The importance of non-destructive testing

Planes do not fly, trains do not run and power stations cease operation, meaning we have no means of generating the electricity we need – in short, the modern world as we know it grinds to a halt. This is not a post-apocalyptic nightmare but what would happen if we had no non-destructive safety testing to measure the health of these safety critical structures. Non-destructive testing (NDT) uses ultrasonic, electromagnetic or thermal methods to probe the interior of structures and find any defects that might be growing. The fact that structures age, and if left unchecked ultimately fail catastrophically is something we don’t like to consider. When we switch on the kettle for a well-earned cup of tea we expect the electricity to flow and the water to boil. When we happily fly away on our holidays we expect the plane to stay intact. Look closer and you will see, that behind these safety critical structures there is a team of engineers whose job it is to ensure their structural safety. And, underpinning this is a further team of research scientists and engineers working to improve these measurement techniques and develop new ones. You might not even know these people exist, yet in many ways they keep the modern world ticking.

Increasingly, structures such as power stations are used beyond their design lives. New materials and advanced technology are introduced, which means structures are steadily increasing in complexity – think here of the unimaginable complexity of a modern jet airliner. Alongside these advances, pressures grow for operation around the clock, 365 days a year. Yet, understandably, modern society will not tolerate any failure that leads to injury or loss of life. To keep up with these changes and to prove that these new structures are safe, the performance of non-destructive testing has to also continually improve. This all happens because researchers, industry, government and regulators work closely together to first invest in the right research, then to see these developments through to commercial reality and finally to ensure that they are properly implemented across the whole of industry.  So, we should not take the safety of the modern world for granted and should recognise the importance of the field of non-destructive testing.

Non-destructive testing video made for the 2017 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

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