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Penn College adds non-destructive testing welding degree

Mark N. Hurd found himself perched about 140 feet above the Hudson River on a cold January day. A steel basket attached to the multijointed arm of a snooper truck stationed on the massive bridge above provided both workspace and sanctuary for the Pennsylvania College of Technology instructor.

For hours, Hurd meticulously employed an ultrasonic testing unit to reveal the quality of butt welds on 10 flanges strengthening the bridge’s steel beams. Those girders would soon support about 140,000 vehicles daily, traveling the 3.1 miles connecting South Nyack and Tarrytown, New York, just north of Manhattan.

“It’s like being an industrial doctor because many of the testing processes, such as ultrasound and radiography, were originally used in the medical field,” Hurd said in describing his work as a quality control inspector at the Tappan Zee Bridge (Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge). “I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, and there’s not a week that goes by when I don’t learn something new or face a new challenge. That’s what keeps it exciting.”

Penn College is providing a career pathway to that excitement with an associate degree in non-destructive testing. Offered for the first time this fall, the two-year program will combine hands-on welding experience in the college’s 55,000-square-foot lab with exposure to several NDT processes, including ultrasonic and radiographic testing.

A Pennsylvania College of Technology student uses a phased array ultrasonic testing unit to examine a welded plate. Penn College is offering a new associate degree in non-destructive testing to meet industry demand. The two-year program combines hands-on welding experience with training in several NDT processes.
A Pennsylvania College of Technology student uses a phased array ultrasonic testing unit to examine a welded plate. Penn College is offering a new associate degree in non-destructive testing to meet industry demand. The two-year program combines hands-on welding experience with training in several NDT processes.

“We have offered NDT classes since the mid-1980s, but we felt a degree was the next logical step in growing the college’s welding program,” explained instructor Michael J. Nau. “Weld inspection, quality assurance and NDT go hand-in-hand. Industry is asking for more trained NDT professionals.”

Nau and James N. Colton II, assistant professor of welding, developed the new major’s curriculum, as well as two NDT competency credentials for current professionals. They were backed by a three-year, $600,000 National Science Foundation grant devoted to advanced technology education in fields that drive the economy.

“There is a shortage of training programs despite strong industry demand for NDT technicians. Our new degree addresses both of those realities,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “It will prepare students for excellent careers rooted in diverse industries like manufacturing, aerospace, construction and aviation.”

NDT professionals help prevent injury or loss of life by ensuring that infrastructure industries meet quality and safety assurance requirements. They do so by employing various noninvasive technologies to test the soundness of structures, vehicles and vessels.

“All that welding, framing and tubing needs to be inspected. Everything gets inspected,” said Hurd, a certified American Society for Non-Destructive Testing Level II inspector. “You can be an inspector of the raw material before it’s made into a product. You can be an inspector of a product during different stages of its development. You can be an inspector of a product once it’s placed in service to ensure it’s functioning properly.”

Hurd has examined a wide range of material in myriad environments, from the comforts of the manufacturing floor to the frigid Tappan Zee Bridge, which was the largest design-build transportation infrastructure project in U.S. history when it opened in 2017. His employer at the time – High Steel Structures LLC – provided 110,ooo-plus tons of structural steel for the project.

“It was so cold I had to mix the coupling fluid with RV antifreeze so it didn’t freeze,” he smiled.

During ultrasonic testing, coupling fluid facilitates the transmission of sound waves from a transducer into the sample. The transducer converts the sound waves’ “echo” into electrical energy that is used by a computer to produce an interior image of the sample. In Hurd’s case at the bridge, the images revealed that all the butt welds on the flanges were within code.

“To be a good inspector, you have to have passion for it. It’s a major responsibility. You have to be very conscientious and understand the acceptance standards before you even do an inspection,” said Hurd, who is certified in several NDT methods.                                                      

Exposure to a variety of testing processes and practical welding experience will be hallmarks of the new NDT major at Penn College, according to Nau.

“Certain welding processes have specific flaws associated with them. The students will be able to identify these flaws, evaluate them and pass or fail them using various NDT processes,” he said. “Students’ classroom and training hours for each NDT process will also count toward their ASNT certification. We feel that this will give students a definite advantage going into industry.”

Anticipated job titles for graduates include NDT technician, phased array/UT inspector, quality control technician and assistant radiographer.

“There will be so many avenues and job possibilities,” Hurd said.

For information on the NDT program, welding degrees and other majors offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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