NDE 4.0 Podcast Transcript
Episode 8 –How Infrastructure Safety will Improve With NDE 4.0 Tech — Marybeth Miceli, Executive Director of the Nondestructive Testing Management Association (NDTMA)
Nasrin Azari: [00:00:00] Welcome to the NDE 4.0 Podcast, where we ask five questions for an NDE or NDT expert. This is the show for NDT and industrial inspection professionals, where we dig into the big questions about NDE inspections and digital transformation. Every episode we ask an NDT expert five questions that can help you do your job better.
Today we are honored to be speaking with Marybeth Miceli. Marybeth is the co-founder of the We-NDT marketing network, a business consulting firm, which also publishes NDTnow.com. Ms. Macelli is also the president and founder of the Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, a company she founded in 2010 to help owners and emerging SHM and NDT technology providers work together to solve some of the biggest challenges in civil infrastructure.
Additionally, Marybeth has recently been appointed as the executive director of the Nondestructive Testing Management Association (NDTMA) Marybeth has over 25 years of experience in NDT and structural health monitoring. She has a chartered engineer and a material science engineer with experience in NDE research, technology, commercialization, failure analysis, field assessments, and quality assurance.
She’s worked on projects, such as fatigue analysis of the George Washington Bridge, the New York Mets baseball stadium (Shea Stadium), and a condition assessment of the Empire State Building antenna, as well as various bridges around the world. Marybeth is on the U.S. Federal Highway NDT Research Working Group and the National Academy of Sciences Field Testing of Bridges Committee.
So with an incredible resume and a long history of experience, welcome Marybeth to Floodlight Software’s NDE 4.0 Podcast series and thank you for participating in our program.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:02:00] Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Nasrin Azari: [00:02:03] Great, so as our podcast poses five questions for an NDE 4.0 expert, and we focus those questions on the specific expertise of our guests, Marybeth you have extensive experience and infrastructure monitoring and assessment. You often help companies set their high-level strategies and help them improve the effectiveness of their operations. I’d like to start today with a general question so that our audience can better understand your expertise. So question number one for you is, what types of infrastructure require NDT inspections, and what emerging and to eat for Datto technologies do you think are most relevant for ensuring the safety of that infrastructure?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:02:45] So in my company, we mainly work on bridges, but we’ve worked on stadiums and other infrastructure. We mainly work on bridges. And for bridges, only visual inspection is required every other year, unless it’s a special bridge that’s fatigued, critical, or scour critical structure, then we have some NDT that’s required.
In particular for bridges, access is an issue. And so you have to send crews out to do an inspection within arm’s length. And so for bridges, utilization of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) and robotics has become increasingly important to augment live crews and increase the efficiency of these inspections.
Because many inspections have to happen every year, and we have less and less funding for bridges, we’ve also seen, in terms of more automated and AI and some structural health monitoring. We’ve seen some vehicular mounted, non-contact methods being utilized more often now. And so those are like ground-penetrating radar or infrared thermography, and even LIDAR (light detecting and ranging).
There are some companies that are utilizing LIDAR and GPR on drones or UAS. And, so I think there’s a lot more acceptance now seeing that, there are such challenges with. Accessing bridges and civil infrastructure that we are starting to see more and more acceptance of these, UAS and robotic systems, on the structures.
Additionally, I am looking towards a future, which is what do we do in our company all the time. And I, I could see a place for something like autonomous vehicles and mounting, nondestructive testing. Equipment on autonomous vehicles and being able to utilize those, to capture data on a regular basis.
If you can imagine if every autonomous vehicle had some stuff sort of LIDAR already on it, and you could monitor it, the condition of roadways and bridges. The surface conditions on a regular basis with a data dump every time they get near some sort of data node, I think it would be very cool to be able to utilize an automated system like that.
Nasrin Azari: [00:05:12] That’s a cool idea. So what do you think about the cost difference between how we’re doing things today and how we might be doing things in the future?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:05:21] So with bridges, it’s going to come down to regulations. So currently, as I mentioned, they’re only required to be inspected visually every other year and that could occur from the side of the bridge with binoculars. So we’re comparing high tech, really in-depth analysis, with what is a very rudimentary inspection currently. In fact, for most bridge decks, they’re still dragging chains across the bridge deck in order to listen for delamination.
