expectations for the technologies against time, then they go through a number of periods, if they don’t fail prematurely: Innovation trigger → peak of inflated expectations → trough of disillusionment → slope of enlightenment → plateau of productivity. In 2014, the following technologies were in the innovation trigger period and were predicted to reach the plateau in more than 10 years, and in 2015 they were still on the rise: bioacoustic sensing; brain-computer interface; human augmentation; quantum computing; and volumetric and holographic displays.

All these technologies could impact NDT. Bioacoustics is a combination of biology and acoustics, which includes ultrasound and vibration. The main application is medical but, as the main physical principles are also used in NDT, it could be an area into which the NDT profession could expand. A brain-computer interface is a device that enables communication without movement: people can communicate via thought alone. Maybe you can think of how it could be implemented in NDT, but an example given on the website: is for ‘monitoring brain activity during prolonged demanding tasks, such as driving a car and detecting lapses of attention, which alerts the person and restores attention’. Replace ‘driving’ with ‘applying NDT’. The use of the BCI in this way is also an example of human augmentation, which is the enhancement of human performance through technology, be that the alteration of genes, use of hearing aids to translate invisible electromagnetic fields into sounds or changes in diet to improve night vision (see Quantum computers are likely to speed up calculations, whilst the use of volumetric and holographic displays will obviously be applicable to the analysis of the large datasets we currently generate in NDT.

I wish you all a happy 2016.

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: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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