Judith Mair

Our interviewee for this instalment of People in NDE is Judith Mair, an NDT Manufacturing Laboratory Technologist at Rolls-Royce plc, who began her career as an award-winning apprentice…

Briefly describe your current role
I am an NDT Manufacturing Laboratory Technologist at the Compressor Rotor Facility (Rolls-Royce) where we manufacture linear friction weld blisks and inertia welded components. I work alongside the Controlling Level 3, technically controlling the binocular, penetrant and eddy current inspections. The role includes inspector training, controlling technical documentation and production support. I particularly enjoy continuous improvement projects.

What education or training route did you follow?
I left school in Scotland aged 18 with Highers (A Levels) in English and physics and Advanced Highers (A2 Levels) in graphic communication, maths, biology and chemistry. I then completed the NDT pathway of the Rolls-Royce Specialist Science Apprenticeship. During these three years (2014-2017) I completed the EN 4179 Level 2 and 3 theory courses and exams in penetrant, magnetic particle, digital radiography, ultrasonic and eddy current inspections. I am now qualified as Penetrant Level 3 and Eddy Current Level 2. As part of the apprenticeship I also completed an NVQ Level 2 in Engineering Technical Support and a Subsidiary Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering. I am currently studying part-time for a BEng degree in materials engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, funded by Rolls-Royce.

What other roles and jobs have you had in the past?
During my apprenticeship I completed various placements (three to five months each) in different NDT areas with Rolls-Royce, including new manufacture, repair and overhaul and the UK NDE Laboratory. Most of my time was spent on the shop floor, gaining practical NDT experience. This was a great opportunity to inspect a variety of components in different conditions and broadened my understanding of engineering in general. I also helped to develop techniques for in-service inspection and undertook a few research projects. The wider engineering skills gained at the Rolls-Royce training academy complemented all of this invaluable experience.

What would you consider to be your biggest NDE career achievements and challenges to date?
Over the last year I have been researching eddy current arrays for sub-millimetre crack detection on complex geometries, as a continuous improvement project. For this, I travelled out to the USA alone to conduct trials with one supplier. I have completed characterisation trials of three different types of arrays. This knowledge will be shared to improve inspection processes throughout the company, including replacement of penetrant inspections. The challenges along the way are mainly understanding the skills I need and juggling the work with production demands. My biggest achievement is winning the SEMTA 2018 Apprentice of the Year and Best of British Engineering awards in London – this was unexpected, especially the Best of British Engineering. I feel I just go to work, do my best at the job I love and try to share this passion with youngsters at STEM events. I do not like the limelight, but it has led on to other awards, for example the EFNDT Travel Award, which enabled me to attend the recent European Conference on NDT in Sweden.

What do you think are the pressing challenges for the NDE industry?
The continuous development of new materials combined with more complex applications is always pushing the limits of what NDT is expected to achieve. This is a big challenge, but I believe it is also a great opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and data analysis tools and to create more advanced inspection solutions. Other challenges include the ageing NDT workforce, which is why I think apprenticeships are brilliant opportunities to develop a more diverse workforce with the required skills.

What changes, if any, do you foresee for NDE in the future?
I believe inspections will become more robotically controlled, with increasingly automated defect recognition. This will change the roles and skillsets of NDT engineers and inspectors, but as inspections become more data-rich, it will enable further predictive planning and optimisation of inspections and manufacturing or maintenance processes. The use of different methods will also change, for example higher proportions of ultrasonic and eddy current inspections at the expense of penetrant and magnetic particle techniques. One goal is closer collaboration between design teams and NDT engineers to ensure components are designed to be NDT-friendly and to enable more efficient development of the necessary tools.

What is your involvement with NDE societies such as BINDT?
I recently upgraded from an Affiliate to Associate member of BINDT. I have been a member of the BINDT Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group since 2016, helping the Institute complete the RAEng Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework and other initiatives. I also attended the East Midland Branch meetings, which are a great way to learn about new techniques and what is happening in other sectors.

How would you describe NDE/NDT to someone who knows little or nothing about it?
When speaking to students at STEM events, I tend to describe it as testing and evaluating materials and components for any defects without damaging them so that they can still be used. I refer to ultrasound of unborn babies, X-rays of broken bones and infrared cameras to help the audience relate to some of the techniques. I also explain magnetic fields and their use in magnetic particle and eddy current inspections.

Outside NDE, what are your interests and hobbies?
I have always loved doing practical things and last year helped some friends get an MG Midget back on the road. My main outdoor hobbies are walking and cycling (the muddier the better!) and photography. To relax in the evening I often play guitar, which I sometimes play at my church.

Please get in touch if you have any recommendations for future interviewees or would like to be interviewed yourself. Contact the editor at ndtnews@bindt.org or email Maria Felice direct at mvfelice@gmail.com 

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