Practitioner Profile: Michael W. Allgaier

Michael W. Allgaier is an experienced training and certification consultant with more than 20 years’ experience. He is a leader in visual testing (VT) method, active on ASNT committees, and a prolific writer and presenter for its publications. He has earned many nondestructive testing certifications, and has frequently been awarded for his service to the Society.


Q.  How did you first become involved in NDT?

A. A couple of years in engineering school resulted in my losing my deferment. In lieu of getting drafted I joined the Navy. In 1970, after completing Navy boot camp and 15 weeks of Ship fitter’s School (welding/brazing/sheet metal/pipefitting/hand tools,) I was asked if I wanted to go to NDT school. After they told me what it was I said sure.

Q.  Can you tell us about your certification and training? Military? Did most of it come about as on-the-job training?

The Navy’s Nondestructive Testing School expanded to include UT of silver brazed joints after the loss of the USS Thresher in 1963. By the time I attended in 1970, codes, standards, specifications, mathematics, and physics were the first three weeks of training, then three weeks each for VT/PT/MT/RT/UT. My Navy certifications were based heavily on proctored and challenging written exams and proficiency demonstrations on known defect samples. Since then, I have been to hundreds of hours of training in many topics.

Q.  Do you have ASNT certification?

I was on the leading edge of getting ASNT NDT Level III status. Then again I was the first one to take the ACCP Professional Level III proficiency demonstration exams to prove Level II ability. The process was a visual testing hands-on practical exam with five applications over a three-hour period continuously witnessed by proctors.

Q.  Describe the work you did in the Navy.

A. I reported to the USN fleet aboard a nuclear submarine tender testing repairs made on FBM submarines while on board the USS Holland (AS32). I spent three years in Rota, Spain and Charleston, South Carolina. I was certified as an NDT inspector (Level II) most of that time. At the end of my enlistment I volunteered to take the NAVSEA Nuclear Power Examiner (Level III) tests at Bettis Atomic Power Labs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After being certified in three methods the folks at Curtiss-Wright (C-W) Nuclear, a manufacturer of nuclear submarine components, wanted to talk to me.

Q.  What was the working environment like?

A. While in the Navy we worked 24 hours a day every third day and 8 to 10 hour days the other two for months in a row. Weld repairs mostly required RT and PT to be performed. But MT of hulls, UT of silver brazed joints and VT of everything was common. The tender was a floating factory. Much NDT done in the lab onboard and a short walk over a gangplank led to the submarines moored to our sides. That was our fieldwork. At C-W Nuclear it was strictly component fabrication work in a factory setting, and occasional field trips to NDT vendors for audits. One NDT lab scored very poorly after my visit and the manager quit. They offered the job to me. After a year the local nuclear utility needed an NDT project manager to supervise the NDT contracts at the power plant. I accepted their offer.

Q.  Is your work focused on a particular field?

A. My focus for 30 years was military and civilian nuclear power electric generation. During that time I became an author and instructor of nondestructive evaluation (NDE) training courses for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). They were working on standardizing NDE in the nuclear power electric generation industry with heavy emphasis on performance-based training and proficiency demonstration in addition to classroom theory training. ASME Section XI, Rules for Inservice Inspection emphasized VT-1, -2, -3, and -4. The detection and sizing of intergranular stress corrosion cracking caused new UT techniques to be developed and utilized.

Q.  What kind of structures did you test?

A. In addition to nuclear power electric production I worked on fossil power utilities. It was all heat transfer via piping, vessels, steam generators, pressurizers, pumps, valves, hangers, snubbers, restraint, and structural welded supports.

Q.  What kind of indications were you looking for?

A. Power piping and pressure vessels required us to look for welding defects and service-induced discontinuities. The biggest challenge was differentiating between fabrication induced flaws and service induced flaws and to separate both from geometric indications. Comparing original construction RT indications to present-day UT indications was especially challenging.

Q.  Do you work alone or with a crew?

A. In the Navy I was a single contributor working up to supervisor level. In the factory I was a Corporate Level III and trainer. In the nuclear power utility I was the Corporate Level III and had a staff of up to eight NDT engineers/technicians supervising the inservice inspection program with up to 30 NDE vendors at each refueling outage. Next, EPRI employed me as NDE instruction manager. I authored and taught VT, UT. and Basic instructor courses. After 12 years as an instructor in the nuclear academy mold I was hired to start corporate wide training for a major NDT services company as the director. I assembled a staff of eight training professionals and initiated a learning management system for online training and continuing instructor-led training and development. NDT courses and certification exams were developed for over 3000 inspectors including certification exams online.