And then on the other side, you’ve got groups that are doing GPR and infrared thermography and doing data fusion in order to really analyze properly where the laminations are, where they’re occurring, and the depth of the deck, and how to do the maintenance on these areas more effectively. As the equipment gets less and less expensive, as it gets more accepted into the industry, and there are more people doing it, the price will come down and at some point, you’ll have to look at the full life cycle cost analysis of asset management and whether making the right fix at the right time in a more pointed manner outweighs the old school drag a chain across and marked with spray paint.
So we’re not there yet in the infrastructure world, unfortunately. But that’s, we’re trying to get to, and that’s why we do a lot of technology transfer from aerospace, nuclear, and oil and gas into the bridge industry, because, once a technology has already been proven in another industry, it makes it easier to transfer it into the bridge industry.
Nasrin Azari: [00:07:11] Yeah, that makes sense. And just one final, quick question, before we move on to the next topic, and that is, you’ve mentioned how bridges are inspected today. Visually, through binoculars once every other year, do you think that’s enough?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:07:29] That’s a complicated question. I think that bridges have a very high tolerance for deterioration. And, before failure, you almost always have to have a perfect storm of a situation to get something like the I-35 West collapse. However, when you are starting to look at a full asset management system and seeing how you’re spending the public’s money on it. When you look at the life cycle cost analysis, that making the right fix at the right time, utilizing technology to do that, whether that’s through sensors and structural health monitoring, to look at the deterioration of the structure or whether that’s using advanced nondestructive testing methods in order to pinpoint better where maintenance needs to occur.
You start to see that you are being a better fiduciary of the public funding, public tax money by utilizing technology versus, utilizing this visual inspection, which is, fairly outdated. if you think about going to a doctor. And the doctor looks at you and you say, I have a pain right here, and the doctor just looks at you and goes, I don’t see anything wrong.
So I guess everything’s fine versus doing diagnostics tests. It’s you start to realize that it’s a little bit ridiculous that we treat our infrastructure that was built, 50, 60, 70 years ago like that.
Nasrin Azari: [00:09:05] Yeah. Interesting. Okay, let’s, move on to the second topic for you. One of the common fears I often hear about when discussing NDE 4.0 is the fear that these technological advances are going to eliminate jobs that humans are performing today. So for question two, how do you see roles changing as companies adopt advanced technologies, such as automation and robotics, and what advice would you give to NDT practitioners that might be worried about their own future opportunities?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:09:39] So when I think about NDT 4.0, I like to take a step in the middle, right?
Where’s the bridge from where we are now to the future. And so when we look at, what has happened over the last 10 years with let’s look at, phased array. The phased array equipment now guides you through the setup and does a lot of the setup on different screens, right? You just make a couple of different choices and it does the setup for you. So the technician is doing less of that setup work, and more of the productivity of the actual inspection. And I think that’s important to keep in mind. The technician is now going to be doing a little more of the brain work, a little more of the where are the problems that we need to look at with the robotics, with the automated systems.
What kinds of problems are we looking for? And when I get data back, that indicates a problem in a certain area. What does that mean? How do I need to examine this further? Is it a problem with the inspection? It is the system or is it a problem with the component? So I think technicians who are trained in different NDT methods are still going to have a role with these automated systems with these robotic systems, but their decision making is going to be at a higher level.
So that is going to require some upskilling, some training on robotics, but really all of that training that they’ve had about where to look for problems. What are the problems that you could possibly see on a weld? All of that is going to be more important than the actual method of doing the test.
So it’s going to involve more decision-making, which is going to make them more valuable because you can’t just have somebody who runs robots. Doing an inspection because they don’t understand the physics of the method itself or the component or how that component is used in the overall structure or system and what a failure in that area might mean for the overall system.
So I think there’s going to be a change in roles, which also means a change in training for them. And if people are worried about that … There’s a great guy on LinkedIn and I can’t remember his name, but he talks about how he was an NDT technician and that over the last couple of years, he really focused on becoming a pilot for UAS unmanned aircraft systems.
