QMT Features: December 2014
Inspection in the Smartphone era
GE’s Tom Ward* looks at today’s requirements for inspection technologies

With the introduction of advanced technologies, inspection and engineering fields have a great opportunity to revolutionise how they train and bring on-board new inspectors. Major inspection users are identifying new solutions to lessen the impact of an aging workforce and growing skills gap. Whether it is by establishing new training programs, such as the Alabama Industrial Development Training program led by Airbus, or adopting advanced visual inspection tools, asset owners are embracing technology to improve productivity and reduce the shortage of qualified inspectors.

Inspectors entering the field today, raised with smartphones and handheld computers, expect their workplace tools to be equally intuitive and easy to operate. New visual inspection technology, such as Mentor Visual iQ from GE, will replace older borescopes with more sophisticated devices. Industrial organisations are selecting borescopes with built-in technology to help operators make smarter decisions faster. These advancements, including connectivity and intuitive touchscreen user-interfaces, improve probability of detection and extend uptime.
The latest generation of visual inspection technologies provides some of the same benefits that smartphones have provided consumers: improved productivity, ease of use and instant connectivity. 

Improved Image Quality and Probability of Detection
Advancements in visual inspection technology and image resolution speed up the inspection process and improve the probability of detection. These factors influence inspectors’ confidence in their categorisation of the defect. Just as the camera on today’s smartphones has improved image resolution to the level of replacing digital cameras, visual borescope technology has evolved to provide high-quality images that easily distinguish a crack from a grease mark in tough inspection environments.

Capturing an image in a confined, dark space can be extremely challenging for inspectors. In small spaces, in particular, the light from the flash can reflect off the asset causing an obstructive glare, preventing an inspector from making a confident determination about what is visible on his or her screen. Every seasoned inspector can remember a time when he or she inspected an airplane engine and identified a crack. As a result, the inspection team tore the engine apart only to realise there was no crack to fix. The inspector had misidentified a grease mark as a defect. This false positive caused the plane to be unnecessarily out of service for more than a week. These challenges and the widely varying environments inspectors operate in have driven a number of visual technology advancements, including:

•Adaptive Noise Reduction (ANR). ANR is used to reduce noise that is present in images. Noise is best defined as a grainy image. This feature can be especially helpful when inspecting larger areas, such as combustion chambers, with close-focus tips. A clear, focused image allows inspectors to accurately pinpoint where defects exist within or on the asset.
•High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) Image Capture. HDR Capture creates a high dynamic range image made up of several images taken in quick succession. This feature reduces glare and increases brightness in dark areas while maintaining low image noise. Inspectors can more clearly identify a defect in small dark spaces with HDR capability. See Figure 1 (below) for an example of how effective this feature can be.
•Distortion Correction. Distortion correction is used to correct the curvature caused by the optics in the tips of videoprobes. If you do not correct for this, particularly when using wider field of view (FOV) tips, straight lines in the image appear curved. Distortion correction adjusts the image to look more normalised.
•Image Presets. Image presets are used to save a combination of the image transformations commonly used during particular inspections. When the user selects one or more image transformations, the option to save as a preset can be selected. The settings can be named and used to reduce set-up time for future inspections and improve productivity.

Remote Collaboration Capabilities
New inspection technologies use connectivity to streamline inspections and make the end to end job easier. Traditionally, the inspection process has suffered from disjointed operations and inefficiencies. For years, inspectors relied on written instructions in the field to conduct assessments, which required carrying multiple documents and writing resources in addition to the required inspection equipment. Inspectors would then need to record data from the inspection, transfer the data to the computer and draft a report, all before being able to share the findings with colleagues. Inconsistencies during this manual evaluation could lead to costly miscalculations and limited inspector capacity could cause major operational delays.  
To ensure the most accurate results and recommendations are delivered, less experienced inspectors can now confer with senior level experts about defect categorisations in real-time. Emerging connected devices are providing tremendous advances in efficiency, accuracy and uptime. New inspection devices with remote collaboration capabilities connect field technicians with senior-level experts across the world allowing for real-time feedback and support. Senior inspectors can provide direction and feedback from their own desks, reducing travel time, costs and downtime. Additionally, using a smartphone-like device with touchscreen capabilities allows inspectors to ditch the outdated paper process because they can work through issues directly on the device and share data as it’s collected with offsite teams. These new devices streamline the process and help inspectors make better decisions, save time and establish best practices across the workforce.

Increased Productivity and Uptime
Every minute of downtime, whether it’s a turbine that is taken offline or a plane that is grounded, costs money – upwards of millions of pounds per day. Advanced visual inspection technologies allow technicians to more quickly and accurately identify issues or rule out problems reducing costly downtime.

As previously discussed, new touchscreen capabilities add significant value for inspectors. Past systems required technicians to use a joy stick and menu to select points they wanted to measure and record annotations. Now, inspectors can easily access the points they want to measure by a simple touch on the screen. Moreover, the touchscreen speeds up the commonly used text annotation process by 50 percent compared to older visual inspection systems. Inspectors can take a picture and add a text annotation that labels the defect, making it easier to share the image and get a second opinion from an off-site expert. It is also much quicker for inspectors to choose the images they want to share with improved file navigation tools that are easily accessible on the touchscreen.

Hardware upgrades have dramatically improved visual inspection, and software is simultaneously evolving to keep pace with an increasingly connected environment. Device side menu and profile software that is built within the system has become easier for technicians to access and is more customised to their needs. Inspectors can change interfaces and profiles on the system to have exactly what they need to complete their jobs most effectively. And for compatibility with existing systems, new software packages load onto the system and set standards to keep inspectors working in the same consistent format across the organisation. For example, a power plant employee working on the compressor side of a turbine can save images following a predetermined procedure which allows each inspector, regardless of location and experience level, to do the inspection the same way and in the same order. Consistency is just another facet of a productive workforce that provides more accurate results.The latest software for visual inspection is being developed with architecture for the future to adapt to the changing landscape and workplace dynamic.


Similar to the ease of use, customisation and connectivity smartphones provide in our daily lives, new NDE technology helps inspectors stay connected and collaborate with remote team members. New technology provides higher quality images to clearly distinguish any distortions or defects.

While inspectors have relied on borescopes for years for basic measurement and identification, the new visual inspection technology available today will help them collaborate more efficiently, make more informed, accurate decisions to maintain asset health and keep assets in operation. These new visual inspection systems are built for longevity and flexibility to adjust for future conditions and evolve with the inspector’s needs.
You can now view all QMT Magazine issues on your favourite tablet or smart phone.
Download the free Quality Manufacturing Today App from the Apple iTunes App Store or from QMT Magazine on Google Play.

Rob Tremain Photographer
Click above to see full page display and links to QMT articles.
Hexagon Logo 2
Bowers logo
Nikon logo