Q.  What codes and/or standards must you be knowledgeable of?

A. ASME/ANSI/ISO/ASTM/MILSTD/NAS, with a focus on aerospace, petrochem, or power industries: ASME for power piping; ANSI for processing, and mil-standards for aerospace or maritime industries. Of course ASTM for any industry as a starting point.

Q.  What innovations have you experienced in working methods?

A. During the 1980s, intergranular stress corrosion cracking was the new problem to focus on finding accurately and with heretofore unknown sensitivity. Five percent or less cracks in the root heat-affected zone was no longer just signals lost in the noise of the root geometry. Dozens of UT techniques were developed and explored. The entire UT system, personnel, equipment, procedures, and reference reflectors had to be demonstrated as accurate and dependable to increase the probability of detection.

Q.  How important is a background in engineering or mechanical systems to NDT technicians?

A. A baseline associate science degree in mechanical, electrical, or material sciences is practically required initially in my opinion, if you wish to make a career in NDT that allows you to progress through the ranks into senior technician, consultant, or management positions. Continuing education is essential for a professional NDT technician or engineer. High school graduates can still find a place but it will take much longer to advance and the choices will be more limited over time. Typically, twice the initial training hours for certification will be required if only high school educated.

A schedule of annual training should be strictly adhered to. Let me be clear about this, a modern day NDT professional needs to be as skilled as a surgeon in manual dexterity, as knowledgeable as an engineer in material science, as logical as a computer programmer in equipment operations, and able to climb like a monkey unafraid of heights or confined spaces. Otherwise, no special skills or education needed.

By the way, I picked up a bachelor of science (business management) and a master of science (human resource development) along the way. A 200-page thesis on accreditation of professional technical personnel went a long way in helping me run NDT qualification and certification programs. I have also taken over 50 courses in quality assurance programs, management development, training techniques, material science subjects, and NDT courses of every kind during my career.

Q.  Tell us about your work in training NDT personnel?

A. My career has been as an NDT Level III and trainer. Inherently if you are an NDT Level II or III part of your job is to train those under you. In order to pass on skills and knowledge, you need to be a master of both. If not, then narrow specialization will limit your possibilities. I moved from Level III to instructor, to manager, to director of training and certification for 5000 personnel.

Q.  What characteristics do you think define a good NDT technician?

A. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did a study in the 1980s to find out what made a good inspector. It was the same traits that make a good anything: dependable, methodical, attention to detail, moral, ethical, works well with others, and so on. A talent for electrical-mechanical applications would be a great start for a technician. From there, academics can become scientists. Those with a communication bent can become instructors. Good listeners who enjoy a challenge can become salespersons. Hard driven multitaskers who are goal oriented can become managers. Seekers of new ways to do things can become scientists. Every personality type exists in every facet of the NDT occupation. A wide spectrum of people can be accommodated.

Q.  How did you decide to start your own business?

A. In America the system is biased in favor of the business owner. First, you have to get your card punched and gain the skills and knowledge yourself. Then, connections in the industry are required. Above all else your reputation will precede you. I tried being incorporated for several years besides working full time. I had a great job with large well-paying companies and could not make the transition without working twice as hard and long while staying employed for “the man.” After seven years incorporated as sub chapter S, I dissolved the company. Now in my last years in NDT I am most happy as an NDT consultant and sole proprietor. But this is after assuring medical coverage, securing a pension or two, and having paid off the major bills of life (homes, college for kids, weddings, and retirement nest egg). Others are willing to work harder and take more risks for their own business. I chose a safer route and have no regrets.

Q.  What's been your most challenging application of NDT?

A. Remote NDT with wheeled sleds platforming fluorescent PT and remote VT equipment inside of large pipes for a nuclear power steam system inspection was challenging. Trying to match metallurgical reflectors, geometric reflectors, ultrasonic weld discontinuities, and the comparison to 30-year-old radiographs to determine which was relevant or not to let the plant start up again was most challenging.

Q.  How has NDT changed during your career?

A. Over the last 45 years NDT has become much more automated and computer aided. NDT personnel must be computer literate.

