NDT: a vital contributor to plant reliability
After starting his career as an aircraft technician in the Royal Air Force, Jonny Locke joined Siemens where he now leads the Non-Destructive Testing team. “The two worlds are very similar,” he says. “There’s the same work ethic and strong camaraderie.”
One big attraction of Jonny Locke’s job is the diversity. “No two days are the same. We could be investigating a relatively routine surface crack on a bearing or we might be developing a bespoke inspection technique for a specific item of equipment. Our services could be in demand anywhere in the world and we have to be ready to travel at short notice.”
Whatever the situation, time is of the essence. “Either we’re developing a procedure in a tight timeframe, or the window of opportunity for carrying out the work is very limited,” says Jonny. “We never forget that when equipment is offline the lost generation is costing our customers money, but time pressures must never impact on the quality of the inspection.
Non-destructive testing plays a vital role in confirming plant integrity and in planning lifetime extensions. By evaluating component life and potential failure scenarios, Siemens NDT specialists help plant operators to ensure equipment reliability and to predict the need for replacement components. Their work is carried out at the Newcastle Service Facility and at plants worldwide
“One major benefit for customers is that we have a large engineering team and metallurgy specialists supporting us. When we’ve completed our inspections, we don’t just hand over a report to the customer. We go back to our product experts who can provide a comprehensive engineering solution."
Jonny began his career as an aircraft technician with the RAF and later worked on search and rescue helicopters before joining Siemens six years ago. “The work ethic I’ve found at Siemens is very similar to being in the services. There’s a really strong camaraderie, especially when you’re working at a customer site. I can see why so many people have chosen to spend their whole working life here."
That strong sense of teamwork extends across the Siemens world. “We work very closely with specialist colleagues in Mulheim to develop new inspection techniques, and we have fortnightly calls with the global NDT team to discuss specific projects and to support each other with additional resource if required. We’re also part of a global Siemens NDT council that meets every year to share knowledge and expertise."
The work of the NDT team saves customers time and money. At a nuclear power plant in Australia where an LP turbine rotor had reached the end of its design life, the owner had been recommended to inspect the highly-stressed blade roots for cracking. This would have involved removing the blades, cleaning the blade root fixings and carrying out a magnetic particle examination – costly both in time and money. “We were asked if we could develop an inspection method without removing the blades, and so we developed a phased array procedure in an extremely tight timescale, to align with the planned outage,” explains Jonny. “The procedure was successfully carried out on site, minimising disruption and costs for the customer.”
Attending stations at very short notice is not unusual. One such example was an urgent request from a station in the Far East to carry out an automated ultrasonic inspection. “We do all we can to keep outages to a minimum. We immediately applied for the necessary visas, packed and dispatched the tools and equipment, and successfully completed the inspection within just two weeks.”
Jonny’s recently returned from a station in North America where, in collaboration with German colleagues, a complex phased array and time-of-flight diffraction inspection technique was developed and implemented in an especially tight timeframe. “Selecting or developing the right NDT technique can be vital to the safe and reliable operation of a plant. We’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge and data over the years but can also draw on expertise across the Siemens network.”
To add to its portfolio the UK team is now working on projects that involve smaller, industrial turbines. “It makes obvious sense. The components are very similar to those we’re used to and our business is diversifying into new areas,” says Jonny. At the same time, Newcastle colleagues who work in quality control are completing NDT courses which will qualify them to carry out certain inspections, freeing up the specialist NDT team for more complex projects. “The organisational changes over the last year are all about increasing our flexibility and responsiveness,” says Jonny.
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