Nondestructive testers locate and identify any defects or imperfections in products and materials by performing a battery of tests. They begin by determining the physical and structural composition of the product and taking measurements such as flatness, straightness, and circularity. Whether the tests are internal or external, they do not result in the destruction of the product being tested. The tests do not in any way alter the form or function of the product. A number of different testing techniques are used in this occupation, including radiographic, ultrasonic, magnetic particle, acoustic emission, and visual examination. Test orders determine which type of test will be completed on the specific products.
Nondestructive testers apply cleaners, penetrants, and other chemicals to the product and may dry the product inside an oven before testing. They are responsible for operating and adjusting test equipment, including x-ray and ultrasonic contact machines. They use this equipment to detect defects that may have occurred during the manufacturing phase. Nondestructive testers specialize in three areas: Level I, II, and III. Level I testers work under close supervision and perform standard tests that do not require any deviation. Level II testers set up and calibrate equipment, and they interpret and evaluate results of tests. Level III testers decide which testing methods to use for a given product and establish techniques and procedures.
Nondestructive testers should have a strong mechanical aptitude. They should have the ability to improvise tools, jigs, and fixtures. They need to have normal or corrected eyesight and color vision.
Level I nondestructive testers earn between $9 and $12 per hour; Level II nondestructive testers earn between $10 and $17 per hour; and Level III nondestructive testers earn between $14 and $22 per hour. Hours can vary, but most testers work a standard 40-hour work week. A few work on an on-call basis, and some work swing and graveyard shifts. Benefits vary depending on the employer but may include vacations, holidays, and insurance.
Training and Education
Most nondestructive testers have a high school diploma and courses in the physical sciences and mathematics. Those who have taken college courses in physics or engineering may receive preference from employers. Training is also available at community colleges, trade and vocational institutes, and private technical colleges. Testers can become certified through the American Society for Nondestructive Testing at 3 different levels. Levels I and II are working levels, and Level III is usually a supervisory level. Each level of certification requires testers to have a certain amount of experience and classroom hours and pass a written and practical test.
Most testers specialize in a number of areas to increase their chances of obtaining desirable positions. Many Level III nondestructive testers own their own facilities. Some advance to become teachers, engineers, or consultants. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of nondestructive testers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. As the testing of products becomes more automated, the demand for nondestructive testers will diminish substantially. Those with formal training and job experience in a number of testing specialties will have the best opportunities.