The Role of Advanced Maintenance Technology In Non-Destructive Testing

Episode 16

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Dean Williamson, NDT Coordinator at Wabtec UK, details how advancements in technology can lead to quicker turnarounds at high standards when it comes to non-destructive testing through ultrasound and eddy current techniques.


Matt [Host]: Hi, everyone, welcome back to the Comparesoft Podcast. Great to have you here as always. Today, our guest is Dean [Williamson]. Dean is a highly experienced NDT professional and PCN level three consultant. He is the NDT coordinator at Wabtech UK.

Dean has great experience within the rail oil and gas power generation, petrochemical and manufacturing industries. He’s worked on projects for BP chemicals, SSE, British Steel, and Veolia.

Dean is responsible for the management of all non-destructive testing operations at Wabtech, and works on the maintenance and refurbishment of heavily corroded vehicles. It will be really interesting to get his take on maintenance management.

Welcome to the show, Dean. Thanks for coming on. How are you, sir?

Dean Williamson: I’m fine thanks. Matt, thanks for inviting me.

Matt: It’s our pleasure. Well, let’s not hang around. Let’s just get straight into it. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about what you do in your job role?

Dean: Yeah, no problem. We perform non-destructive testing, which is using different methods to find out if there are any defects in a customer’s assets. These kinds of defects can be corrosion, cracking, or weld cracks, material loss or wear of, obviously, the rail, it’ll be the rail vehicles.

The methods that we would use to detect these defects, you might be familiar with some of them, are ultrasound – as if you could use ultrasound for baby scans. We can use the same technology in finding if there are any defects in materials. It’s non-destructive testing. So that means that when we apply these tests, it doesn’t damage any of the materials so once we’re finished, if we don’t find any defects, they can return to service and it’s good to go.

On the other hand, if we do find any defects, then we can stop that from returning to service, potentially avoiding any accidents, preventing accidents and safety on the railway, that kind of thing.

Matt: Yes. Sounds very technical and complicated. I’m sure you’re going to have some amazing advice for us today on the podcast.

Dean: Yeah, it can get technical!

Matt: So then, how do you set a good maintenance culture?

Dean: I think that’s really by leading by example. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing, especially with regard to NDT and in-service assets. These things have got to be safe. So, making sure that you educate people on what it is that you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They’ll definitely instil a good culture within the business.

Matt: Yeah. And then also, how do you recommend planning maintenance activities?

Dean: I think this is a challenging one for many businesses, to be fair. If you’ve got large contracts, as you can imagine, it can be difficult. My recommendation would be to ensure that you’ve got a good representative from each key part of the business, where you’ve got quality involved, production, projects, engineering, and non-destructive testing, obviously.

They’ve all got to be involved, just so that you can get the different takes on what’s required in the project. If you can then get that together and have everybody contribute, then you can move forward as a team and have good communication throughout the project.

Matt: How do you recommend implementing an effective maintenance plan?

Dean: Well, that’s got to derive from the planning. You’ve got to have a good plan in there to begin with, implement in that, again, follows communication, and especially having your scope documented clearly so that everybody understands what it is that we’re doing, what we’re setting out to achieve, what the end goal needs to be so that we can put out a quality product in the recommended timescale as well. So that the customer is happy with not just what’s been produced, but how quickly we’ve produced it.

Matt: Moving on from that a little bit. What do you think about software tools? Obviously, your job is technical. I’m very interested to hear how you use software tools. I’m sure you must use a lot of them. Do you think they’re useful for managing maintenance activities?

Dean: Absolutely, more so with the advancements of technology. It’s only going to get better. What we’re looking to achieve really is to be able to turn these vehicles around in faster times, but maintain the high standard of quality at same time. So extremely useful really, it allows tracking of performance.

You can have key performance indicators on the software platforms, and they will help you spot trends and results. Basically, it will allow you to adjust your targets. Depending on what trends you see and what it is you’re finding on the inspection or the overhaul or the maintenance, it can also help deliver with these KPIs, a heat map of the vehicles or the assets that you might be overhauling. And that will give key information to the clients and the customers to where the problem areas might be.

