What has changed in seventeen years?

I gazed wistfully out of the window. Even I would have been a better player on grass like that. It was of a quality never seen on the pitches of my youth. On some of them, any grass was a bonus. I remember being pleased when an opposing school’s pitch had grass in the centre circle in the middle of winter. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever played on a cricket pitch with such quality grass. As a youngster, the only opportunity would have been to play on a bowling green, which of course we never did.

The pitch I was observing was in the stadium referred to as the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. Although I do not support the team that calls it home, I am old enough to remember occasions when it realised dreams for the team that I do support. But in February, when I was attending the second day of the conference on Structural Integrity Design and Validation Technologies organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), it lived up to its name, but not quite in the way that gave rise to it. As evidenced above, there was the nostalgic revival of boyhood dreams as I first gazed down on the pitch. Then, during the tea and lunch breaks, there was the discombobulating dream of how nice it would be for NDT to be given just a fraction of the investment highlighted in the vista from the window.

During the presentations, we heard how the ubiquitous pressure on costs impacts the ability to conduct NDT: often only the bare minimum NDT is conducted; windows in which to conduct the NDT are constrained and infrequent; and perfectly good plant is often shut down if a defect is found in a component because it is not worth the cost in time and money for the repair. In the electricity supply industry the pressures are due to the low wholesale price of electricity. Contrast these restrictions with the financial environment represented by the lush green grass, which is now tinged yellow by the vast array of lights that are positioned to help encourage growth in the shadows caused by the surrounding stands. Unseen is the under pitch heating, which was keeping the snow and ice away on this particularly wintry February day.

This mismatch between the investment that impacts NDT and the investment input to leisure activities is not new. Many years ago, a colleague took his family to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

On his return, he bemoaned the fact that the computing power available to drive the Disney World exhibits was way in excess of that at our disposal to support the construction and maintenance of industrial plant. At around the same time as my colleague’s sojourn into the world of cartoons, I gave the first of many presentations on the PANI projects, which highlighted issues impacting the application of NDT. I am saddened to report that, 17 years later, my presentation at the current conference included some of the same slides, which remain applicable. Limited progress has been made but what is the answer? What more can we, as a profession, do to improve the situation?

A number of suggestions were raised during the discussions, but there was no consensus on key actions to implement.

We are living in a period of rapid technological change. Looking back at the presentations I gave at the start of my career, the display technology was overhead acetate sheets or, with sufficient preparation time, photographic slides. 17 years ago, laptops were connected to projectors, which is still the principle used today, with maybe television screens replacing the white screen. Similar change in small increments is observed in the actual format of presentations. The bullet points and images of acetate sheets are replaced by the bullet points, clip art and images of PowerPoint. Animations are now relatively easy to implement and videos are easy to embed and run. Apart from these differences, the format of presentations has changed very little.

The biggest impact of technology has been in the audience. In the past, the presenter always had to observe the odd one or two of the audience nodding off and others reading or writing, which may or may not have been about the talk being given. Now, the presenter has to talk over the tops of the audience’s laptops, notebooks, tablets and phones. Who is to say any of the audience are listening? They can take photographs of any slides of interest and then go back to diminishing the flurry of emails that have arrived since leaving home that morning.

All of this technology distracts the audience from exchanging ideas, having a discussion and thinking creatively, which is what conferences and seminars are supposed to be for. This is a big challenge to presenters: how do you capture the audience’s attention? What devices can you employ to communicate your message and spur them into action when they leave?

Lots to think about while you try to integrate those Easter eggs into your beach body diet.

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 Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX.
Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@woodplc.com

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