In the U.S., ASNT is the primary organization for NDT personnel certification. They have published several guidelines and standards in regards to certification. The most common publication is the ASNT SNT-TC-1A. The document is a guideline that outlines the practices that a company should follow in regards to certifying and training their personnel. ASNT recognized that NDT companies are very dynamic and typically focused to a specific industry or inspection technique. It would be hard to write a standard that made a chiller inspection company follow the same practices as an aircraft inspection company. In response to this they have published the guidelines. Under all ASNT guidelines and practices, the employing company is responsible for the certification process. Even if the employee is examined and trained by outside agency the employing company must still certify the individual. SNT-TC-1A recommends that certain practices should be followed: such as there should be, at a minimum, 3 levels of certification: Level I, II, III. It also covers topics such as NDT instructor, Corporate Level III, etc. In order to properly use SNT-TC-1A the certifying company must implement a written practice. This written practice will be the procedure that the company follows when training, examining, and certifying their employees. This written practice is not a guideline, it’s a standard. A company should not deviate from this standard unless it is identified as so in the written practice. A reputable company’s written practice is quite elaborate and is directly in correlation with the Quality Assurance program. The written practice will provide very explicit details about the certification process. Details such as: how may test questions are on an exam, who is in control of those questions, how many exams a technician must take, who is qualified to administer exams, who qualified that person, how many hours of training and experience and candidate must have before being certified. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m not going to quote exactly what SNT-TC-1A states only because every few years they release a new edition, often times with substantial changes. But, the information I am providing generally covers each year’s edition or is at least in the ballpark of such. Additionally, I am only covering topics in relation to the Eddy Current method. Other NDT methods are covered in the documents but aren’t really relevant here: A level I is considered an entry-level technician. He/she can perform certain examinations, calibrations under the supervision of a Level II or Level III (as detailed in the written practice). This person should have received 40 hours of classroom training and over 525 hours of field experience in the method/technique they are being certified to. The Level II candidate should receive an additional 40 hours of classroom training, and an additional 1575 hours of field experience. This totals 80 classroom hours and 2100 experience hours for the Level II. Typically, it takes a Level I a few years to collect that many experience hours since this equates to almost 40 hours a week for year doing nothing but Eddy Current.
Level I and Level II candidates must also pass, at a minimum, three examinations: General, Specific, and Practical examinations. The General exam covers the fundamentals, applications, and theories of the NDT method. The Specific exam covers specific information about the company’s technical procedures (that applies to that NDT method). The Practical exam is a hands-on exam in which the certifying candidate must demonstrate their ability to perform the examination, identify flaws, report, calibrate, etc. These elements are defined by the Level of examination.
The Level I and Level II certification must re-certify every three years. At which point, the candidate must be re-examined just they were initially. They must also prove continuing proficiency in the NDT method.
The Level III candidate must have a minimum number of years (typically 10) in the NDT method. The Level III candidate must also pass a series of examinations: Basic, Method, Demonstration, and Practical. The Basic examination covers three topics:
1) Materials and Processes (i.e. how copper is created and then later turned into tubing and furthermore, what defects are prevalent in that material during this process).
2) Certification (in-depth knowledge of the codes, standards, practices for the certification process).
3) General NDT Knowledge (Level II knowledge of all NDT methods).
The Method examination will cover very in-depth information of the NDT method in which the candidate is seeking certification in. This covers theory, fundamentals, formulas, applications, etc in the specific method.
The Demonstration exam is similar to the practical, where the candidate must perform the techniques in which he/she will be performing, training, and supervising to. This is typically a series of examinations since several techniques are utilized within a single method. For example, with Eddy Current a technician that examines tubes must know how to setup the equipment, perform a calibration, acquire the data, analyze the data, and report the data. This would be five different elements to demonstrate in this examination. If that candidate did Eddy Current on something other than tubing then that would have to be included on the exam as well.
The Practical exam requires that a candidate write a technical procedure. This procedure necessarily doesn’t have to be about the NDT method in which he/she is certifying to, but it must be relative to the certifying company’s services.
The Level III candidate certifies every five years and typically doesn’t have to take the Basic exam again. I say typically because certain code and standards does require that this be taken again.
Upon successful completion of the examinations, a candidate is considered to be certified. This certification belongs to the employer, not the individual. The written practice will detail items such as certification suspension, revocation, expiration, etc. Most important thing to remember is that when an individual quits, his or her certification is considered to be expired. If that person hires on with another NDT company, they must go through the above listed process all over again, no exceptions.
ASNT does not certify individuals, per se. The responsibility of certification lies with the certifying company. However, ASNT provides a “national” certification for the Level III’s. They started this in order to answer the question about the chicken and the egg. How does company XYZ certify their corporate Level III? Without a Level III, how do we certify other technicians? Thus, the ASNT NDT Level III certification program was standard started. The candidate will be receiving the Basic, and Method examinations from ASNT. The other examinations must still be administered by the certifying company but they don’t have to be proctored under Level III supervision and management. This ASNT NDT Level III examination is very difficult and the fail rate is very high for certain methods (i.e. Eddy Current). The amount of people that fail these examinations is staggering. This certification is the standard in which all other certifications are based upon, so there is an element of elite to having these (only those who haven’t suffered through passing these exams would disagree).
