Nondestructive testing (NDT) is an essential form of inspection for many different industries. This method can save time and money for companies by not destroying usable materials in order to inspect them. The industry is growing quickly and is expected to be valued at $23.1 billion by the year 2024.
In order to work in the NDT industry, a technician must earn an official certification. Certifications verify that the individual has the knowledge and experience needed to perform one or more NDT methods and to carry out the responsibilities of their job. NDT certifications come in three different levels pertaining to the responsibilities given to each technician.
How to become NDT certified
All NDT technicians—no matter their certification level or method specialization—will have to meet certain requirements before they can officially become certified. All technicians will have to have some sort of education, whether traditional or through an NDT training program, and some work experience.
Prerequisites for NDT certifications depend on which level the technician is aiming for and which inspection method they would like to specialize in. Level I technicians will usually not need as many training or experience hours as Level II technicians, and those who have completed at least two years of higher education will often have less required training hours.
Training and work experience hours are also dependent on the inspection method that the technician is studying for. Simpler methods typically need fewer hours than more complex methods. For example, visual inspection requires between four and 16 training hours and 70-140 work experience hours, while radiography needs between 30-80 training hours and 40-1600 work experience hours.
The American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) explains that work experience must be supervised by a qualified administrator and must involve work that falls under the technician’s inspection method, including performing the inspection and any related activities. However, work experience does not include time spent in a training program.
Once a technician has completed their training and work experience, they must pass their certification examinations.
Passing grades must be at least a 70 on each individual exam and an 80 composite score. Level III technicians must proctor exams for lower level technicians. Certifications range from employer-based certifications like SNT-TC-1A to NDT certification bodies like ASNT and its ASNT Central Certification Program (ACCP).
Exams for all technicians are composed of three parts: Level Is and Level IIs must complete a general exam focusing on their NDT method, a specific exam administered by their employer and a practical exam that tests their ability to perform their inspection method.
Level III technicians also have three parts to their certification exams. A basic exam covers their NDT method, qualification, certification and related materials and technology. A method exam covers principles, techniques and codes related to their inspection method, and a specific exam covers the methods for inspecting specific products. Technicians also have to prove that their eyesight, whether natural or corrected, is sufficient for carrying out their job responsibilities. They must pass a vision test evaluating both their near-distance vision and their color vision.
NDT training courses
Prospective NDT technicians have a few different options when it comes to fulfilling their training requirements. Training programs can be completed through traditional colleges and universities, vocational or technical schools, commercial training companies, NDT company training departments and the United States military.
If a technician chooses to pursue their training through a more traditional educational institution, either a two-year or four-year school, they can earn a degree in science or engineering and decrease the total number of training hours needed to be eligible for a certification.
The total number of required training hours for any technician, whether or not they have a degree, depends on the level they want to reach and the inspection method they are specializing in, but, on average, earning at least a two-year degree will take 12.85 hours off of the training requirement.
Traditional colleges and universities can also benefit students by providing them with more in-depth knowledge of their inspection method and of the NDT field as a whole. Schools such as Iowa State University, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University and the University of Illinois offer NDT courses within a specialized degree program, such as aerospace or civil and environmental engineering.
But potential NDT technicians don’t have to go through a formal higher education program to fulfill their prerequisites. Vocational and technical schools across the country offer NDT programs that provide many of the benefits of a four-year institution in a shorter period of time. Students that complete the two years of coursework can reduce the number of training hours needed for their certification.
Commercial training companies have locations across the country – and, in some cases, across the globe – where future technicians can take courses specifically geared toward preparing them for certification exams. The American Society for Nondestructive Testing provides a list of upcoming courses focusing on a variety of inspection methods.
If a technician cannot attend training courses in a brick-and-mortar location, some companies offer online classes to make the training process more convenient. The American Institute of Nondestructive Testing (AINDT) offers a full training program for Level I and II technicians specializing in ultrasonic, radiographic, magnetic particle, liquid penetrant or visual testing. NDT Classroom is another reputable online school that offers a full suite of online NDT courses for all manner of testing disciplines.
Although online courses can be taken in any location, training programs will often include an in-person portion for technicians to gain hands-on training. AINDT’s online program is predominantly virtual, but technicians are required to attend courses in-person for 18 days at their facility in Baxter, Minnesota.
Students don’t have to give up all of the benefits of a traditional institution when pursuing training through an NDT company. AINDT, for example, offers job placement assistance and financial aid to students needing help.
The United States Army, Navy and Air Force offer NDT training programs to enlisted members. Future technicians will need to complete the basic military training that all recruits must finish, then will go through training to become an NDT technician. Once they earn their certification, they are then eligible to be employed as a technician in the U.S. military.
How long is NDT training?
NDT training programs can vary in length. Ultimately, students need to have the total number of hours completed for their inspection method and certification level, which can range from four to 72 hours. At the same time, the institution that provides the training may have a different timeline than a different place.
Formal educational institutions, such as undergraduate colleges and universities or community/technical schools, will usually have a specified timeline of either two or four years (depending on the school or the degree being pursued). During this time, the student can complete the required training hours and may even be cross-trained in other skills or disciplines.
In contrast, AINDT’s online program only lasts six months for the virtual training. Students can access their training courses 24 hours a day. When the six months of virtual training is completed, students then take three weeks (18 days) of courses at the training facility in Minnesota.
The length of training for enlisted military is also dependent on the branch that they choose to serve in. All military members will have to complete their branch’s basic training requirements, which all last between eight and ten weeks.
Once a member of the military graduates basic training, they will then undergo their branch’s requirements for NDT training. In the U.S. Air Force, this period will last 49 days at the tech school in Pensacola, Florida. The Navy requires nine weeks for visual, liquid penetrant and magnetic particle testing, with an additional seven weeks for ultrasonic testing or eleven weeks for radiographic testing.
How long do NDT certifications last?
Unfortunately, NDT certifications don’t last forever; technicians need to prove that they are keeping up with changing technologies and methods by becoming recertified at specific intervals. The recertification intervals vary with each level of certification.
In general, all NDT technicians—regardless of their level—must be renewed at least every five years. In that period, the technician must have at least two months (or 350 hours) of documented work experience in their inspection method. They must also be able to pass a specific exam with the same requirements as their initial certification exam.
If a technician has achieved a Level I limited certification, meaning they have many of the same responsibilities as a Level I technician but are restricted in some ways, they must be recertified at least every year.
Level II and III technicians have a little more leeway when becoming recertified; they have up to five years before having to earn their certification again. In addition to retaking a specific examination, both levels will also have to take a practical exam equivalent to their original certification exam.
When seeking recertification, Level III technicians can earn at least 25 recertification points instead of retaking their practical and specific exams. Recertification points show that the technician has continued to work in their inspection method or has gained knowledge in related technologies.
Once an NDT technician has officially become certified, they are then eligible to enter the workforce. Surehand makes the job search process easier by helping you keep track of your certifications and on-the-job training in your easy-to-access profile, and will even send you automated reminders to when it’s time recertify. From helping you find work to keeping you up-to-date on your NDT training, Surehand is a one-stop shop to manage your industrial inspection career.