NDT Technician/Specialist

The Job and What's Involved

Non-destructive testing (NDT) technicians/specialists test structures and components for flaws that could affect their safety or effectiveness. The testing processes do not damage the structure or object being tested.

By identifying problems at an early stage, NDT technicians and specialists play an important role in preventing accidents, as well as breakdowns and failures that could cause costly delays.

NDT is used in a wide range of industries. Some examples of NDT applications include:

  • Checking the welds and casings of pipelines used in the petrochemical industry for cracks that could cause leaks.
  • Checking the engine components and structure of aircraft for flaws which could pose safety risks.
  • Checking corrosion levels on the cabling of suspension bridges.

NDT technicians and specialists use a range of techniques, depending on the object or material they are testing. These include:

  • Looking at the surfaces of objects.
  • Industrial radiography - using gamma rays or x-rays to make images of objects and show up any flaws.
  • Ultrasonic testing to examine welds or inspect the thickness of objects such as pressure vessels, pipelines, storage tanks, bridge structures and ship hulls.
  • Magnetic particle inspection (MPI), where a magnetic field is used to test for flaws on or near the surface of ferromagnetic materials.
  • Thermal imaging - used to find defects in concrete and other building materials.
  • Eddy current inspection - used to inspect airframes, rails, tubes and wheels as well as heat exchangers for petrochemical or power generation.
  • Using liquid dye to show up faults.
  • Vibration testing - used to test helicopters and other machinery.

Working in NDT also involves:

  • Understanding the materials to be tested, how they are made, and how they are affected by factors such as age and use.
  • Assessing the seriousness of a flaw, predicting whether it will get worse and how quickly, determining whether it is likely to occur in similar objects and deciding whether to withdraw those objects from use.
  • Co-operating with designers and production staff to make sure objects can be tested and monitored satisfactorily and easily.
  • Presenting findings in written reports.

NDT technicians/specialists usually work between 35 and 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Additional hours and overtime may be required.

Depending on the area in which they specialise, NDT technicians/specialists may be based in offices, laboratories or manufacturing environments. Some travel in the UK and overseas may be involved in some jobs.

Some techniques used in NDT are potentially hazardous so it is essential that people working in this field follow health and safety procedures and wear appropriate protective clothing.

Starting salaries for NDT technicians may be around £16,000 a year. Working overtime and shifts can increase salaries significantly.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

About 30,000 people work in NDT in the UK. They are employed in many different industries including construction, construction engineering, building services, electronics, shipbuilding, aerospace, power generation, petrochemicals, railways, electronics, and vehicle and consumer goods manufacture. They may also work with engineering consultancies, providing advice on materials technology.

Opportunities are more common in areas with engineering and construction activity. There is currently a shortage of trained NDT personnel in the UK and overseas, with more vacancies than applicants.

Vacancies are advertised on the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing website, www.bindt.org, and in its publications, Insight and NDT News. There are also adverts in NDT Cabin (www.ndtcabin.com).

Education and Training

NDT technicians and specialists can start at a number of different levels.

Many people begin at technician level through Apprenticeships. Employers usually look for apprentices with four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths and science or technology.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

It is also possible to start work as a trainee technician after a full-time engineering course at college. Suitable courses include BTEC national certificates or diplomas, or SQA national certificate group awards.

A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.

Many NDT specialists are graduates. Relevant degree subjects include materials engineering, materials science, materials technology, metallurgy, polymer science, aerospace engineering, biomaterials, and sports and materials science.

For a degree course, applicants usually need at least two or three A levels/three or four H grades, normally including maths and a science subject, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. However, requirements vary, and candidates are advised to check with individual universities and colleges.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

NDT is a very closely regulated activity and it is increasingly important for people working in the field to demonstrate their skills and competence. A number of certification schemes are available, including the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing's (BINDT) Personnel Certification in NDT (known as PCN). Candidates must successfully complete a PCN-approved course of structured training. This involves attending training sessions at a PCN-approved training establishment and achieving a satisfactory assessment. Trainees then go on to take the PCN level 1 or level 2 examination.

For PCN certificates to remain valid, candidates must meet certain conditions. They must have an annual eye test, continue to practise in their area of competence and keep to a code of ethics. Technicians/specialists involved in industrial radiography must also have valid PCN basic radiation safety certification (or an alternative acceptable to PCN).

Career options are wider for people who gain professional status. For technicians this involves applying for engineering technician registration with the Engineering Council UK. If successful, they gain the letters Eng Tech after their name. Specialists should aim to become either an incorporated engineer or a chartered engineer. For more information visit www.engc.org.uk or www.bindt.org.

Students on a Foundation degree follow a combined work-based, classroom and distance-learning programme. They can gain both academic and vocational qualifications while in paid employment.

After four years, successful students from the Foundation degree will also qualify to register as an engineering technician. They may then choose to progress to an honours degree in NDT (which can also be studied by distance learning), a Masters degree and registration as a chartered or incorporated engineer, and an engineering PhD.

Ideas and technologies change rapidly, so NDT technicians and specialists must commit to Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An NDT technician/specialist should:

  • Be good at science, maths and IT.
  • Have excellent problem-solving skills.
  • Have a thorough approach to testing and recording.
  • Have good organisational skills.
  • Have good communication skills, and be able to explain processes and findings to people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
  • Understand the properties of materials, manufacturing processes and construction methods.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative.
  • For some jobs, be able to supervise other people.

Your Long Term Prospects

An NDT technician may progress to senior technician, or move into purchasing, sales or management. With further experience and qualifications, it may be possible to become a specialist.

Many UK-trained technicians spend time on overseas projects. PCN-qualified technicians in particular are in high demand.

Specialists may be promoted to senior positions with more responsibility.

Get Further Information

The British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT),
1 Spencer Parade, Northampton NN1 5AA
Tel: 01604 630124
Website: www.bindt.org

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER
Tel: 020 7240 7891
Website: www.engc.org.uk

Engineering and Technology Board (ETB)
Website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3),
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
Website: www.iom3.org

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way,
Stevenage SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313311
Website: www.theiet.org

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and
Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford,
Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

The Welding Institute (TWI),
Granta Park, Great Abington,
Cambridge CB21 6AL
Tel: 01223 899000
Website: www.twi.co.uk

Women's Engineering Society (WES),
The IET, Michael Faraday House,
Six Hills Way, Stevenage,
Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 765506
Website: www.wes.org.uk

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