Maximising the benefits of technology

There is a catchy song from a well-known film that encourages us to always look on the bright side of life. I facilitated a discussion at BINDT’s 2014 conference with the title: ‘The future for NDT is bright. Can we make it brighter?’ That bright future has yet to be realised and is still there on the horizon but, as I mentioned in August’s column, there is a lot of change happening, at all levels, which is obscuring whether the future will be bright or challenging. Having just returned from a wonderful and relaxing holiday, I am in a positive mood and willing to believe that new opportunities will present themselves. Although I would quite happily bore you with tales of my vacation, these would be better suited to some other periodical. However, to use a quotation from a more conventional poetic source than Monty Python, what use is a holiday if you ‘have no time to stop and stare’? And I did stop and stare and the resulting observations have led me to believe that there are a lot of small actions that we could apply to our existing operations and processes to contribute to that brighter future.

On the first leg of our journey, the plane was pulling up to the terminal when, suddenly, we came to a halt. The automated locating system had failed and we had to wait until a member of ground staff could be brought to guide us in the last five metres. We were under instruction to stay in our seats until the plane had completed its movements but there are always some passengers who know better! This was a common theme throughout the holiday: people who didn’t need to follow instructions. They were the ones who didn’t need to wait for the green light to cross the road, they didn’t need to pay attention to the safety briefing on the aeroplane nor stop their raucous conversation to listen to the public announcements about drills and alarms on the ship. One suspects that should they have suffered a mishap as a result, it would have been someone else’s fault.
The flight home had a few minor mishaps. We were told on boarding the plane that there would be no interactive map available to follow the journey: engineers (a term loosely banded about outside of the engineering profession) had been unable to solve the problem! I wondered how the pilot would know where he was going? But somehow he did and we arrived in time for the final leg of our journey, only to find it was delayed. Thunderstorms in the north west (rain in Manchester!) had delayed the plane arriving and then the delay in waiting for a take-off slot required a crew change and a further delay. The pilot did his best to keep us informed and came into the cabin to talk to passengers individually. This was evidence of good practice and good customer care but, unfortunately, until things had finally been resolved, the only message he was able to give was one of uncertainty: possible take-off times, which, when they were not realised, did little to allay the frustration.

Traffic lights provided further opportunities for observations and not just on the holiday. Where we were staying, the lights changed to green on one road immediately as they turned to red on the crossing road, leaving no time for cars turning to clear the junction. There are instances of this in the UK, as well as instances of no filters for turns and instances of lights holding up traffic when there are no vehicles crossing from the other road into the junction. In the past year, there has been much publicity about the imminent arrival of driverless cars. As shown above, we still haven’t been able to have a comprehensive rollout of stationary, intelligent traffic lights. On the railways, which only travel along a fixed path, we are having problems implementing driver-only trains, never mind driverless trains. This is despite the fact that the Vancouver SkyTrain was conceived as a legacy project of Expo 86 (over 30 years ago) and the first line was finished in time to showcase the fair’s theme: ‘Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch’.

I am not advocating that we stop having leaps of imagination and exploring how technology could be used to benefit us in the future. I just believe that we should not pursue this at the detriment of maximising the benefit of existing technological developments to our current equipment and operations. This demands not only technology but also changes to the processes we use, in order to harvest the potential benefits. So, not only should we ensure that we roll out the NDT equivalent to smart traffic lights, rather than putting all our resources into the NDT equivalent to driverless cars, but we should also ensure that we empower NDT personnel with the information to provide enhanced customer service and ensure we seek to implement processes that guarantee that important information is received and understood by the intended recipients. The question to answer is: ‘What have we not got sorted in NDT?’ Use NDT 2017 to explore answers, among both researchers and practitioners, and send suggestions to the editor.

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, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

Comments by members

This forum post has no comments, be the first to leave a comment.

Submit your comment

You need to log in to submit a Comment. Please click here to log in or register.

<< Back