Matt: Do you have any stories? Do you have a story from your role of using a software tool where it really saved you? Or was really super helpful? Any stories that kind of stand out in your mind?

Dean: Yeah, at Wabtech, we recently introduced corrosion mapping through what’s called XL wraps. This is an online recording platform so that we can document the traceability of what we’re doing. Having a corrosion map in place.

Again, it provides that heat map traceability so that the customer can look at a vehicle and see where the problem areas were found overall. And then they can dive deeper into that and see what repairs were taking place. There’s full traceability of how that journey went.

Prior to that, a lot of it was paper-based. As you can imagine, once it’s online, and it’s available to anybody throughout the network, it just makes things a lot faster and a lot easier to manage. A lot easier to look back and see what happened and how we dealt with it. You can then plan accordingly for the next projects, as well.

Matt: Yeah, just generally makes everything a lot smoother, I’d imagine?

Dean: Yeah, absolutely.

Matt: Okay, and could you elaborate for us on using the ultrasound technology?

Dean: So there’s ultrasound that can be used on welds, that can be used for thickness measurements. But there’s also the use of dyes, just called dye penetrant testing and that’s for surface testing. We mostly used that on aluminium which are nonmagnetic, because there is another surface testing method called magnetic particle testing. That, obviously, is for ferrous materials, magnetic materials, that’s the predominant NDT method for carbon steels, if you like.

Matt: Okay, and there’s no vibration analysis or anything like that?

Dean: No, we don’t use vibration analysis. No, it’s mainly conventional, non-destructive testing, through ultrasound, dyes and a magnetic particle. We have recently moved into eddy current testing, which is, again, another surface inspection method. It allows you to inspect through paint coatings. What that does is it allows you to save time and man hours and resources on paint stripping. It will save you quite a lot of money in the overhaul sector.

Matt: Well, that is the first time I’ve heard of that, so.

Dean: Is it the first time? Yeah. Well, it’s an advanced technique. Obviously, it’s probably less widely known. But like I say, it allows you to carry out the testing with minimal interference of components. If you do find any defects with that, then it’s a case of just localised paint stripping, confirm what you find with either magnetic particle testing or penetrant testing for any surface-breaking defects through the coating.

Matt: So then how do you see connected technologies changing the way we work in the future?

Dean: Yeah, well, we don’t have vibration analysis on our system. So that’s something that we would definitely look to improve. I mean, at the moment, I have been investigating the different automations that are available within non-destructive testing in the industry. It’s something that Wabtech is actually quite keen to delve deeper into and see what we can introduce into the business to make it more efficient, really, and to have that level of online and real-time information.

Matt: Going backwards a bit on this, what’s your take on using spreadsheets for maintenance management? Is that something that you still do? Do you think that they have a future?

Dean: Yeah, we do still rely on spreadsheets. It does the job that you need it to do, but it’s time-consuming. I’ll definitely recommend looking into investing in the more appropriate software. Obviously, in this day and age, we’ve got much better things that we can use than spreadsheets at the moment. I think it’s a case of progressing and evolving ourselves or evolving the business to meet today’s requirements.

Matt: Yeah, or perhaps a healthy mix of both, you could say?

Dean: Actually, these spreadsheets do have their place and they are functional. You can do some good things with them.

Matt: How would you use or how do you use maintenance as a competitive advantage?

Dean: Well, offering maintenance takes the burden away from customers. This allows them to concentrate more on running their own business. If you take that problem with them and deal with it, they’re then comfortable. They’ve got a professional institute that’s taken care of that, and then we’ll hand the vehicles back with a seal of approval if you like.

Matt: What are your top three tips for our listeners on effective maintenance?

Dean: I will definitely say communication, followed by forward planning, and traceability.

Matt: Boom, there we go. Straight to the point. Well, you’ve given us some great insights on this episode, and thanks for being a guest. Wrapping it all up then what’s your favourite saying or quote on maintenance for our listeners?

Dean: A good one on the shop floor – minus the swearing – is if a job starts bad, it finishes bad. That’s always a good one.

Matt: All right, fantastic. Well, I love your “to the point” style Dean. No messing around. Thanks very much, again, for being a guest. You’ve given us some great insights there on the show.

Dean: You’re welcome, Matt. No problem.