And he talks about how much fun that has been for him, how it’s reinvigorated his career. And because he has both skills, he’s much more valuable to a services company or to an asset owner and can demand more money. So NDT is one of those things where one of those careers where you are always learning something new and to be able to learn something new and then demand more money for it.
I think it’s a win for everybody, but I think as soon as you stop learning almost in any career, but really an NDT, you’re no longer growing and life is more exciting I think when we’re all growing and learning more.
Nasrin Azari: [00:13:14] Yeah, and as you mentioned, learning NDT is already pretty technical learning. So it almost seems to learn some of these autonomous systems, like you mentioned learning how to man a drone or UAS or something like that is really almost a natural extension to what they’re doing today. So I think that makes a lot of sense.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:13:46] I think it’ll make the inspections themselves, again, more productive. So you’re spending less time doing more of the grunt work and more time doing sort of the high-level inspection. And you can get it done more quickly. Which again is more valuable for the company and especially for Level IIIs who own their own company, that should be particularly attractive to them.
Nasrin Azari: [00:14:14] Yeah. So do you see that we could begin to be doing more inspections then down the road?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:14:23] Yes. And I think that the trend that we’ve seen where asset owners are requiring, lower rates. I think we’re going and to see a balance of saying, we can get more inspection done in a certain time because there’s only so low you can go with rates and everybody competing against each other, this is a way to bring more productivity and still maintain the hourly rates for technicians.
Nasrin Azari: [00:14:54] So being able to basically justify the rates that you’re currently getting.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:14:59] Exactly.
Nasrin Azari: [00:15:00] Yeah. Okay. Let’s move to question number three for you, which is a topic that’s heavy on everyone’s minds these days, COVID-19. So what do you see as the immediate and lasting effects of COVID-19 on the NDT industry?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:15:18] This is a really great question because, as of our recording this, tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM my time, I will be speaking to the British Institute of Nondestructive Testing as the President’s Honor Lecture specifically about this.
So what are the changes that we see from COVID-19 on the NDT industry and what are the lasting changes that are going to happen? And I think in general, what we’re going to see. So for so long, we have valued efficiency, right? Lower rates, more productivity. And I think that we are going to see a shift, a more balanced approach now where we’re going to see more of an emphasis on resiliency.
So people are going to now be able to justify investments into robotic systems or digitization, anything that lends itself to being able to maintain throughput or being able to execute a business continuity plan in the face of something like a pandemic or a natural disaster or a manmade disaster.
So people will be able to really push ahead with technological advances. And we’ve seen this over time throughout the history of NDT. So World War II really pushed radiography out there. The Arms race and the Space race, they really pushed UT and ET into the forefront and help them develop technologically.
But we are going to see this investment in robotic systems, automated systems, training of our personnel, right? There was a tendency for a little while people didn’t want to train their personnel because they would train them and then they would fear that they would leave. But now there’s no choice.
If we are moving in this direction with increased technological advancements, we have to train our people in order to be able to execute properly. And ultimately that’s going to lead to more efficiency of the company, but we will be able to justify those expenditures in order to increase the resiliency of the company and to be able to survive a time like COVID.
Nasrin Azari: [00:17:38] Yeah. Yeah. Do you think that the effects say of COVID, have been harder or more impactful on some types of organizations than others?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:17:49] Definitely. I think that companies that were already moving in the direction of automation, digitization, robotics, even some working remotely, I think once. We had limitations on workers that could get onsite -outside workers – once we had, conditions where we had to have split shifts, companies that had robotics and automation already approved as part of their processes could maintain their throughput near-normal levels.
Whereas companies that did not have these already in place, that did not have their processes already improved, suddenly they were well behind. On some of these automated systems that are older. You’ve got companies that are still running like Windows 98 and Windows 2000 because those were the approved processes and they didn’t want to have to invest the money to get those reapproved as part of their automation system.
And so now they’re going to, and suddenly you can’t access that with the internet, you can’t, there’s all sorts of IT and other security issues. So people are now going to really have to do that investment and the ones that had already taken a little bit of time and money to do those investments, they were well ahead of everybody else during this time.
Nasrin Azari: [00:19:22] Yeah, we’ve heard the same thing. I’ve talked to quite a few NDT companies over the last several months and some of them have commented that either their challenges that they’ve run across, their customers that have been demanding that they limit that the number of people that they have on-site, for example, and for some company that’s been a big challenge because they just weren’t prepared for it.
