NDT thoughts, from abroad

Looking back on my school days, one of the things I am grateful for was the requirement to study a variety of subjects up to O-Level, as it was in old money, or GCSE in today’s parlance. In the course of these studies, I was exposed to knowledge and ideas that I would not otherwise have been exposed to if I had been left to make my own choices. This was particularly evident in English Literature, where the novel we were to study was changed, at the last minute, from the more conventional choice (for a boys’ school) of To Kill a Mockingbird to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In poetry, I was lucky enough to study the poems of Robert Browning. I can still recite some of the poems we analysed. I remember, particularly, the cadence of How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, which mimics the rhythm of galloping and enhances the communication of speed.

One of Browning’s poems was familiar to me before I embarked on my O-Level course. My mum would regularly recite: “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there, and whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware…”. I didn’t often stick around long enough to hear the rest, but I can still remember the words. Of course, Browning’s Home Thoughts, From Abroad, was written before global warming, when England was a nice place to be in spring and summer! Having recently been abroad for a week, specifically to get away from the English weather, to dry out, feel some warmth and generally have a rest, it is not surprising that I didn’t relapse into nostalgic thoughts of home. I was also able to disconnect and forget about work. And yet, NDT came to mind a number of times! Well, I would not have stuck with it for this long if I didn’t get some enjoyment out of it. So, here goes: NDT thoughts, from abroad. With apologies to Robert Browning.

The best time of day was early morning. The sun had yet to fully come up. Not many people were around. The wind was raising ruffles on the surface of the sea and in the entrance to the marina shoals of fish were swimming around. Occasionally, a fish would break the surface and concentric rings of ripples would expand out from the source. Contemplating this scene, I clearly saw the analogy of trying to detect a coherent signal (the rings) in the presence of random noise (the wind-generated ruffles) with a number of NDT techniques.

As an old man, I like my nature to be natural and see modern man’s efforts to manipulate it to his liking as misplaced. So, I can’t understand why you would want to cover the sand with luxurious four poster beds with curtains or block out the noise of the waves with monotonous bump, bump, bump music! What is wrong with Abba? Ha, only joking! Anyway, early in the morning this little somewhat out-of-place scene on the beach is quiet and deserted, except for the man who is swinging a metal detector from side to side in an effort to find any treasure that has been left behind. Immediately, my NDT brain clicks into gear. Does he know what he wants to detect? Does he know the capabilities of the detector? Is there a technical justification for metal detectors? Is his side-to-side sweep, coupled with his forward steps, giving him the required coverage? Or is it the equivalent of a lazy W scan pattern?

The great benefit of a holiday is having undisturbed time to read. One of the books I completed was entitled The Soul of the Octopus. When reading that three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are in their arms, outside of their brain, that they can have over a thousand suckers on their arms that are capable of generating large lifting forces and that their suction cups are equipped with chemoreceptors, I couldn’t help but think: “What could NDT learn from the octopus?” Strathclyde University has already used biomimicry to inform NDT developments. The obvious example is the echo-location mechanism in bats, but there are likely to be many non-obvious ideas still to be derived from the natural world.

Before going on holiday, a ‘new to the UK market’ sun protection cream had been recommended to me. After four days in bright sunshine, I reported back that my feet were still as white as a sheet. I then realised that this phrase no longer has the impact it once had. How many sheets are white? Certainly not the majority. “Horses for courses” is a long-standing phrase used to describe the selection of appropriate NDT techniques. What modern phrases will be adopted? Something to do with apps on a mobile?

In the past, I have tried unsuccessfully to get you in touch with your artistic sides and generate examples of NDT art. Whilst on your holidays this year, maybe you could unleash your inner Browning and produce an NDT poem. I’ll give you a start: “Oh, to be on (insert name of plant) now that the outage is there…”

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.mcgrathfw@amec.com

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