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Using Cloud-Based Industrial Inspection Software to Digitalize Your Business

To meet shifting customer requirements while continuing to provide superior industrial inspection services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways in which providers run their business and provide service to customers are rapidly and necessarily evolving.

For industrial inspection providers, the business climate, both current and future, remains fraught with uncertainty. This is especially true for those that have inspectors or engineers performing work on assets and equipment on customer sites.

Indeed, the need for digitalization of inspection service delivery and management processes has never been more apparent. With low barriers of entry into new technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), remote sensing, advanced video inspection equipment, blockchain, and digital twins, the tools you need to make big changes are ready to be integrated into your business.

Moving too quickly and haphazardly deploying new technologies, however, is a recipe for failure. Without a single, digital system of record in place on the backend, customer data remains siloed and still requires manual steps to integrate, analyze, and output into customer reports.

To fully optimize your industrial inspection processes via digital transformation, both from a business and service delivery perspective, it is necessary to have a cloud-hosted digital platform on which to stand these technologies up.

Industrial inspection software, when delivered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, can effectively serve as this digital platform for companies that perform inspection services in industrial environments.

Cloud-based inspection software is scalable and is usually priced on a per-user basis, allowing you to easily add or remove employees or contractors on the fly. In fact, companies switching to cloud-based software on average see a 19.63% increase in company growth.

Cloud inspection software, as opposed to on-premise software, is by nature always available from a computer or mobile device. Therefore, your “uptime” is guaranteed, allowing you to perform critical inspections without worrying about potential IT issues and downtime. 

Because the software, data, and computing power is managed automatically in the cloud rather than on a company server, it is easily accessible by everyone across the organization. Also, with cloud-based inspection software, you can grant different types of permissions to your workforce based on their roles, giving them access to everything they need and nothing they do not.

Administrative efficiency is also a big benefit of cloud inspection software. It makes it easy to digitalize paper forms for capturing inspection results and data. Inspectors can capture data from a mobile device like a tablet or a smartphone, then push it directly into the software in real-time. This speeds up the process and eliminates the need for manual input of data when inspectors return to the office.

Data security is also a top priority for industrial inspection providers. With your customer’s data being stored in a secure cloud environment, it is much safer than being kept on a local computer hard drive or, even worse, paper forms in filing cabinets that could be compromised via theft or fire.

Cloud-based inspection software, especially if specifically designed for inspection management, can support key business functions, including:

  • Quoting / Costing
  • Scheduling and dispatch
  • Managing inspectors
  • Data collection from various inputs and technologies
  • Output engine for customer reports
  • Invoicing and payment management

Cloud-based inspection software allows better inspector utilization and time management, consistent and easy data capture, detailed job costing, real-time job status for your customers, and a streamlined billing process.

Learn more about Floodlight Software, cloud-based inspection software designed to digitalize industrial inspection business operations.

Why NDT and Inspection Businesses Should Use Drones

If your business is performing inspections and NDT on enterprise assets and infrastructure like pipelines, bridges, telecom and electrical towers, substations, hydro-electric dams or solar farms, using commercial drones for remote visual inspections is a service offering you should consider. Once simply a hobbyist pursuit, drone technology today has the ability to transform the ways in which businesses operate. 

Job safety for your inspectors is paramount. Using drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, allows NDT inspectors and engineers to examine large structures or even entire regions of assets (i.e. pipelines) quickly and safely while dramatically reducing costs and overhead. This is invaluable when inspecting structures that are large and in hard-to-reach or even hazardous environments made so by precarious heights, rugged terrain, hazardous environment, and remoteness.

With drone inspections, your customers get better, more up-close visual inspections and data on which to immediately act, mitigating risk, preventing accidents, outages and costly repairs.

As a result of the increased efficiencies, engineers are able to get large inspection jobs done quicker, provide inspection results and recommendations to the asset owner faster, then move on to other jobs. An NDT inspections provider in China was able to increase electrical pylon inspections from one to two per day to 10-20 per day. See the case study in this article, A Drone Pilot’s Guide to Surveying a Tower.

Also, commercial drones are relatively inexpensive. They range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the tech and features your NDT business requires.

As far as additional manpower or even fielding drone inspection teams, ideally you would use the inspectors and technicians that you currently have to fly the drones, capture images, video and data, and then analyze and make recommendations to the client.

