As the field of nondestructive testing (NDT) becomes increasingly sophisticated and utilized in a wide variety of industries, the need for NDT professionals is steadily rising. Highly skilled technicians are in demand, and the potential for growth within the field is greatest for individuals with specialized training in specific NDT methods.
Phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) is a particularly lucrative specialization, due to the technique’s ability to examine virtually any material and deliver accurate results.
NDT professionals who are certified in PAUT are able to identify current and potential flaws in equipment and machinery, decreasing the likelihood of pricey emergency repairs and/or inoperability.
What is phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT)?
Adapted from the complex principles of wave physics, the terms “phase” and “array” in PAUT refer to timing and multiple elements, respectively.
As one of the most advanced and complex methods of nondestructive testing, PAUT involves high-tech probes made up of multiple elements that are stimulated individually via computer. This technology generates multidimensional views, which enables inspectors to identify details of any detected flaws, including location and size.
NDT technicians are able to utilize PAUT techniques to evaluate welds and other manufactured materials that are difficult or impossible to inspect using traditional, less complex NDT methods. This technique is an excellent way to detect cracks and other problems, especially in instances where space is limited.
While non-phased array testing requires a traditional probe that must be manually adjusted to move the beam through the area being inspected, phased array testing can be calibrated electronically with no need for manual adjustment of the probe.
PAUT inspection, explained
When conducting PAUT inspections, NDT technicians utilize flaw inspection software to conduct comprehensive, multi-faceted tests from various angles.
In addition to flaw analysis, inspectors may provide input on structural assessments, along with extensive evaluations to ensure machinery and other structures are fit for service. By conducting these thorough testing methods, inspectors are able to compile accurate, detailed information that can be used to identify mechanical flaws.
PAUT inspections are used within a multitude of industries, including automotive, aerospace, pipeline construction, nuclear power, and manufacturing, among many others.
Phased array testing methods come with many advantages, including the ability to electronically control beam size, focal point, and angle to produce focal, linear, or sectorial beams.
Phased array testing methods are often performed when time is of the essence, as it’s incredibly quick when compared to traditional NDT methods. In fact, a PAUT inspection can be conducted in less than one second.
In addition to providing fast results, phased array testing is user-friendly and doesn’t expose inspectors and other workers to radiation. That isn’t the case with some alternative testing options, such as radiography. This lack of harmful exposure enables inspections to take place while equipment is in use, allowing for optimal production.
Make a career out of phased array NDT jobs
A combination of formal education and on-the-job training is key when building a successful career in the field of phased array ultrasonic testing. Additionally, employers often look for specific traits and abilities, which are highlighted below:
The majority of positions in the PAUT speciality require level II or level III NDT certification. In many cases, employers prefer applicants with formal training/and or a certificate in PAUT.
Individuals interested in earning certification from a credit-based program can find degree and certificate options available through traditional colleges and online programs.
For instance, Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota offers on-campus and online certificate programs.
Additional options include Chuck Hellier’s NDT Classroom, where students can complete a level II phased array training course within a 60-day period. The school also offers a 3-part refresher course for PAUT professionals in need of a comprehensive review.
On the job training is also a significant part of a PAUT-certified engineer’s education. Most PAUT programs and certifications require at least 40-45 hours of OTJ training to become certified at Level II or beyond.
While requirements and preferences for eligibility may vary by company and position, employers often look for individuals with the following qualifications, skills, and experience:
- Basic computer skills, including knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel, and the ability to learn various software programs
- Math and analytical skills
- Reading comprehension skills
- Excellent verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills
- Active listening skills
- Networking skills
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Strong organizational skills
- The ability to follow verbal and written directions
- Mechanically inclined
- Excellent attention to detail
- Active learning skills
- Highly motivated with a strong work ethic
- The ability to work calmly under pressure
- Optimal physical condition in order to perform daily job-related activities, such as prolonged standing or sitting, frequent bending, climbing, lifting, pulling and pushing, climbing, twisting, and carrying heavy equipment, sometimes up to 50lbs
- Excellent vision, including color vision, and depth perception
- The ability to work independently and as part of a team
- The ability to work in a fast-paced environment
- Familiarity with industry codes and standards
- Specific certification(s) depending on the position
- The ability to perform inspection duties in various locations
- The ability to identify flaws in equipment and recommend repairs
- The ability to conduct tests, interpret and share results
- Experience with specific testing methods and/or the willingness to learn new methods
- The ability to calibrate, operate, and maintain equipment
- The ability to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines
- Reliability and dependability
- Excellent safety awareness
- The ability and willingness to stay up-to-date on procedures and safety regulations
- The ability to train others on procedures and safety regulations
- Managerial skills
- The ability to develop new processes and procedures
- The ability to prepare reports with speed and accuracy
- The willingness to complete continuing education requirements and earn additional certifications
- The ability to pass an initial drug screen and federal background check, as well as possible random drug screens
- The ability and willingness to work 12+ hours per day
- The ability and willingness to work mandatory overtime, as needed
- Flexibility in schedule, including the willingness to work varying shifts, evenings, and weekends
- The willingness to wear any required protective gear
- A clean driving record, valid license, and reliable transportation
- The ability and willingness to travel, including possible overnight, prolonged, and/or out of state or international travel
- The ability to climb ladders and work at various heights
- The ability to work both inside and outside in varying temperatures and weather conditions
- The ability to work in confined spaces
- The willingness to work in close proximity to hazardous materials and in poorly ventilated areas
- Perform comprehensive inspections utilizing advanced PAUT equipment
- Review and interpret diagrams and drawings
- Determine and communicate effective inspection techniques
- Train team members on an ongoing basis
- Set-up, calibrate, and maintain equipment
- Perform various NDT tests
- Prepare reports and other required documentation
- Perform additional duties outside the scope of the job description, as needed
Salary and benefits
It’s not uncommon for individuals with higher levels of certification to make over $100,000 annually. Level III technicians across all industries make an average of nearly $127,000 per year. Salary may increase with factors such as specialized training (such as PAUT), experience, and longevity.
In addition to great pay, the vast majority of full-time NDT positions come with excellent benefits. According to a 2018 salary survey published by pqntd.com, 99% of level II NDT professionals are offered a 401K plan and paid vacation time, and 98% of employers provide health insurance.
Career growth potential
Although a newly certified level I NDT technician is unlikely to land a PAUT position, with on-the-job experience and additional training, an individual can advance his or her career rather quickly.
The potential for growth within the NDT field and PAUT speciality is promising, thanks to the many industries that rely on nondestructive testing. A technician may start out in the automotive field as an NDT assistant and move onto a level II and level III position in the nuclear power or aerospace industry. The possibilities for advancement are virtually limitless.