Time to ponder on time

I’m spoilt for choice regarding the introduction of this month’s column, but the problem with choice is that the more options you have, the more difficult it is to make a selection. I could describe how recent events have led me to more reflection or how age is a contributory factor. Alternatively, there is the experience of greeting people and asking how they are. The answer to this question often depends on what day of the week it is asked and the nearer to the weekend, the brighter the response! This is a shame because the buzzword at the moment is ‘mindfulness’, which is about being alive in the present. Mindfulness was another option for leading into this month’s subject. However, I will fall back on the good old ‘Not long to Christmas now. The last one only seems like yesterday. Where has the year gone?’

Our lives are controlled by time: we have to be in certain places at certain times; we have to meet deadlines. We never seem to have enough time and yet, generally, we are not very good at making the most of the time we have. We tend to be poor at prioritising the use of our time and poor at estimating what can be achieved within a particular timespan. Finally, and possibly most importantly, success and failure can depend totally on timing – taking action at the right/wrong time or being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Unfortunately, the idea for this column came to me at the wrong time. It would have had a more topical resonance if I had written it two months earlier. But, as with many apparent timing constraints, it is not too late to act. Just after I submitted my last column, it was ‘Back to the Future’ day (21/10/2015) and the news was awash with items looking at the predictions made in the film and seeing how many had come to fruition. Flat screen televisions and video chat have been implemented, but we are still awaiting the self-tying trainers, true hoverboards and flying cars. This got me thinking that it would be interesting to go back to 1985 and see what the topics of concern were in NDT.

I dug out some copies of the British Journal of Non-Destructive Testing from this year and had a quick look through. The biggest visual difference is the lack of colour: it was good old black and white in 1985. Having said that, there are many articles that could do with being re-read today: in the January issue, the theoretical basics of ultrasonic propagation through austenitic steels was presented; in the July issue, there was a detailed analysis of the effects of common chemical cleaning agents on the fluorescence brilliance of penetrants, with lots of useful data for the practitioner; in the same issue, an article from Portsmouth Polytechnic described ‘Resolution studies on an electrically-focused ultrasonic array’; in the November issue, an aerospace paper on the role of NDT in relation to damage-tolerant aircraft design described the practicalities of qualifying simple and complex procedures, highlighting the need for follow-up action and specialised training. At the risk of turning this column into a 1985 index, it is also worth mentioning the paper on the performance of conventional ultrasonics and radiographic weld examination from the Nordtest results. The data presented in this paper could provide valuable input into today’s discussions on acceptance standards for ultrasonics as a replacement for radiography.

The similarities include the Institute news, trade and industry news and the conference report, as might be expected. Every issue in 1985 had two or three letters written by members and one from J Blitz shows how similar topics persist and views change: “…first degrees in specialised fields, such as NDT, are both educationally and professionally undesirable…”. These days, correspondence to Insight or NDT News, either by letter or email, is supplanted by posts on LinkedIn or Facebook. It is sad that technology, instead of providing facilitation and enhancement, has removed the need for ‘Symposium Scene’. The 1985 journals reported on four symposia, conducted between November 1984 and April 1985, covering offshore structures, aerospace components, real-time radiography and data acquisition techniques associated with automatic ultrasonic testing. Googling one of these topics may be quicker, easier and cheaper than attending an event, but Google results cannot provide the benefits that can be derived from talking to and questioning people who have worked with the subject.

The data acquisition symposium was reported on by a budding columnist who described ‘an appetising buffet’ (try getting one of those from Google!) and that 200-300 MB of data could be stored! In an egotistical moment, I showed the report to a young colleague who retorted that he wasn’t born then and asked whether we were really excited by the ability to display data on a colour monitor!

Over the forthcoming Christmas break maybe you could ponder on what kit you would like to see in the NDT Equipment Museum, suggested and initiated in May 1985, and what will be in Insight in another 30 years – in 2045.

I thank you for your support during this year and wish you and your families a happy and peaceful Christmas.

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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