Industry 4.0 & the future landscape of the NDT, CM & SHM communities

12 June 2020

With monitoring and inspection technologies set to play a key part in the transition to Industry 4.0, it has become apparent to the non-destructive testing (NDT) and condition monitoring (CM) sectors that it must be embraced in order to encourage change and increase growth

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The British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT) is the professional institute for all those engaged in NDT and CM and its aim is to promote the advancement of the science and practice of all materials and quality testing disciplines. Therefore, recognising the applications and developments of Industry 4.0 is key to the evolution of NDE 4.0 (Non-Destructive Evaluation 4.0) for the future of all disciplines and industries involved.


Each industrial revolution has emerged as a result of accelerated technological progress over a short period of time that in turn creates major change to industry and society. The First Industrial Revolution defined the transition from hand production methods to the use of water and steam power and the introduction of mechanisation. The Second Industrial Revolution, also known as the ‘technical revolution’, was made possible by the extensive rail network and telegraph system. Mass production was established as a result of the electrification of facilities and the assembly line. The Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the ‘digital revolution’, materialised from developments such as software, computer and communication technologies and automated machinery.

Industry 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution relies greatly on the developments that were embedded in infrastructure and inherited from the digital revolution. ‘Industrie 4.0’ first emerged as a result of a high-tech strategy initiative proposed by the German government in the early 2000s. The concept of Industry 4.0 has since evolved to encompass the digital transformation of manufacturing and production. Also referred to as the ‘smart revolution’, Industry 4.0 is influenced by breakthroughs in emerging technologies in fields such as:

- 3D printing

- Artificial intelligence (AI)

- Big data

- Biotechnology

- Fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G)

- Fully autonomous vehicles

- The Internet of Things (IoT)

- Nanotechnology

- Predictive maintenance

- Quantum computing

- Robotics.

NDE 4.0

NDE 4.0 is the term used by the NDT, CM and structural health monitoring (SHM) industries to incorporate and advance the Industry 4.0 technologies. Although implementation of this new era of technologies will progress in stages, both academia and industry have already been active in harnessing the key developments to streamline processes and reduce complexities in the NDT, CM and SHM sectors. Ultimately, major changes will need to be implemented in order for practitioners, training organisations and industry to manage the increased volume of data, as well as the required speed and reliability of the information. NDE 4.0 research and developments already influencing the future landscape of the NDT, CM and SHM sectors vary across all fields and include:

- Digital twins – merging boundaries between the physical world and the virtual world;

- Artificial intelligence (AI) – developments in automated defect detection for inspection techniques using machine learning (ML);

- Cloud-based platforms – enabling digital transformation across all related sectors;

- Robotics – development of drone-robot hybrid systems for industrial plant inspection; and

- Predictive maintenance – contactless vibration sensors capable of continuous monitoring.

In addition to progress in research and development, another example of how NDE 4.0 is increasingly shaping the future of NDT, CM and SHM is the growth of academic papers and product demonstrations that have featured at events specific to these communities over the past decade. In 2019, the first international showcase of UK Research Centre in Non-Destructive Evaluation (RCNDE) research featured at the 58th Annual British Conference on Non-Destructive Testing (NDT 2019). RCNDE is an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry co-funded consortium of academic and industrial members focused on the inspection technology needs of the 21st century. The Centre has carried out world-leading research since 2003, for which it is known and respected globally. To view the programme of presentations featured at NDT 2019 visit:

The next steps

Following on from the developments already made it is important that the momentum is harnessed in order to steer the future steps by creating a strategic plan to channel all aspects of subsequent activities. Fundamental areas of interest identified by members and contributors of BINDT include:

- Multilateral contribution – To continue and expand collaboration with international institutions, such as the International Committee for Non-Destructive Testing (ICNDT), the European Federation for Non-Destructive Testing (EFNDT), the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) and the German Society for Non-Destructive Testing (DGZfP), and participation at international events, such as the World Conference on Non-Destructive Testing (WCNDT) and the European Conference on Non-Destructive Testing (ECNDT).

- Requirements Workshops – The aim of these workshops is to establish what is required of NDT, CM and SHM to facilitate game-changing solutions. Follow-up reports are created.

- Working Groups – NDE 4.0 Working Groups will be created in response to objectives derived via Requirements Workshops and will report to the relevant Institute NDT and CM Technical Committees.

- Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs)  – Collaboration with other PEIs, such as the Engineering Council, IMechE and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to implement best practices and address major industry challenges.

- PCN Scheme – The Institute’s certification scheme will need to adapt to the new practices proactively whilst complying with the relevant international and European standards.

- Training – Requalification of existing personnel will improve the required training, qualifications and experience they need to thrive and businesses need to compete whilst utilising the increase in apprentices to bridge the skills gap.

- NDT Technology Taskforce – NDT and CM sectors collaborating with industrialists to produce a strategy document to recognise and solve real NDE challenges and help to embrace new NDT technologies.

Dr Iain Baillie, NDE Technology Development Lead, Rolls-Royce plc, and BINDT President Elect, summarised his aims for the NDT Technology Taskforce: “I would like to encourage end-industrialists that would be willing to collaborate to produce a strategy document for government funding to help make the NDT Technology Taskforce a reality. A great example of the NDT community working together to gain government support is the NDT apprenticeships programme, which was led by BINDT with 20 supporting employers and Rolls-Royce plc as the lead employer.

“The NDT Taskforce would need to consider what to do in the short/medium term and also address the longer-term strategy. Perhaps industrialists could work with the existing NDT community to improve this or, alternatively, consider a curveball: a 100% focused NDE Technology Centre. Either way, these entities must have experienced NDE personnel, apprentices, students, designers, programmers, data analysts for Industry 4.0, rapid prototypers, project managers and management willing to do things differently. Completion and choice are ideal drivers for innovation.

“These entities must also form strategic alliances with equipment manufacturers so that when a new ultrasonic robot system is installed, for instance, it is commissioned in under a week and not months. Imagine a truly plug-and-play capability in which any brand of flaw detector can be exchanged for another one, which will be able to interface with any robot system of our choice. In NDT, we have the power to influence standards and make this happen; let’s make it so!”

BINDT in collaboration with RCNDE and the UK Forum for Engineering Structural Integrity (FESI) has scheduled a two-day event titled ‘Workshop on the structural integrity, NDT and CM requirements for Industry 4.0’, which is taking place from 7-8 October 2020 at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Coventry.

Robert Smith, Professor of NDT and High Value Manufacturing, University of Bristol, explained the aims of the workshop: “Industry 4.0 will completely change the production and operation of nearly every manufactured item in the developed world. Intelligent systems will enhance and sometimes supersede human decision-making in production and operation, and industry will no longer be limited by human cognitive ability. Outcomes will be higher productivity, lower through-life costs and greater safety and reliability, benefiting industry, the global economy and everyone who uses machines or travels in vehicles.

“The autonomous, intelligent systems of Industry 4.0 will need high-rate, complex information about operational loads and structural condition, available non-destructively and throughout life, thereby building confidence in their integrity and reducing costs. Assets could become continuously self-verifying, requiring no external intervention in order to maintain fitness for purpose. There is a need to bridge the emerging gap between current reality and these integrity-information requirements: the current state-of-the-art falls significantly short.”

But what are the specific non-destructive testing, structural-health monitoring and condition monitoring requirements that should be focused on to allow this step change and how will they relate to structural integrity and design philosophies? That will be the focus of this workshop where experts in these fields will meet with designers, manufacturers and regulators to determine what success will look like, what challenges will be faced and what steps must be taken.

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