All that is required of the inspector in charge of the flight is an FAA drone certification, which is not a rigorous or costly undertaking after revised rules on the commercial use of drones went into effect in 2018. This change in regulation, no longer requiring a full-fledged airplane pilot’s license, has freed up the opportunity for NDT businesses a cost-effective means of using drones in their operations.

In the ideal scenario, one inspector would pilot the drone while another operates the camera to record structural images and other asset data. Thermal imaging and 3D maps and modeling are also possible use cases. This presents less risk and is exponentially more efficient than performing the same work via rope access or helicopter, for example.

To reiterate, the cost-of-entry into providing drone inspections is low while the impact on both safety and your bottom line is evident. By employing drone inspections into your service portfolio, you will quickly see improved KPIs in the following areas:

  • Safety
  • Profit
  • Productivity
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer retention
  • Competitive advantage

It’s clear why drone inspections are becoming more prevalent in industries like oil and gas, power generation, utilities, telecom, and mechanical and civil engineering.

Providing enterprise-grade aerial intelligence is something that your customers will appreciate, as will your engineers and inspectors who are made safer as a result. See this article for more information: Drone technology uses and applications for commercial, industrial and military drones in 2020 and the future

To learn more about streamlining your NDT business through digital transformation, read our white paper.

Global Bridge Inspection Market Ripe for NDT Inspection Service Providers

According to a recent report from research firm Fact.MR, the global bridge inspection market is predicted to grow 400 percent over the next decade to a total capitalization of $6.3 billon.

The report said this massive growth is the result of an aging infrastructure, damaging environmental factors, and an increase in the amount of total traffic. All of these factors are contributing to the increased decay of concrete and steel over time, creating potential safety problems for the general public but does produce a financial opportunity for steel, concrete and specialized NDT inspection service providers to take advantage of the money that will be pouring into this market over the next 10 years.

Routine bridge inspections, which prevent more costly and potentially hazardous repairs and reconstruction later on, are expected to comprise 83 percent of the total market. Specialized NDT inspection testing and services will make up the rest.

According to a memo from the U.S. Dept. of Transportion’s Federal Highway Administration titled Risk-Based Interval Determination for Routine Bridge Inspections, bridge inspections include the following damage modes:

  • For steel elements: section loss, fatigue, and fracture.
  • For concrete elements: flexural cracking, shear cracking, and reinforcing steel corrosion.
  • For superstructure elements: seismic, overload, and vehicle/vessel impact
  • For substructure elements: seismic, scour, and settlement.

New technologies will play a role in creating new opportunities and new, faster, and more accurate bridge inspections, especially for NDT inspection service providers. The use of drones, specially-built inspection robots, virtual reality, advanced NDT techniques, and cloud-based software platforms will make bridge inspections safer and quicker, allowing companies to provide better bridge inspections at a higher profit margin.

According to the Fact.MR report, developing countries are especially in need of both routine and specialized bridge inspection services. In Japan for example, 48 percent of the bridges are more than half a century old. The report stated: “Developing economies such as China, India, South Africa, and Brazil have witnessed a spike in spending on the inspection and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The necessity to prevent bridge accidents is foreseen to support the growth of transportation over bridge inspection services. China has doubled the volume of infrastructure projects to stave off economic slowdown amid the trade war. India on the other hand has invested about $1.1 trillion on infrastructure for building new roads and rail links.”

Learn more about how cloud-based software be a digital platform for connecting various bridge inspection technologies and streamline NDT business processes.

How SaaS is Driving Digitalization in Inspection and NDT Services

With the wide variety of technology tools available today, inspection and NDT service companies have plenty of opportunities to improve and grow. From streamlining current operations to capitalize on new business, expanding service offerings and exploring new verticals, digitalization strategies like (SaaS) software-as-a-service, are on  radar. The benefits of digitalization are so promising, in fact, the IDC estimates that 40 percent of tech spending is earmarked for digital transformation, with enterprises spending more than $2 trillion in 2019. 

Digital transformation, especially for NDT and industrial inspection companies, can improve operational efficiency, bring faster and help to meet changing customer expectations.

It is important to remember that digital transformation is a process, not something that is finite or measurable with a number. Indeed, when referring to digital transformation via technology, no matter the industry, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. Namely, the difference between digitization and digitalization.

Put in layman’s terms, you digitize paper and forms; you digitalize a company and its ways of providing value to customers. Here’s how Gartner more precisely explains:

  • Digitization:  the process of changing from analog to digital form, also known as digital enablement. Digitization takes an analog process and changes it to a digital form without any different-in-kind changes to the process itself.
  • Digitalization:  the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.