Whereas other companies, we’re better prepared and handling that shift a little bit easier, just due to the way they’ve been operating their businesses. So it is really interesting. It’s almost like a silver lining in the COVID cloud to me is this, like you mentioned this as well, a greater acceptance of technology and how important it is for the future, even though in a lot of cases, it might be too late to offset the costs that we’re dealing with today, there’s going to be some something else that happens down the road. And I think we’re seeing that companies are more accepting of the fact that geez if I make these investments today, I’m going to be better prepared for whatever occurs tomorrow.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:20:34] For sure. And we are going to see more volatile times. We just had a webinar on that, with NDTMA and the ASNT about how we are going to see more volatility just in our lives with different, disasters and pandemics. And certainly, if you think about pre-COVID, you had this smaller group of people that were talking about NDT 4.0 and Industry 4.0.
And those were like the thought leaders and in emerging technologies. And now, it’s much more accepted already just talking about it more and more. Obviously on your podcast, but elsewhere throughout the industry as well.
Yeah, I’ve definitely seen an uptick and of course, we’ve just recently gotten involved in this movement or this effort, to bring NDE 4.0 more awareness and just more discussion around it to help advance it. And it’s, we’re getting a lot of interest and also. So we’re seeing a lot of discussion outside of our podcast as well, which is really nice. So it’s I’m excited about that because it’s, it’s a big reason to why we put it together in the first place, so it’s great to see.
Nasrin Azari: [00:21:47] So let’s move into our question four today, which has to do with industry differences to adopting NDE 4.0 technologies. What makes it more challenging for some industries to adopt NDE 4.0 than others.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:22:03] I think if you look at industries that were already starting to use automation, that we’re already starting to use, robotics, aerospace, aviation, manufacturing, these are areas where you have repeatable components being manufactured, repeatable inspections.
For the most part known loading. so if you compare that to bridges where you’ve got many different designs of bridges, you’ve got many different environmental conditions, whether it’s corrosive environments or, you’ve got various loads, whether it’s truly overloaded trucks or seismic loading, or you have so many different variables that utilizing robotics on a bridge would be much more difficult.
And the robotics would have to be much more customized for the structures or a region of structures that you wanted to implement this on. And so from a standpoint of economics, it would be much more difficult. To justify the expenditure that would be necessary, to accomplish this in a way that would be meaningful to an inspection versus with aerospace, manufacturing.
You’ve got a lot of known conditions and your variables are much less and your variables will help you see the defects or indications more clearly.
Nasrin Azari: [00:23:44] Yeah. That makes sense. So that areas, the industries where there are more repeatable processes and maybe the defects are more expected, maybe there’s an expected way that certain equipment or components degrade over time. And so you know what you’re looking for ahead of time. It makes it a little bit easier.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:24:15] Predictability and failure mechanisms are huge. And to be able to know where to look and be able to design for that, because, the robots are only as good as the programming.
And so if you’re programming has a lot of variables, you’re going to get less and less precision and accuracy.
Nasrin Azari: [00:24:34] And certainly when we talk about, analytics and AI and machine learning, that’s also the case. And you need a lot of data about consistent use cases in order to generate an algorithm that’s going to, that’s going to predictably provide correct results, right?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:24:53] Exactly.
Nasrin Azari: [00:24:53] Yeah. Interesting. Okay. So let’s move to our final question today, which is how can the industry work together and most effectively to speed up the adoption of these critically emerging technologies and what do you see as the biggest barriers and how do you recommend that we break them down?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:25:15] So this is a really good question. This is basically what I’ve spent my entire career working on. Technology at this point is advancing so quickly. If you look at the last 30 years, even 30 years ago, compared to 20 years ago compared to 10 years ago, compared to now, it’s like lightspeed.
We are pushing ahead from a technology standpoint so quickly and as we discussed in the last question, it’s all about standardization. It’s about how do you use this technology on a consistent basis? We saw it in the 1970s with infrared thermography. People oversold it to asset owners and because the technology had not yet been standardized in terms of usage.
