Technological errors

Last month, I examined things that cause sports people to make mistakes: the impact of fatigue and psychological factors on fine motor skills, poor outcomes as a result of degraded decision-making ability and the physical and mental impact of time pressures and other sources of stress. In the intervening month, these descriptions have been validated. In field events, we have observed athletes failing to implement their throwing or jumping techniques despite many years of training. When these mistakes are repeated, more often than not there is an underlying cause beyond simple human error. Under pressure, self-imposed or from other competitors, athletes visibly tense up and lose speed or precision. Of course, tiredness or fatigue has a similar effect. Factor in the environment, by way of a home crowd, and it has been seen to spur athletes on to perform well or, alternatively, to become over-excited and not quite achieve their potential.

If you remove the glamour of crowds, television and medals, the same influences have been observed in the performance of NDT. Stress from the environment (access restrictions, heat, radiation), from the organisation (time constraints, long hours) and from individuals’ physical and mental factors plays a significant part in the application of NDT, both manual and automated. If we can observe it in sports, do we take enough time to consider it in our profession?

Another random link between athletics and NDT that came to mind occurred during a long jump competition. As with most parts of life, technology is being increasingly applied to replace manual activities. So it was out with the strip of plasticine on the long-jump take-off board and in with an electronic sensing system. It all seemed to be working well until one athlete queried her jump being ruled a foul. A video replay did show the electronic system to be correct: the tip of her shoe did protrude slightly over the end of the take-off board. However, under the old system, the tip would not have touched the plasticine strip and the jump would have been valid.

So, changes in technology can influence results. Sound familiar? It is likely that the BINDT conference will be taking place when you read this. The demise of the plasticine strip had me reminiscing about the days when we had to prepare acetate sheets for conference presentations on an overhead projector. Although modern technology has opened up new avenues of communication and allowed presentations to be more readily produced, the fundamental steps of planning and preparation are still required. The use of acetate sheets imposed this discipline up front and to a greater extent than today’s technology.

I have often written about the pros and cons of new technology. I have selected a few relevant examples, modified slightly to stand alone in the absence of their original context:
  • Are we being driven by or are we making the effort to manipulate the technology to meet the needs of the NDT profession?
  • It is important that the adoption of technology is driven by good design, derived from understanding users’ needs; improvements do not need to be earth shattering, but can be both simple and incremental.
  • Users’ needs go well beyond the short term. Without detailed consideration, we run the risk of storing up difficulties that will only surface in the future. NDT data is often part of the lifetime records for plant that will operate for tens of years. It is imperative to be able to have continued access to this data.
  • It is important to change the processes we use in order to harvest the potential benefits of technology. We have made much less progress in adapting behaviours and processes to take full advantage of increases in knowledge and of new technology.
  • The concomitant challenge for us all is not to focus only on using technology simply to improve existing processes, but to seek out the technology that allows us to change our processes, possibly radically, in ways that will benefit the NDT business.

It is how we use technology that determines whether it is a force for good or bad. I am sure that you can all think of examples where a particular technology is not being used to its full potential. 

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. Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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