Digitization is the easy part. Taking an NDT inspection form and converting it into an interactive PDF file is perhaps worthwhile but remains a small part of a much larger whole. 

Digitalization that truly transforms a business is the ultimate goal and therefore presents the greatest challenge. This sentiment is echoed in the fast-moving NDE 4.0 operating practice, which embraces enabling new technologies and uncovering new ways of providing value to customers.

NDT service businesses are by nature laser-focused on delivering world-class tests and inspection reports. To do it more profitably and improve competitive advantage, they are considering digital strategies and technology tools like artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) cyber physical systems, machine learning, remote monitoring, and advanced mobile tools.

However, without a digital platform in place to tie it all together, these technologies remain siloed data sources that require manual manipulation to integrate and analyze. This is where cloud-based software in a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model can provide tangible benefits and even serve as your NDT organization’s digital platform.

Due to the technical nature of NDT and industrial inspections and the range of potential data to be analyzed, many service providers are overwhelmed by disparate systems, a lack of integration, and multiple systems of record. A digital software platform designed for NDT businesses can alleviate these issues and provide better data and better data analytics.

As NDT and inspection business leaders are faced with the challenge of delivering flawless NDT / NDE inspections and then reporting to customers in formats they can understand and act on. In order to make processes easier and remove paper forms, many NDT businesses are turning to digitizing their paper forms. 

Although this is a quick fix that will lead to modest efficiencies, as explained above, simply digitizing data should not be the end game.

Being able to use the data and present it to customers is what really matters, and this is where SaaS software can help NDT businesses truly embrace digitalization, rather than just digitization. From providing competitive advantage to making NDT services safer, the benefits are unmatched for using SaaS as a digital platform.

Learn more about Floodlight Software, a SaaS digital platform for NDT and industrial inspection service businesses.

Digital Transformation for NDT Businesses at NDTMA Conference

Imagine if you could design your own software solution that could digitally transform the operational management of your inspection business.

A solution that takes all of your paper forms, your customer documents, your technician details, your equipment and consumable information including costs and rates and bundles them into an easy to use, task driven system. A solution that would allow you to connect with your customers to share project status and information. A solution that let’s you quote and create jobs, automatically dispatch the jobs with all required forms and reports directly to your technician’s laptop or mobile device. A solution where your technicians no longer need to capture their work on paper and waste time transferring the information to an Excel or Word form.

Would having a simple, easy to use and cost effect tool like this help take your business to the next level?

You don’t have to imagine such a solution any longer. It is available from Floodlight SoftwareCome by Booth 4 next week at the Nondestructive Testing Management Association Conference expo and see how our software was designed by NDT Operations Managers and Level III technicians to help you automate your inspection business.

We are looking forward to this great event put on by the NDTMA.

What is NDE 4.0 and Why is it Important?

There is a new and rapidly developing landscape in non-destructive evaluation (NDE) and nondestructive testing (NDT) called NDE 4.0. This movement toward digital transformation has the potential to drastically shift how NDE is performed in the field and how NDE / NDT businesses operate on a macro level.

To understand what NDE 4.0 is and why it’s important to both practitioners and business owners, it is first necessary to understand from where this phrase and operating practice originated.

NDE 4.0 is modeled after Industry 4.0, which has its roots in German manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is known as a subset of the fourth industrial revolution. At its essence, Industry 4.0 is the practice of automating manufacturing processes with technologies like machine learning, cyber physical systems (CPS), digital twins, the internet of things (iOT), cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI).

For example, Industry 4.0 smart factories rely on automated machines and sensors that are connected to computer systems, allowing them to collect data, learn from the data, and then finally make production decisions.

As a forward-looking twin sister of Industry 4.0, NDE 4.0 gets a great introduction and in-depth explanation from researchers at Iowa State University in a white paper titled “NDE 4.0—NDE for the 21st Century—The Internet of Things and Cyber Physical Systems will Revolutionize NDE.

The paper states that aspects of NDE 4.0 include: 3D volume data creation and management of large files, component live data files, management of big data, real time monitoring of structure integrity, reliable inspection of individual components, NDE planning and interpretation based on modelling, and remote NDE to include expertise not available on site.

According to the paper’s authors: “NDE has to follow these trends by not only adapting NDE techniques to the new technologies, but also introducing the capability of digital systems into the inspection and maintenance processes.”