Q.  What trends do you see?

A. I am sad to say the pay increases haven’t gone up with inflation. If highly qualified NDT personnel start getting paid professional fees then management is motivated to increase automation and only pay for a few high-end techs to interpret what the entry level techs bring to them from semi or automated data gathering devices.

Q.  What do you consider the growth areas of NDT?

A. In my opinion there will be: sporadic growth in pipeline construction if and when they are allowed to be made; spare expansion of petrochemical processing plants; aerospace and marine growth limited due to cutbacks in military spending; limited growth in gas powered electric generators; less growth in U.S. nuclear power plant construction; and limited down-hole tubing growth due to reduced drilling rigs and resistance to “fracking.”

Q.  What areas of NDT would you like to learn more about?

A. UT phrased array and EMAT. But let’s get real: I am too old for crawling around pipes and vessels anymore. Those that can’t do it teach it, or hire someone else younger and more qualified.

Q.  What are your professional goals?

A. As I reach the end of my career, my goal is to firm up the emphasis on performance-based training and proficiency demonstrations as way to qualify to perform NDT. Additional training is needed for NDT Level IIIs. None is required by ASNT documents. The diversity of techniques in each NDT method mandates a broader spectrum of knowledge and skills. One or two techniques mastered in each method are insufficient when a dozen or more specialty techniques exist for each NDT method. Special training and testing is needed for each industry. Industry specific and technique specific qualifications should be added on to core required skills and knowledge for each NDT method.

Q.  Have you ever had/been an NDT mentor?

A. I was an early volunteer as mentor with ASNT. I think this is a vastly underutilized service that entry-level technicians fail to use. But you need to know where you are going to figure out how to get there or any direction will do to get you anywhere or nowhere. Every successful certification as initial Level II or III should be given access to available mentors in their industry.

Q.  What's the best career advice you've received?

A. The best advice is go where the work is. Don’t be afraid to change industries. Nothing stays the same for 40 years anymore. The more you learn the more you are worth. Treat everyone with respect. If you are not respected, leave.

Q.  What's the most rewarding aspect of your work?

A. I love teaching and sharing my knowledge and experience with others. To see someone grow and become independently competent is most rewarding.

Q.  What's the most difficult part of NDT?

A. Dealing with production and profit pressures from management, customers and clients that want to cut corners to save money.

Q.  What can industry do to encourage careers in NDT?

A. Share information regarding industries, geography, compensation, employment trends, job satisfaction, lifestyle exposés for each type of NDT employment at different stages of a career, and so on. An excellent basis for this knowledge (without anecdotal stories or job descriptions) is Michael Serbian’s annual surveys for Quality and NDT personnel.

Q.  What is the best way for a technician to advance his or her career in NDT?

A. My master’s thesis in 1993 indicated the best NDTers had 10 times the recommended experience and training hours to become Level II inspector/examiners. Never stop training or expanding your knowledge. Change your environment if a nurturing atmosphere to learn and grow does not exist. Don’t just go for the most dollars per hour in the first third of your career. Learn, make connections, and maintain high standards of ethics and performance.

Q.  How has ASNT membership benefitted your career?

A. In 1973, I started to look for jobs outside the military and joined ASNT. Local section participation connected me to the shakers and movers in the industry of my region. Being involved as an adjunct professor training NDT through my local section greatly increased my network and connections. Those students of mine became the supervisors, managers, and directors. My national volunteer work on committees, councils, and other activities allowed future employers to already know me and give me opportunities I otherwise would have never known.

Q.  How are you involved in your Section?

A. I rose through the ranks from Membership Committee chair after my first ASNT Metropolitan New York-Northern New Jersey Section meeting to the Section chair and every committee in between. I spent over 20 years as the Education Committee chair, teaching dozens of courses at many locations. There really is no better way to learn than to teach.

Q.  What advice would you offer to individuals considering careers in NDT?

A. Get your education first: four months, one year, two years, or associate’s degree. But then start at the bottom and learn your field. You will shoot to the top if you show up and work hard.

Q.  How important is an ability to communicate in writing?

A. Very important. Communication means being prolific in MS Office suite skills; word processing, power points, databases, graphics, and so on. Public speaking is a must if sales or management desired.

Q.  How important is ability to interface with client?

A. The world is your oyster if you can lead a crew or shop and also communicate with the client. Listen more and talk less.