Career paths

Some people know from an early age what career path they want to pursue and they go on to achieve it. Others, like me, start out by switching between different options but then follow a general direction, which builds a career based on decisions and opportunities faced along the way. Back in the early 1980s, I worked alongside Dr Graeme Philp as we undertook our PhDs in instrumentation in the same laboratory at the University of Manchester. My PhD involved ultrasonics, which led me to a career in NDT. Graeme’s involved optics and he followed a different path.

On gaining his PhD, Graeme went on to lead a design and development team at ABB (formerly Kent Instruments), designing sensors and control and recording equipment and then, in 1991, he moved to MTL Instruments Group, becoming Chief Executive in 1995, a post he held for 13 years. After leaving MTL, he went on to become Chief Executive of GAMBICA, the association representing the instrumentation and automation industries, where he worked with government to help them understand the impact of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) and was one of the authors of the Made Smarter Review[1], which aimed to advise on the support necessary to ease UK industry into the era of AI, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT). He now holds the position of Non-Executive Director of Ionix Advanced Technologies Ltd, an NDT sensor company based in Huddersfield. Graeme kindly answered a few questions for this article.

How did you get into instrumentation and control?
It was a bit of an accident really. I knew that I wanted to study electronics at university and several local companies were offering student apprenticeships at that time, where they would help to provide some financial support during the degree and training during the (relatively long) university holidays. My parents had both worked at Kent Instruments in Luton and thought it was an enlightened and stable company, so I accepted an offer of a student apprenticeship there… and the rest, as they say, is history.

What developments do you see in the near future?
I think we are at the cusp of a very exciting period for sensors and measurement, where these will become absolutely central to the development of 5G, AI and the IoT. Paradoxically, however, I suspect that, rather as electronics is at the centre of our recent ‘computer age’ but is considered to be ‘yesterday’s technology’ by the general public and government (not by engineers and scientists, of course – they know its real value), the terms ‘sensors’ and ‘measurement’ will also not be as prominent as more nebulous terms such as ‘tech’ and ‘networks’. I think the new-found ubiquity of sensors will be due to four factors:
  • The relative cheapness of data storage and the ease of access to data networks (eventually from just about anywhere on the planet);
  • Improvements in battery technology and the increasing use of wireless networks, which makes installation simple and relatively inexpensive and encourages multiple measurements (even sensor ‘swarms’), as well as short-term deployments for fault finding;
  • The development of solid-state sensors, which are ‘good enough’ and cheap because they are made in high volumes for mobile phones and other IoT devices; and
  • The increasing use of multiple cheap sensors, each sensing a different parameter, the combined data of which is used to infer a measurement of something else. An example might be a fitness device that uses GPS, an accelerometer-based pedometer and a heart-rate monitor to infer fitness, sleep patterns, etc.

What impact do you see these having on NDT?
The increased use of capital assets way past their originally foreseen lifespans is driving a move from periodic spot-testing to more continuous monitoring of known defects, such as weld cracks, and chronic defects, such as corrosion. The combination of advances in battery technology with the improved access to affordable wireless networks is making this more viable and several plants in the UK, particularly those in the process and nuclear sectors, are already taking advantage of this opportunity. To rise to this challenge, a number of UK sensor companies are leading the world in sensor deployment systems and in sensor development, especially for the harsh environments and extreme temperatures often found in these applications. It is an exciting time to be in sensing and particularly in NDT.

We need to hold on to this hope to help us get through the current situation and to rebuild when we finally emerge. Keep safe.

1. J Maier, ‘Made Smarter Review’, 30 October 2017. Available at:

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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