Now, based on their levels of NDE 4.0 adoption, NDT companies can harness the power of digital transformation to become more valuable to customers, more efficient in their operations, and more competitive with others in the field.

Future NDE 4.0 platforms will integrate these advanced testing instruments into a single source of record, automate inspection operations practices, improve workforce recruitment and training, and provide better customer experiences.

To learn more about NDE 4.0, listen to the NDE 4.0 Podcast: 5 Questions for an NDE / NDT Expert.

To take a deeper dive into digital transformation for NDT / NDE, download our white paper: The Business Value of Digitizing Industrial Inspection Processes.

At Floodlight Software, we look forward to the maturation of NDE 4.0, as we help to create a practical roadmap to reality for NDE and NDT businesses, allowing them to become more profitable while better serving customers. Visit our product tour page to learn more about our cloud-based inspection management platform.

How NDT Management Software (SaaS) Is Making Pipeline Inspections Safer

There are roughly 3 million miles of pipelines distributing oil, natural gas, and other hazardous liquids across the United States. This dispersed network weaves across North America and grows in complexity depending on the geographical abundance or dearth of natural resources. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), this tangled web of steel and plastic is under-regulated and generally not safe. 

In the last decade, the gas and oil pipeline industry has fallen prey to an alarming loss of lives, injuries, and financial damages. Consider the following data compiled from 2009 through the end of 2018 by FracTracker, an industry reporting group. As a direct result of pipeline fires and explosions during this period, there were:

  • More than 5,500 incidents
  • Almost 600 injuries
  • 126 fatalities
  • $4 billion in damages
  • More than 30,000 people that needed to be evacuated

According to FracTracker, 1.7 pipeline incidents are reported each day in the U.S., requiring 9 people to be evacuated, and causing almost $1.3 million in property damage.

And to make matters worse, this data is not even close to being comprehensive. As reported by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), just 5 percent of gas gathering pipelines are subject to safety regulations. With the number of pipelines in the hundreds of thousands in oil fields across the country, gathering pipelines are largely unregulated. 

Clearly this situation is a major safety concern for the environment and the general public, but also for those on the frontlines servicing, inspecting and performing non-destructive tests on these potentially volatile assets. These modern-day heroes are out performing the work that can prevent accidents and save lives. 

Despite the critical nature of the work and high customer expectations, many NDT businesses still rely on manual processes for service delivery, both in the back-office and in the field. Paper forms are prevalent and create problems in getting accurate and timely information to customers.

With the recent innovations in data capture, including drones, sensors and barcode or RFID scanners, NDT businesses can now take advantage of a long list of technologies to help them serve customers better and keep pipelines safe. 

In light of the new technology that is popping up, software, long one of the easiest ways for businesses to streamline processes, has become almost an afterthought. Perhaps that is due to the siloed nature of business software, requiring integrations in order to interface with other software used in the business or by the NDT teams themselves. 

There are many types of highly specialized NDT software on the market today, each with unique value adds. Most are highly specialized and focus on the tests themselves, allowing an efficient way to both perform NDT and record the results.

Cloud based software subscriptions, or software as a service (SaaS), is also beginning to penetrate the NDT market, and for good reason. The ability to capture data from the field in real-time and push it into one system of record is invaluable.

In our work with NDT inspection companies, we have witnessed several ways in which NDT software can help you better serve your end customers. This will in turn prevent even more pipeline accidents, saving lives and irreparable environmental damage. 

Some of these improvements include:

  • Making field inspectors / testers safer
  • Making field inspectors / testers more productive
  • Enhanced collaboration
  • More accurate data capture
  • Better business decisions
  • Better communications with customers
  • Better customer service
  • More timely reporting
  • Always available data
  • Increased data security
  • Easy data access and recovery
  • Low administration and overhead
  • Low price point
  • Fast time to value
  • Reduced costs
  • Improved DSO
  • Improved time to cash

If you want to make your NDT inspections business better, safer, and more profitable, moving from manual, paper-based processes to one process of automation via software is crucial. To learn more about cloud-based NDT software for your business, visit our solutions page

Digital Transformation at the ASNT Annual Conference

We are only a few short weeks away from the ASNT Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a great forum for exchanging knowledge and learning about the latest advances in the NDT industry.

In addition to topics on test methodologies, techniques, and equipment, the idea of “digital transformation” will certainly be top of mind for companies looking to stay a step ahead of the competition.

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