Non-Destructive Testing

High-level classification of various NDT methods. Source: Aastroem 2008, fig. 2.
High-level classification of various NDT methods. Source: Aastroem 2008, fig. 2.

Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) is used in various industries to evaluate the properties of a material, component or system without damaging the test subject. NDT is also known by the terms Non-Destructive Examination (NDE), Non-Destructive Inspection (NDI), and Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE).

In testing, troubleshooting, and research, NDT is a successful strategy that saves both time and money. NDT plays a crucial role in everyday life and is essential for safety and reliability. Aircraft, spacecraft, motor vehicles, pipelines, bridges, railways, power plants, and oil platforms are just some examples tested with NDT.

NDT has many techniques. Eddy-current, magnetic-particle, liquid penetrant, radiographic, ultrasonic, leak, acoustic emission, and visual testing are most commonly used.

NDT is frequently used in forensics, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, systems engineering, aeronautics, medicine, and art.


  • What's the difference between destructive and non-destructive testing?

    Destructive testing is simply testing the destroys or damages the subject under test. There are many material properties that can only be evaluated by applying physical force or load. Examples include tensile strength, elongation, and hardness. Destructive tests to evaluate these include tensile test, bending test, fracture test, flattening test, hardness test, shear test, and impact test.

    On the other hand, NDT doesn't damage the test subject. This means that the sample can be used in the field provided the tests pass. NDT can be used to detect defects or discontinuities. It can detect degradation of properties after long use. Surface or internal cracking, poor welding, impact damages, delamination, density, porosity and pitting some problems that NDT can detect.

    While destructive testing is often more reliable, NDT offers a safer, faster, cost-effective and less wasteful alternative. Thus, NDT complements but doesn't replace destructive testing.

  • Why are NDT checks necessary for a material?

    All materials, products, and equipment have standard design requirements and estimated life. Sometimes products get through production, fabrication, or delivery with undetected defects. These may cause catastrophic failures. Such catastrophes can be costly and can even terminate projects. NDT can catch these problems before catastrophes occur. NDT saves lives and property. It helps companies adhere to regulations and standards.

    In addition to security, NDT is used to assure the effectiveness and longevity of equipment. It's useful for asset integrity management, which leads to increased productivity and profitability for businesses. For example, in the 2020 port blast in Beirut, many buildings within the blast radius are still standing but could be structurally unsafe. Rather than demolish them, NDT is being used to assess extent of damage and repair them where possible.

    NDT can help engineers choose the right materials or treatments for each application. NDT can validate product design and suggest enhancements. It also validates manufacturing processes.

    In conclusion, NDT brings safety, regulatory compliance, failure prevention, quality assurance, cost efficiency and reliability.

  • Which industries are using NDT checks?

    Several industries are using NDT:

    • Aerospace & Defence: Airframe structures are tested for wear and tear, and operation under extreme conditions. Ultrasonic method is widely used to reveal even the smallest defects. Users include Boeing, Airbus, GE Aviation, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., etc.
    • Oil & Gas: Internal structures are inspected for welds, cracks, voids and other structural defects. Ultrasonic and radiographic methods are commonly used. Users include Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum, Reliance Petroleum Limited, ONGC, etc.
    • Biomedical & Medical Devices: Ultrasounds and x-rays are widely used. Vendors include Medtronic plc, Johnson and Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, etc.
    • Civil & Heavy Construction: Bigger structures imply bigger stresses and a greater need for NDT. NDT is applied to buildings, bridges and dams. Users include L&T Engineering & Construction Division, Tata Projects Ltd, etc.
    • Metals & Mining: Metals are the foundations on which many industries function. NDT validates material properties and quality. Users include BHP Group Ltd, Jiangxi Copper Co. Ltd, etc.

    Other industries using NDT include power generation, petrochemicals, automotive, and maritime.

  • How to select a suitable NDT method for a certain material?
    Applicability of NDT methods by material and defect. Source: Roa-Rodríguez et al. 2013, table 1.
    Applicability of NDT methods by material and defect. Source: Roa-Rodríguez et al. 2013, table 1.

    The selection of NDT method is based on material and defect type:

    • Visual Testing: Used for analyzing surfaces, examining the condition of mating surfaces, and checking for leaks.
    • Liquid Penetrant Testing: Detects surface-breaking defects such as hairline cracks, surface porosity, leaks in new products, and fatigue cracks.
    • Magnetic Particle Inspection: Mostly identifies surface and near-surface faults or cracks in ferromagnetic materials. It detects seams, porosity, and small tight cracks.
    • Eddy Current Testing: Uses electromagnetic induction to find defects in conductive materials. Detects electrical conductivity, permeability, cracks, seams, alloy content, heat treatment variations, wall or coating thickness.
    • Ultrasonic Testing: Uses ultrasonic waves in the range 0.1-50 MHz to pick up cracks and variations in thickness. Applicable for concrete, wood, composites, metals, alloys, and welds.
    • Radiographic Testing: Electromagnetic radiation penetrates materials and exposes defects on radiation-sensitive film. It mainly uses X-rays and Gamma-rays. It detects corrosion, geometry variation, density changes, and misaligned parts. It's a good test for inspecting weld interiors and picks out cracks, porosity, inclusions, voids, and lack of fusion.
  • What are the best practices or precautions for NDT?

    NDT itself poses a risk to testing professionals who are therefore required to follow many safety precautions. Always use trained and experienced professionals. They must know what testing method to use, how to use it, and how to correctly interpret the results. Suitable NDT software can help overcome examiner fatigue and loss of concentration.

