Non-destructive Tester ... (Military - Enlisted)  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotNondestructive testers check objects for flaws in a way that doesn't affect their future usefulness. The types of objects they examine include everything from boats to boilers to bridges.

dotTesters use some cool stuff to examine objects. One method is ultrasonic testing, where internal imperfections in the material cause changes to high-frequency sound waves.

"If I'm examining a one-inch material and there is a crack at three-quarters of an inch, the sound comes back sooner than expected," says Joseph Rajhard, a boiler field inspector. "The crack sends the sound back at the three-quarter-inch mark."

dotAnother technique involves coating a material with a dye. Changes in the color of the dye pinpoint cracks.

Nondestructive testers also do electromagnetic tests. Imperfections in the material of some objects will interrupt the flow of electrical current.

Finally, nondestructive testers use X-rays to discover changes in the internal soundness of a part, in much the same way they show broken bones.

dotTechnicians often discover defects that are invisible to the naked eye. That can be a challenge, says William Klene, an assistant professor in the nondestructive evaluation department at Illinois' Moraine Community College.

"You may never see the defect that will potentially cost your client a huge sum of money. It can be hard for young people. You must have the knowledge and personality to convince the client you know what you're doing. Your integrity must be pristine."

dotSome testers work in aerospace, spending their days in an aircraft hangar checking aircraft parts. A few lucky ones even work for NASA. Others work at nuclear power plants, in the petroleum industry or at commercial testing laboratories.

dotNondestructive testers must be persistent. "You need to be a go-getter," says Allen Russell, a nondestructive evaluation operations manager.

The ability to make quick decisions is a must. "People who can't think quickly don't last in this business," says atomic research engineer Laura Obrutsky.

Computer skills are also helpful. "In the past, technicians had to do lots of mundane tests over and over," says Klene. "Now computers perform routine tasks. There'll always be some hand testing. But it's hard to predict how far technology will go in 10 to 15 years."

dotApplicants must meet certain medical requirements to be a nondestructive tester. You should have perfect vision and no allergies. Physical demands range from moderate to severe.

"The worst extreme is when you're following a pipeline constructed in the middle of nowhere," says Klene. "You're in mud up to your knees, X-raying pipe. You could be crawling around inside a nuclear power plant, outdoors looking at locomotive engines or working in an airplane hangar repairing aircraft."

Nondestructive testers can put in some irregular hours. Due to concerns over radiation poisoning, 99 percent of radiography testing is performed at night.

Just the Facts

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At a Glance

Use X-rays, ultrasound and dyes to test objects for flaws

  • Technicians often discover defects invisible to the naked eye
  • Some lucky testers work for aerospace companies and NASA
  • Education: a handful of colleges offer courses in NDT techniques