You had all sorts of people out there using the technology who maybe didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t know how to interpret the results. And ultimately the technology itself got a bad reputation for being unreliable. In the last 20, 30 years, people have developed standardized, these are the types of conditions that affect the results that you get with infrared thermography. And if you don’t have a clear understanding of that, you will not get good results. And so the work done by Glen Washer and others in the field has really helped that technology be more accepted into the industry and into the various sectors, which is super important.
So you’ve got the standardization. In terms of ASTM standards has to keep up with technological advancement. And from that, you then have to have standards that keep up with the technology and the sort of ASTM standards of how to use the method. And then beyond that, then the training needs to keep up with the certification, which needs to keep up with the method.
So you’ve got all these pieces that have to fit together in order to get the technology accepted on a widespread basis. Because otherwise, you have people who maybe don’t understand all of the physics of the technology or don’t understand exactly how to execute the method and are not certified. And suddenly the technology is bad. So we all need to work to get there in order to develop these standards and specifications that will allow for consistent usage of a method in order to determine what that probability of detection is. What is the probability that we’re going to be able to avoid failure with this type of technology? Where are the downfalls? Where are the potential pitfalls? Is it certification? Is it the use of the method? Is it training? Is it up-skilling? And we all need to come together in order to push the technology forward. And that’s really hard because a lot of these groups, ASTM, ASNT, a lot of them are dependent on volunteers and the volunteers only have so much time.
They’re only, usually on a normal basis. They’re only meeting once or twice a year. Now they have, it’s much more acceptable to do a zoom meeting and talk about standards and certifications.
But I don’t see how volunteers work is going to keep up with the technology that’s emerging so quickly. And we might come to a point where are these bodies that are going to be making money off of selling standards or selling certification schemes to various companies.
We might get to a point where they have to pay their volunteers in order to develop these standards and specifications in a more timely manner.
Nasrin Azari: [00:29:27] Yeah, I’ve talked to a few other NDE experts and I’ve heard the same thing from a couple of other folks I’ve talked to that standardization is really important.
And without it, it’s going to be very difficult to advance as an industry. And, just as I was here listening to you talk it’s really just a lot of coordination between a lot of different people and a lot of different bodies. Do you think that there are many organizations that benefit from not standardizing? I can definitely see the benefits of standardization, but whenever there’s pushback, it’s generally because, is there somebody that’s getting shut out of the process, are there any, what are the sort of aside from. the amount of work. And as you mentioned, a lot of the volunteers are putting effort into an attempt to create these standards.
And it’s really a lot of work and it’s a lot of coordination aside from that, the effort piece, do you see any other barriers? Like people that people or organizations that actually don’t want it to happen because it doesn’t benefit them.
Marybeth Miceli: [00:30:39] I think you will see that, a little bit with the technology manufacturers, right? If you’ve got a proprietary technology, sometimes you don’t want it standardized because that way you’re giving up some of your IP to potential competitors. So that’s the first group, then there are the asset owners and you might think what, why wouldn’t the asset owners want it, but if they have a method that’s more.
Effective that can increase their efficiency, and they can get then gain an edge on their competition. there’s a little bit of that goal. It goes on as well. Oil and gas, they’re pretty good at collaborating. They’ve got this group that vets new technologies and they all put money into it and it’s such a good model of how things should be done.
And so I think there will always be people who don’t want to standardize because they will lose their competitive edge. But when we’re talking about safety and saving people’s lives or preventing some sort of disaster, you just can’t do that. That’s not what NDTers do. So hopefully that will not be a barrier moving forward.
Nasrin Azari: [00:31:56] Yeah. Hopefully, that will win out, right?
Marybeth Miceli: [00:31:59] Yes.
Nasrin Azari: [00:32:01] Great. Thank you so much, Marybeth. We have certainly learned a lot about NDT for infrastructure and just in general today. So thank you, Mary Beth, for sharing your experience with us today. And thanks also to you listeners out there for tuning into this episode of the NDE 4.0 Podcast
To connect with Marybeth, we’ve got our contact information on our podcast page so check it out. Thanks again, everyone for tuning in today, and we’ll see you next time.
For more expert views on NDT, subscribe to the Floodlight Software blog at https://floodlightsoftware.com.