    Where ultraviolet radiation, ionizing radiation, or X-rays are used, operators should wear personal protective equipment, and use suitable filters and lenses. Even when more benign techniques such as ultrasonic or eddy current testing are employed, the testing environment itself can pose a risk. For example, changing probes without shutting down the system can cause sparks and explosions. Testing environments must be clean and free of clutter. Compressed gases (sulphur hexafluoride, acetylene, and nitrous oxide) commonly found at NDT facilities must be handled properly.

    For magnetic particle testing, operator should use a local exhaust or at least wear respiratory protective equipment. For penetrant inspection, avoid skin contact, and keep away from food, drinks and smoking materials. For radiography, magneto-inductive and eddy current testing, cordon off the area so that personnel don't unintentionally expose themselves to radiation.

  • What are some real-world catastrophes that could've been prevented with NDT?
    2009 explosion at NDK Crystal in Belvidere, Illinois. Source: USCSB 2013.

    In 2009, one of the pressure vessels at NDK Crystal in Belvidere, Illinois violently ruptured. Later investigations confirmed that the company had failed to do NDT on the inside of the vessel that had been damaged due to corrosive chemicals. The inside wall had experienced stress corrosive cracking.

    The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster of 2003 killed seven astronauts onboard. It was caused by a falling piece of foam that then damaged the left wing. Following an investigation, it was deemed that more extensive NDT on the foam and wings could have prevented this disaster. Another recommendation was to develop new NDT techniques to complement destructive testing methods.

    During the 1940s, the U.S. mass produced 2710 Liberty ships, some completed within five days. But 12 ships broke in half, later attributed to tiny fractures in the steel. Modern NDT techniques could have ascertained the quality of the steel.

  • What certifications are available for NDT professionals?

    ISO 9712:2021 is the main standard for third-party qualification and certification of NDT personnel. Methods included in its scope are acoustic emission, eddy current, leak, magnetic, penetrant, radiographic, strain gauge, thermographic, ultrasonic and visual. It's an evolution of two earlier standards: EN 473 and ISO 9712. ISO 9712 has been adopted in the U.S. as ANSI/ASNT CP-106.

    EN ISO 20807 establishes a system for the qualification of personnel who perform NDT applications of a limited, repetitive or automated nature. ISO TS 11774 is a performance-based qualification. It's applicable for safety critical applications where even third-party certification (ISO 9712:2021) may not suffice.

    For employer-based certification, we have ANSI/ASNT CP-189. Particular to aerospace, we have AIA NAS 410:2014 and EN 4179:2017.

    Certification under these standards includes training, work experience under supervision, and passing a written and practical examination conducted by the independent certification authority.

    For a complete list of all ISO NDT standards covering requirements on testing equipment, visit ISO's 19.100: Non-destructive testing.



Englishman S.H. Saxby first recorded NDT in his journal, "Engineering," a method of detecting cracks in gun barrels using magnetic inductions.


After the discovery of radiography Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen described the properties of radiography a type of electromagnetic radiation.


The Englishman Richardson claimed the identification of icebergs by ultrasound in his patent after titanic sink. Until 1912, the discovery of X-rays was mostly used in medical and dentistry fields.


William Hoke discovered the magnetic particles can be used to locate the defects using magnetism.

Schematic visualization of ultrasonic testing showing echo from a flaw. Source: MacKenzie 2021, fig. 1.
Schematic visualization of ultrasonic testing showing echo from a flaw. Source: MacKenzie 2021, fig. 1.

Russian Sokolov studied the use of ultrasonic waves in detecting metal objects. Victor de Forest and Foster Doane used the ultrasonic waves in real industrial applications.

Magnetic Particle Inspection. Source: TECS 2018.
Magnetic Particle Inspection. Source: TECS 2018.

Richard Seifert developed X-ray technology so that it is more powerful and precise than before.


Giraudi an Italian built a magnetic particle crack detector named as "Metalloscopio."


Firestone developed pulsed ultrasonic testing using a pulse echo testing, and fluorescent or visible dye is added to the oil used to penetrate test objects.


The Schmidt Hammer (also known as "Swiss Hammer") is invented. The instrument uses the world's first patented non-destructive testing method for concrete. Also, J. Kaiser introduces acoustic emission as an NDT method.


NDT in Aerospace Conference was established DGZfP and Fraunhofer IIS hosted the first international congress in Bavaria, Germany.


Indian Society for Non-destructive Testing (ISNT) Accreditation Certification from NABCB for Qualification and Certification of NDT Personnel as per ISO 9712:2012.


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Further Reading

  1. Willcox, Mark and George Downes. 2003. "A Brief Description of NDT Techniques." Technical paper, Insight NDT Equipment Ltd. Accessed 2022-01-22.
  2. Matthew, Martin. 2021. "The Latest Advancements in NDT inspections and Analysis." INSERVE Mechanical Integrity Group, May 27. Accessed 2022-01-04.
  3. Srivastava, S.P. 2013. "Advances in NDT." Proceedings of the national workshop on non destructive evaluation of structures (NDES), pp. 79-91, March 8-9. Accessed 2022-01-04.
  4. Williams, Abigail. 2021. "Best practice and innovation in the non-destructive testing of composites." Aerospace Testing International, April 28. Accessed 2022-01-04.
  5. Wikipedia. 2021. "Destructive Testing." Wikipedia, June 16. Accessed 2022-01-08.
  6. Wikipedia. 2021. "Thermal Acoustic Imaging." Wikipedia, February. Accessed 2022-01-08.

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Devopedia. 2022. "Non-Destructive Testing." Version 16, January 23. Accessed 2023-11-12.
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