In recent years, thanks to capitalism, ASNT has decided to offer Level II certification programs that emulate that of the NDT Level III certification. It allows candidates to take a series of exams and receive a “national” certification minus the Specific exam. This section doesn’t need much for detail because they don’t offer this for Eddy Current yet.
So that covers SNT-TC-1A. ASNT does offer a Standard in regards to certification practices. Unlike SNT-TC-1A, you can’t deviate from this in your practices. If it states that a candidate must have a 600 classroom hours to be legible for Level I certification, then that is what must be followed at a minimum in order to legitimately adhere to this standard. This standard is called ANST CP-189 or often denoted as ANSI CP-189. Just as SNT-TC-1A, this is used in conjunction with the company’s written practice and Quality program.
CP-189 also has new editions released every few years. Sometimes, those revisions offer substantial changes (i.e. NDT instructor qualifications, examination grades, etc). When these revisions are released, the certifying company must acknowledge that they are in-compliance with these changes or indicate in their Quality program that they adhere to specific years. Typically, a service company will only adhere to the strictest years since this will satisfy everyone’s needs. Everyone would include clients and auditors.
Now we get in to the nitty gritty that affects the service provider’s clients (this is most of you that are reading this). How does anyone know if company XYZ is adhering to their written practice? How do you even know if they have written practice? Who certified their Level III? What qualifications does the analyst have that exceeds a normal Level II? How do I know that my Level II didn’t start doing this work last week? I could go on and on with these types of questions. These are questions the clients should be asking directly. Especially since ASNT is not a governing organization, they don’t have certification police, auditors, etc. It’s a shame that our industry doesn’t have this because company ABC and company XYZ both have identical pieces of paper stating their Level II’s meet blah blah blah requirements while only one of the companies can legitimately prove it.
NDT is widely used in the nuclear power generation, an industry that is regulated by the NRC, INPO, and several other organizations. This regulation trickles all the way down to the NDT Company. Specific organizations and committees were developed just for the purposes of auditing these NDT companies’ certification practices and ensuring that they are in compliance with specific industry code and standards. Furthermore, the nuclear clients will audit the company as well. I am on the receiving end of these audits several times a year and honestly, IRS audits are easier. Again I have to throw the ‘unfortunately’ out there, but most all companies out there performing Eddy Current inspections on chillers are not performing their services for the nuclear industry. And I say unfortunately because this means they aren’t being audited or monitored for Quality compliance. Just speaking of chiller inspection companies, I can directly point out several household name companies that are not in compliance with ANY published standard or practice. Take for example your local chiller technician that tells you he is an Eddy Current Level III analyst. And you know that his company consists of him, his helper, and probably a girl working the desk back at the office. How is he a Level III if he didn’t receive his ASNT NDT Level III certification? There is nobody there to certify him. Did he take his own tests with his own test questions? Perhaps he isn’t fabricating the truth by claiming he is a Level III, maybe he just doesn’t understand the correct way to do things. Does this mean he also doesn’t understand the correct way to do Eddy Current? You will never know since he doesn’t have any legitimate examinations to prove it.
Basically, as a client you need to ask for specific documentation about certified personnel, training practices, etc. Trip up everyone a bit, of course if you ask the lead guy you schedule work with if his technician is a Level II he will say, “Yes, of course”. And when you ask if that technician had 80 hours of training you will get a, “yes, of course” response. Next time, ask the technician in the field how many hours of training he received. Or how many tests he had to take to get his Level II cert. Be prepared for some ugly answers. The good part is that most reputable companies will allow you to review their certification procedures, technician examinations, supporting documentation, etc. You can also verify if someone is in fact an ASNT Level III by visiting: http://asnt.org/certification/cert/intro.cfm. If they are not on the site, they don’t have their ASNT III cert, no exception.
You can find a lot more information about this subject, along with the other publications at www.asnt.org. There is enough information about this subject to fill several books. As with any code or standard a lot of interpretation is just opinion. That’s the part I hate most about the audits that covers this stuff, auditors should issue a finding based on fact, not interpretation. It is equivalent to getting pulled over for speeding and the cops says, “You were doing 55 in a 55 but I have been patrolling these highways for 20 years and I feel that it should only be 45 through here, here is your ticket and have a nice day”. I have invited some of my industry colleagues to this site to offer their knowledge and advice on this subject. I am sure they will add to what I just listed. Hopefully they will help answer questions and clarify any misunderstandings.
Just a quick note on myself: I am an ASNT NDT Level III with 13 years in the industry. I have specialized in Eddy Current during that time. I perform Eddy Current on heat exchangers, piping, aircraft, vessels, etc. I have several other qualifications that include IIA data analysis, QDA data analysis, and NDT Instructor. I have received training and/or passed examinations from Trane, Carrier, and Siemens, in addition to many others. I develop hardware and software for the tubing inspection industry. Feel free to email me with any questions or a request to view my full resume.